Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Students and my education.

Today was one of those days that sucks the very soul right out of you. I spent my time dealing with the consequences of failing students in a paper that I teach.

The bottom line is that higher education in the developed world has entered a phase of denial. In order to dance to the governments tune Universities take in more students and magically maintain their pass rate whilst teaching them for diminishing amounts of money. We might call this increased efficiency, we might call it better teaching. Some of the time this may even be true. However there has also been a tendency to coerce lecturers towards passing students who should perhaps not be at University at all.

This is not a reflection on the students; they are as ever bright kids many with a great future ahead of them. What has become clear to me over the years is that a number of those who attend University have made conscious decisions to invest in activities other than education. These decisions have been made quite often before they get to university and consequently these students have achieved in line with the effort they have expended. Good on ‘em I hope it is worth it. They should enjoy the mobiles, games and other stuff they buy with the money they earn whilst not attending to their education. That said they shouldn’t be encouraged to go to university with the expectation that they can, work have the goodies, have fun and get a degree as a sideline. Because students pay fees that does not give them an automatic entitlement to a qualification. Achievement is linked to effort and consequently earning meaningful qualifications demands effort. No effort = no ticket.

The problem is that governments like the one in New Zealand also want educated kids without paying for it. So we have less effort, less money and more students. Go figure.

I have no problem supporting and teaching anyone who is prepared to make the sacrifices required to achieve a valued goal, particularly and educational one. But the majority of students that I teach have no grasp of this concept and vastly different expectations. Something I blame on schools, parents, educational establishments and above all the government. University education requires hard work at some stage or other, if we let students in expecting anything else we are lying to them and we are lying to ourselves. The consequences are either that the students fail (rarely) or that in fact they don’t receive the education consistent with the qualification they receive. Follow this to its logical conclusion and you have cereal box degrees of no real value to anyone.

This is the situation in the US, hence the need for the graduate record exam. The GRE may not be a measure of anything other than a students willingness to work in order to achieve valued goals. Hence proper university education should consign this Exam to irrelevance. It doesn’t because Uni ain’t what they used to be. And boy don’t I know it.

What has this to do with today ? Well I spent most of the day doing the mountain of paperwork necessary to fail students and then did another mountain trying to set up means by which they can have another go. This raises two issues:

i) My employers will never tell me that I cannot fail a student, they will however set up a system that makes it sooo much easier when you just fix things to pass as many as possible.

ii) Some of these students can barely write in English (yes there are people who write worse than me) and consequently should not pass until they can.

But here’s the scary soul destroying bit. Some of the students I have failed and will now have to re-assess, are overseas students with English as a second language. Some of them are not. When marking their work it became clear to me, that excepting the rather obvious names at the tops of the papers, some of the work was so bad from the English first language students as to be indistinguishable from the foreign students. That is pretty bad. How do these kids graduate school ? How do they get let into University ? What damage will this do to education and consequently society as a whole in the log run ? I don’t know the answers to this. None of what I have written here will come as a surprise to many others involved with higher education. This has probably been written elsewhere.

What kills me is that Higher Education caused my re-birth as a capable and occasionally useful human being. I became an educator in order to offer the same opportunities to others. I did this in the belief that I was doing something of use and value. It fills me with aching bitterness after a day like today to realise that I am struggling to achieve these aims. It will become impossible as time progresses because neither the students nor the institutions will be set up to do this. Yet the students will leave university in the belief that they hold the same qualification that people valued so highly in years past. An opportunity will be lost, damage will be done, and I will be part of a larger lie. I’m not sure how long my conscience will put up with betraying my personal values and the students I teach, many of whom are a pleasure to know. I’m even less sure what to do about it.

Yes I always feel like this at the end of an academic year and sometimes teaching does turn up something that gives me hope. But each year this feeling gets worse and I don’t think it is because I’m getting older.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Food labels and corporations.

I read with interest today that New Zealand has opted not to go with Country of Origin labelling (cool) of food. This I find disappointing for two reasons:

i) The protocol has already been adopted in Australia and therefore New Zealand goods have to be labelled accordingly so our biggest trading partner can engage in the sort consumer choices, (protectionism) that we are denied. I get the feeling New Zealand loses out here.

ii) I’m peeved because I won’t be able to choose local produce, which I have done since settling here. Worse for me is the thought that I would end up buying US or Israeli fruit which I have boycotted for years.

The NZ government’s view is summed up thus "Mandatory COOL is potentially an unnecessary barrier to international trade.".

Others said: The FSANZ labelling plan was criticised earlier this year by Wellington economists as having the potential to add costs without adding "significant consumer value".

I clearly Disagree with consumer value where it seems only to represent price/profits.

I can only imagine in the absence of any useful reasoning in favour of this act (which seems to contradict economic and green reasoning for buying Kiwi Made) that NZ is bound by some free trade deals with a big partner.

So let me get this right……….consumer choice only operates where there is a buck to be made. That’s the way it seems to read here.

I was more encouraged by this post by Pax. Its good to see peolpe in the states still fighting for the soul of the America we thought we trusted. After the second world war Tommy (british soldiers) came back and voted in a government for social welfare, which though battered has been a cornerstone of british life for nearly 50 years.

Then I remind myself that the Labour government I first voted for before I left was supposed to be different from the Tories . It wasn't and I was already leaving anyway. But Pax makes the point that this is what we should expect becuase its no longer about goverment and opposition but about people versus the needs of corporate share capital. How much mony do they need and can we make them quit ? Or is it true about greedy bastards who won't give up.

Why I will never support the AB's

On the whole I like the guys over at Public Address but just recently they have let me down. Russell Brown appears like many NZ rugby lovers to be making a dive for another fig leaf in response to the dissonance many New Zealanders feel about that tackle. Well not even about the tackle really; Rugby is a professional game, people get targeted and sometimes they get hurt get over it. But the unrepentant nature of NZ media in support of an equally unrepentant All Black team to this, bugs the s**t out of me. Just front up and be nice....boys. When people get that injured you are messing with their living and their dreams. No the offer to talk about it over a beer later will not do. Which brings me to trying to explain this outburst.

Describing this as merely gracious is one thing, to then cite a small passage out of another equally generous analysis and find another from which to launch a dribble of snot about hypocrisy is as false as it is low. The response to these minor issues is to point out that professional sport is professional even at international level so there should be no doubt that border crossing and nationality is becoming a grey area. Notwithstanding the fact that the British Isles provides gameful employment and a finishing school for a number of NZ rugby coaches and players.

Just what is it that is getting to these guys ? The fact that the UK press can come out with almost as much garbage as the New Zealand press ? or is it that the discomfort caused by international media is unbearable on top of the endless own goals scored by New Zealand media against many potential stars and New Zealand sport as a whole.

Thoughts to bear in mind.......

i) No I'm not English......
ii) I will probably devote my best working years to New Zealand sport (who's the patriot here ?)
iii) Linford Christie good though he is, may not in fact be UK's most celebrated track athlete (Anyone remember Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Kelly Holmes ?) and besides this is about rugby not athletics.

iv) Stuff like this is why I would rather shout for Wales anytime.