Posts Tagged ‘education’

English universities degenerate into bums on seats businesses

June 3, 2014

Today, at Guildford farmers market, nestling between stalls selling tomatoes, wine, beer, bread, honey, strawberries, carrots, a stall for Surrey University.

Once upon a time, one would receive from a university academic information, now it is a marketing exercise.

Thanks to the unprincipled party LibDems tripling student fees to £9,000 per annum, students are no longer prepared to tolerate bad teaching, complaints are sharply rising. Students, as a last resort, are calling in their lawyers.

Surrey is one of those universities that has been forced to pay compensation. Why have they gagged the students they have compensated?

What has happened to universities as centres of free speech?

Why is the University Ombudsman refusing to name and shame?

An education, is not a commodity to be sold on a market stall, nor is it to earn more money, it is to improve the quality of life.

Universities are public funded institutions. If things are going wrong, we all have the right to know.

We need to return to the medieval model, or even Ancient Greece, the student as the junior partner, not someone to peddle goods and services to

Greek Universities Continue Striking

October 6, 2013
Greek university

Greek university

The administrative staff of eight Greek Universities in its fifth week of striking. They are protesting against the government’s decision to cut jobs as part of its bailout commitments.

The unrest in the academic world is due to the implementation of the controversial mobility scheme, which will affect more than 1,300 administrative staff members in tertiary institutions by temporarily losing their jobs before possible relocation or dismissal.

Eight universities- Athens University, the National Technical University of Athens, the Athens University of Economics and Business, Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University and the universities of Patras, Thessaly, Crete and Ioannina- have stopped operating since the beginning of September. Cutting administrative staff will increase the ratio of teachers-to-students.

Universities demand from the government to revoke the new law. The meeting of administrative staff with the Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos was inconclusive.

Published by Greek Reporter.

Ancient Greece, Athens centre of democracy, centre of learning, of philosophy, mathematics, geometry …

Greece has a strange mix of public and private universities. The public were free, the private charge but by UK standards, a very low fee of 2,000 euros (a term a year?).

At least one public university has closed under austerity cuts. It would have been better to have charged modest fees, modest that is by UK fees, which have shot up from £3,000 to £9,000 per academic year.

UK universities charge fees per year, but with the fees being so high these are now levied over a term.

In Greece the private universities charge per month.

With austerity hitting hard, students are struggling to pay their fees. There has to be some accommodation by the universities. How many are losing their university places, or being forced to retake their year, deemed as failed because they lacked the money to pay for their end of year exams?

Cutting administrative staff, especially if this leads to an increase in lecturer/student ration would be a step in the right direction.

There are too many worthless jobsworth, who are a cost to everyone, who deliver very little, who have jobs for life, who forget they are accountable to the people who pay them.

The rights of girls to an education

October 24, 2012
UN Messenger of Peace Paulo Coelho with Malala on screen

UN Messenger of Peace Paulo Coelho with Malala on screen

I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves. — Mary Wollstonecraft

The terrorists showed what frightens them most: a girl with a book. – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secetary General

Feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) was a member of a group of radical intellectuals called the English Jacobins. Her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) argued equal educational opportunities for women.  She was the mother of Mary Shelley.

A tale of two young bloggers, nine-year-old Martha Payne and Fourteen-year-old Malala. One in Scotland, one in Pakistan.

Martha Payne writes a food blog NeverSeconds. Pathetic jobsworth at her local council tried to gag her. She fought back. She raised money for Friends of NeverSeconds a kitchen for school children in Malawi, has been honoured with various awards, has co-written a book due to be published next month.

Malawa writes a blog calling for education for girls.

Fourteen-year-old Malala was shot  in the head at point blank range by the Pakistani Taliban for daring to suggest that girls might read, that they should have an education.

The first word of the Koran is read. It does not say only men read, it does not say deny girls an education.

Two years ago saw the start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia. People did not take to the streets to see a takeover by Muslim extremists who are even more oppressive than the dictators who were overthrown.

The Muslim extremists who are trying to hijack the Arab Spring want to see the clock set back to the Middle Ages, they wish to bastardise women, deny them of any rights.

These are some of their demands

  • a woman committing adultery 100 lashes if single, stoning to death if married
  • girls forced into marriage aged nine-years-old
  • denial of education for girls
  • women to be covered up from head to toe with only eyes showing
  • drinking of alcohol, 60 lashes

Malawa fortunately survived being shot in the head, she is in hospital in Birmingham recovering.

There are many girls like Malawa who do not recover, who we do not hear about.

The Taliban drove up to Malala’s school and shot her in the neck and brain. Despite being hit at close range, this fourteen-year-old champion of girls’ education is surviving.

Many in Pakistan and around the world have now united behind Malala and her cause. This is a tipping point moment and if we act now we can help achieve the very thing she was targeted for: let’s call on the government of Pakistan to fund girls attending school, starting with her province.

This is our chance to turn Malala’s horror into hope. At her very young age she is an example of courage and determination, but now she is fighting to survive, and it’s our turn to help her win her dream. Sign the petition — when 1 million people have signed the UN education envoy, Gordon Brown, will deliver our call in person to the President of Pakistan, and the Pakistani media:

It is now our turn to turn the spotlight on the Taliban and other extremists.

Malala drew the world’s attention to the Taliban’s reign of terror in North-West Pakistan by writing a blog for the BBC. Her writing records the devastating consequences of extremism which include the systematic destruction of hundreds of girls’ schools and violent intimidation of thousands of families.

Pakistan’s constitution says girls should be educated alongside boys, but politicians have ignored that for years. Only 29% of girls attend secondary school. Even if only half of them finished, Pakistan could grow 6% faster every year. Study after study has shown the positive impact on personal and national income when girls are educated. Malala has drawn the world’s attention, and her President has spoken out strongly for her cause. So let’s help her persuade the government to roll out a massive girls stipend programme, plus school buildings and teacher training. Money is available, what’s lacking is political will.

Let’s turn this shock at the Taliban’s attack on a young girl into a wave of international pressure that forces Pakistan to address girls’ education. Please follow through the link to a petition, stand with Malala and support a massive girls’ education campaign in Pakistan, backed by resources, security and most importantly the will to fight the extremists who tear down Pakistan:

Let’s come together and stand in solidarity with a brave, young activist, who is showing the world how one little schoolgirl can stand up to armed and dangerous extremists.

Please pass to all your friends and ask then to sign and pass on.

We will only defeat religious extremists when we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defeat them.

Religion can be a force for good, but when it goes bad it goes very bad.

Schools kill creativity

December 7, 2011

Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions. — Oliver Wendell Holmes

I often wonder what is wrong with our schools and education system when kids are in school from five years old or younger, sometimes as young as three, leave aged sixteen and are barely able to string a sentence together, lack the ability to communicate, let alone the ability to reason.

It is bad in UK and seems even worse in the US.

Universities are little better.

A conveyor belt system suited to the needs of business.

Kids who lack the ability to think. Kids who lack motivation.

Kids who follow each other as though they are clones, even worse, corporate clones, jumping to the diktat of Big Business, which decides what they wear, what they eat, what they listen to. Don’t they have minds of their own, are they only capable of group think, that is when they think at all?

A society that has been dumbed down.

Everyone watching the same TV programmes, the opiate of the masses, or as Aldous Huxley would have called it soma. Programmes which require the attention span of a gnat.

There is a lack of understanding of science of music of art of literature.

People who are unable to hold an intelligent conversation. Whose limit of conversation is what happened on last night’s TV soap opera. Who are not conversant in foreign affairs. Who lack the ability of independent thought.

A very depressing future.

Business is little better, it employs identikit suits, not individuals. Courses are run to show people how to draw up a CV, how to present oneself at interviews, the net result all are identical clones. Kids are now being trained this way when they apply to the better universities.

Pre-school children are usually quite bright, naturally investigative, apart from those who have already had it physically beaten out of them by bad parents. They pass through school and emerge as dullards, incapable of interacting with their environment, socially inadequate, unable to express themselves.

When children were taught to read and write and do arithmetic it was not so they could better themselves, have a more enriching life, it was so they could be more productive units of production in the Dark Satanic Mills.

I was lucky, an Oxbridge education, collegiate system, lectures, seminars, tutorials, one of the privileged elite. When I came across Edward de Bono’s work on lateral thinking (and if you have not please read his books) it was not new to me, it was how I thought. But also creative thinking and logical thinking, the ability to create and then analyse many solutions extremely rapidly.

We were not taught to think, it was expected, a given.

I will always remember a tutorial and asked to explain something. I did, and was then asked why. I looked at my tutor in some puzzlement, but it was what you told us in lecture. Yes, but that does not mean it was correct.

If something was not understood, it was always well look at this way, a different way. Only those who really understand can do this. As I discovered later at another university, where with the rare exception of my own talented Greek tutor, this was not the norm.

At school I could not understand why the subjects were compartmentalised. I used to link them together.

We need a core education for life skills. Basic cooking skills. How to grow food. Learn about heat flow and you understand insulating your house. I have never understood why cooks turn up the gas on a boiling pot. It will not go above 100 C, the boiling point of water, it will not get any hotter, it will not cook any quicker.

We need a not only a broad education, but a holistic education.

Sir, why do have to read these boring books. Because that is what you are here for. No, no, no! Books are a pleasure to read, they give you a window onto the world, they stretch the imagination, they make you think.

As children we carried out chemical experiments in a shed at the bottom of the garden. It is a wonder we did not blow ourselves up. The waste from our experiments was poured over a neighbour’s vegetable patch. We probably poisoned the poor guy. We even designed and constructed our own batteries which we used to power our electrical circuits. We cleared an area in the field at the bottom of our garden and used it for a football pitch in the winter and a cricket pitch in the summer. We wandered along rivers and streams and caught fish. We kept them in fish tanks. We stole birds eggs. Morally wrong yes, and once we worked that out for ourselves, we no longer stole them. We dug people traps in sand dunes, laid grass over the top, sprinkled sand over. And yes, we caught people in them. We damned streams leading down onto a beach, then when people were on the beach, breached the dam. We climbed down into an abandoned quarry, an old clay pit for a long disused brickworks and dug out fossils, we even found fossilised logs and a fossilised tree trunk. It was a great disappointment not being able to carry our finds back home. We made ginger beer.

I find understanding, an interest in the world, a love of arts and culture of science and the natural world, is still the norm with people I know in Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic, Russia, but not so in Anglo-Saxon society, and to some extent within the education system, where intellectuals are derided, where moronic celebrity status is all.

Paulo Coelho asks us to think. Is that why his books are so popular in these countries?

We are part of the system, the system is us, it is for us to challenge and change the system. That is what St Paul’s in-the-Camp and Occupy Camps across the world are doing.

Right to protest?

December 12, 2010

We live in a democracy right?

So we all have the right to be represented. In fact equal rights to representation is the ideology on which our society has (eventually) been built. My rights as a citizen in this country depend upon my recognition of your rights. If I have access to the vote then so should you. If I have access to education then so too you. Especially since we have a first class education system – accessible to all, excellence for all.

Or we did. Until Thursday 9th December at around 4.30pm when a slim majority of 21 MPs compromised their election promises and sided with the coalition government, rather than the students who voted them in. 21 MPs. 21 individuals have made a decision that will dismantle our national treasure – a world famous and public Higher Education. Along with the hike in tuition fees those 21 MPs have forced hundred of thousands of children, the poorest children in our society, to finish school at 16. The fates of 660,000 of our most vulnerable children have been decided by 21 people who promised to represent them.

This is the back-story to the youth protests that have shook our cities and dominated the nation’s press.

Kids have never had it so hard – their future mortgaged to shore up a deficit created by the banks; an ecological debt created because our leaders lack the will and imagination to invest in a sustainable future. For the first time in a long time young people with the smallest voice and the most to lose have got together and coordinated a response.

Cameron responded to their frustration and anger with appaled outrage. How dare these children use any means possible to achieve representation? How dare they smash national treasures he asks whilst he holds the axe to Higher Education, the Independent Living Fund, the nation’s forests, the NHS.

Originally posted by Climate Rush on their blog.

Quite right David Cameron. The violence we saw on the streets during the student fees protest last week was totally unacceptable. The violence by the police was not restricted to a tiny minority.

We saw police charge demonstrators with horses (leaving one girl with a broken collar bone). We saw police beat protesters with batons and riot shields (leaving one man with serious head injuries). We saw people held for many hours on the streets in freezing cold conditions without water or food or toilet facilities.

People have the right to demonstrate in front of Parliament not find their access blocked.

People have the right to expect the police to safeguard their democratic right to protest, not to herd and coral and beat around the head.

Will you be launching a full Public Inquiry into the appalling policing that took place last Thursday?

People expect the police to be there to protect them not live in fear of them.

We want policing by consent, not policing by baton wielding thugs in uniform and riot gear.

This is not a Third World State or a country in the old Soviet Bloc and yet I saw no difference in behaviour by the state security apparatus. What we are seeing is history repeating itself, our Prague Spring, our Orange Revolution, and the knee-jerk reaction of the state is the same.

Will you be launching a full Public Inquiry into the beating of student Alfie Meadows? Who would have died but for his mother finding him.

We demand, not politely request, all FIT film footage to be placed in the public domain and to be handed over to Alfie’s family.

We demand a prompt and speedy and competent investigation. We do not want to see the delays we saw into the death of Ian Tomlinson, that by the time the case reaches the Courts it is too late for a prosecution of those police officers involved.

Has nothing been learnt from the death of Ian Tomlinson? Has nothing been learnt from the illegal kettling?

Sup Julia Pendry blatantly lied when she gave her press conference from New Scotland Yard. As did the Met Commissioner.

Yes, there was violence committed that day, violence that will have long reaching impact, that will scar a generation for life. That was the violence committed on our education system and the youth of our country.

We are seeing the privatisation, marketisation of our education system. We are seeing people who live in slums denied a helping hand. We are seeing massive welfare cuts. We are seeing housing cuts. Next will come NHS, our libraries, our public transport, our museums, sell off of our woods and forests.

An alleged Budget Deficit is being used as the excuse for slash and burn of the public sector. There would not even be a budget deficit if tax dodgers were forced to pay their taxes.

No we are not in it all together. The rich retain their privileges whilst the poor, the disadvantaged, the environment, pay the price of greedy bankers and decades of economic mismanagement.

What you saw on Thursday was the Big Society in action. It may take a long time and a lot of provocation to awaken from its slumber, but provocation has finally roused its ire. Big Society is on the case and does not like what it finds. Big Society does not like the democratic deficit at the heart of the Gothic chamber of horrors.

The anger that erupted on the streets, was as a direct result of the vote in Parliament and the violence and intimidation by the police beforehand.

Had you been with the students and lecturers and school kids as they walked to Parliament, you would have been able to have joined in the party atmosphere, what many described as a carnival. But you would have also have seen the attempted kettles, the blocked roads, to try and stop people reaching Parliament.

You owe an apology for falsely claiming there were ‘scenes of police officers being dragged off police horses and beaten’.

Maybe you should spend some time talking to Caroline Lucas MP as she seems to have a better grasp of reality than either yourself or lying hypocrites Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

A pity Bruce Kent took part in the Sky News discussion as he clearly did not have a clue what he was talking about. In contrast Tamsin Omond put the case across very eloquently. A pity about the appalling sound quality.

Note: There is a mistake in the Climate Rush report. The vote came through after 5-30pm, not 4-30pm.

Also see

Caroline Lucas MP speaks at student fees protest

A sad day for democracy

Captain SKA – Liar Liar

The Battle for Parliament Square

Taming the Vampire Squid: Take back our banks

Why cuts are the wrong cure

London Student Assembly Press Conference

Alfie Meadows seriously injured in student fees protest

‘Scenes of police officers being dragged off police horses and beaten’

Inside the Parliament Square kettle

Kettled During 9th of December Protest

Britain’s woods and forests for sale

Climate Rendezvous with Climate Rush

A story to inspire all of us

November 18, 2009
Tererai Trent on Oprah Winfrey show

Tererai Trent on Oprah Winfrey show

‘When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dreams.’ — Paulo Coelho

‘Any time anyone tells you that a dream is impossible, any time you’re discouraged by impossible challenges, just mutter this mantra: Tererai Trent.’ — Nicholas D. Kristof

‘My personal story is not about me. I think my story personalises the possibilities Heifer International offers to women and girls who are struggling to achieve equality and social justice.’ — Tererai Trent

Tererai Trent (pronounced TEH-reh-rye) was married off at the age of 11 to a man who regularly beat her, had less than a year of formal education (her father thought education was wasted on girls). Hardly the most auspicious start in life. Sadly the tale of many women in rural Africa. When Heifer International visited her village in Zimbabwe and asked what were her dreams, she wrote them down on a sheet of paper: study abroad, obtain a degree, a master’s degree, then a PhD. Most unlikely goals for a semi-literate African women, equally surprising that these gaols should enter her head, that she was even aware of a master’s degrees or doctorate.

What Tererai Trent found hard to believe was that the head of Heifer International Jo Luck had come to her village and was prepared to sit down in the dirt with them and ask them to express their dreams.

She went to work for Heifer and several Christian organisations as a community organiser. She saved every penny she could, undertook correspondence courses.

In 1998 she was accepted into Oklahoma State University, but she insisted on taking her five children with her. She feared that if she left them behind her husband would marry them off. Her husband would only agree to her taking them with her if he came too.

Heifer pitched in with funding, her mother sold a cow, friends and neighbours helped. She managed to raise $4,000 and set of to the US with kids and unwanted husband in tow.

An impossible dream come true, but the dream turned into a nightmare. She had no money, mouths to feed and a bone idle husband who refused to work but regularly beat her.

With no money they were forced to eat out of trash cans. She worked all hours to try and earn enough money to get by. The crunch came when behind with her fees she was facing expulsion from the university.

Luckily for her the local community and church stepped in to help her. She was found low cost housing. A sympathetic Wal-Mart employee would give her the nod and leave past sell-by-date food for her to pick up. Her violent husband was kicked out of the Sates and deported back to Zimbabwe.

Working all hours, she managed to get her degree on education in agriculture, then whilst she was working on her master’s degree, her husband returned from Zimbabwe dying of AIDS. Feeling sorry for him, she took him back and looked after him until he died.

She has now completed her dissertation on AIDS prevention in Africa for her PhD at Western Michigan University, whilst at the same time working as a programme evaluator for Heifer.

Next month she will be awarded her PhD. Finally she will be able to tick of the last item on her list, and yes, she still has the sheet of paper on which she had written her dreams. The list she had placed in a tin and buried in the ground. She would return, unearth her tin box and tick off her dreams one by one. She is now encouraging other girls to do the same, write out your dreams, bury then in a tin box so that they are not forgotten, then as your realise your dreams, return to your tin box, unearth it and tick off your dreams.

How many people are told their dreams are unrealistic, to forget them?

Tererai Trent is now the Deputy Director for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at Heifer International.

Maybe she is the exception not the rule.

In Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus established the Grameen Bank. He knew nothing about banking, but he did not let that stop him. He lent small amounts of money to people who needed it. People who commercial banks would not lend to. The only criteria was that they needed the money and the community would stand as guarantors. But only to the women as the men could not be trusted with the money.

The attitude Muhammad Yunus takes is if you can survive in the Third World on less than $1 a day, then you have amazing entrepreneurial skills. All you need is a little seed capital to succeed. And his faith in people has been justly rewarded.

I went to a very rough school. The people I used to know then are either dead or in prison. It was the sort of school where you carried a knife and knew how to us it. You were dumped into shit jobs. You were brainwashed into taking shit jobs. When asked what I wanted to do I said go to university. I was laughed at. But I proved them wrong.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a modern fable. Santiago an Andalusian shepherd boy decides to follow his dream. He sells his sheep, with gold in his pocket, he travels across to Morocco. But tragedy befalls him on his very first day. He allows a stranger he trusts to run off with all his money, leaving him with nothing. The day before he had been a shepherd with a flock of sheep, that morning he had gold in his purse. Now he is left penniless in a strange and foreign land. Most people would have given up. Santiago sits crying in the square, but then he picks himself up, and thinks to himself, well I always wanted adventure and this is the start of a great adventure.

The universe conspires to help us realise our dreams. Santiago learnt to read the symbols, the language of the Soul of the World.

How many of us follow our dreams? How many of us bemoan our fate? The difference is there are those who grasp the opportunities life offers us, those who do not.

I am often called upon to help the less fortunate in life. I will help them to get back on their feet, but if it is tea and sympathy they are looking for, then they have come to the wrong person. For what I find in nearly all cases is that it is not that Fate has dealt them a bad hand as they would like everyone to believe, it is because they have failed to grasp the opportunities life has given them. Even when you give them a helping hand and point them in the right direction, rather than heed the advice given and help themselves, they would rather expend the effort on bemoaning how hard done by they are.

Next time someone bemoans their hard life and tries to tell you their hard luck story, tell them the story of Tererai Trent, hand them a copy of The Alchemist and suggest that they read it.

Special thanks to Paulo Coelho and Jane Stewart for drawing to my attention the story of Tererai Trent and Priya Sher for pointing me to the article on luck. And for my lovely friend Claire from Zimbabwe who was impatient to read what I was writing.


Triumph of a Dreamer

Half the Sky

Hope in a Box

Creating a World Without Poverty

Be lucky – it’s an easy skill to learn

10,000 hours

The Alchemist