Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

The Circular Economy and Education

February 26th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Screenshot 2019-02-26 at 18.21.29Last week I spoke at a meeting – Circular Economy Competences Making the Case for Lifelong Learning – at the European Parliament in Brussels. The meeting was hosted by MEP Silvia Costa and organised by ACR+ as part of the Erasmus+ CYCLE project, brought together key actors working on incorporating circular economy competences in education and lifelong learning. Pontydysgu are partners in the project and I introduced briefly what we are doing.

The press release below gives a good summary of the event. But the main lesson for me was that there are a lot of people doing practical things (and policy initiatives) around the circular economy. And there are a lot of people in the education sector (not least of all students) wanting to do things around the environment and climate change.

The problem is that for some reason there is not a lot of communication going on between the two communities. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has produced some excellent and there have been a number of MOOCs, hosted mainly by Dutch and French organisations. But a lot of the learning materials available are focused on particular technical areas, rather than looking at the Circular Economy as a whole.

The CYCLE project is a start – aiming to develop an online competence centre for learning materials. But in reality the project is really too small when compared to what is needed.

I think the next step should be to attempt to develop a European Special Interest Group (SIG) on the circular economy and Education. Anyone interested?

Press Release

Brussels, Belgium. The event “Circular Economy Competences Making the Case for Lifelong Learning”, hosted on 19 February at the European Parliament by MEP Silvia Costa and organised by ACR+ in the framework of the Erasmus+ CYCLE project, brought together key actors working on incorporating circular economy competences in education and lifelong learning.

The fully booked event was opened by MEP Silvia Costa, who stressed the importance of mainstreaming circular thinking in lifelong learning policies. The MEP also reported on the dialogue between the Parliament and the European Commission aimed at introducing recitals on climate change and sustainable development goals in the text of the next Erasmus+ 2021/2027 programme. Afterwards, Callum Blackburn from Zero Waste Scotland gave an introductory speech calling for international cooperation for circular economy education based on strategic partnerships that facilitate mutual learning.

The first thematic panel tackled the issue of circular thinking in education. Graham Atwell from Pontydysgu presented the e-learning platform that is currently being developed within the CYCLE project. The platform, which will be launched in May 2019, aims to collect training material on circular economy for adult educators. Sander Bos and Heleentje Swart from the Dutch Fryslan Region showed how governments and schools are already working together within the regional SPARK initiative to achieve a circular change in educational methods, practices and tools.

The second panel focused on how to upskill waste, repair and reuse industries. Fiona Craigintroduced the audience to the SWITCH Forum, a multi-partnership forum made up of organisations active across all the sub-sectors of resource management . The SWITCH Forum aims to support continuous improvement in education and training and in health and safety in this sector. Roberto Cerqueira from LIPOR presented the training programmes of the LIPOR Academy, which include circular economy as an area of knowledge.

The speakers of the last panel discussed the evolution of the labour market related to the circular economy and the skills that will be increasingly required for circular jobs. Lorenzo Barucca from Legambiente presented the key outcomes of a study carried out together with the University of Padova, about the main connections between innovative industries (Industry 4.0) and circular economy. Joke Dufourmont from Circle Economy presented the mapping of core and enabling circular jobs in the city of Amsterdam, reflecting on the technical and transversal competencies that underlie them.

The slides of the presentations made at the event are available on the ACR+ website.

Brexit fun?

February 21st, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Brexit is not much fun (in fact its causing me a lot of stress. But at least here is something genuinely funny – with a fair bit of truth thrown in.

Breadlines

February 7th, 2019 by Graham Attwell


This poem by Matt Sowerby was the first prize winner in the  16-18 age category in the End Hunger UK challenge on Young Poets Network.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Cognitive Justice and Restorative Action

January 25th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

In reply to a comment by Cristina Costa on the Social Theory Applied Facebook site, Randolph Presisinger Kleine wrote “I recommend to get in touch with Prof. Catherine A. Odora Hopper. She’s one of the most influential thinkers in Africa. Some years ago she founded an African think tank, whose mission is to build a African paradigm, that shall overcome the shortcomings and pitfalls in Western social theory.” Randolph pointed to this video. It goes a long way to explaining my unease around strategies for overcoming teacher shortages in Sub Saharan Africa through the se of Technology Enhanced Learning. Nothing wring with that per se but are we just transporting knowledge paradigms not only from the rich countries, but from the tech industry in those countries?

AI Brain Drain?

September 3rd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

It is not often I read the Daily Telegraph. Not withstanding the politics, the paper only provides a short introduction for free with the rest of the content languishing behind a paywall. But I picked up this stub of an article through Twitter.

Britain faces an artificial intelligence “brain drain” as Silicon Valley raids its top universities for talent, data compiled by The Telegraph shows.

Around a third of leading machine learning and AI specialists who have left the UK’s top institutions are currently working at Silicon Valley tech firms.

More than a tenth have moved to North American universities and nearly a tenth are currently working for other smaller US companies. Meanwhile just one in seven have joined British start-ups.

The Telegraph surveyed 150 people who had gained either a postgraduate-level degree or had…..

The sample I think comes form just four universities so is possibly not reliable. But it possibly shows how unattractive working as a researcher in UK univeristies sis becoming compared to provate sector work abroad.

What is an algorithm?

September 3rd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

There was an excellent article by Andrew Smith in the Guardian newspaper last week. ‘Franken-algorithms: the deadly consequences of unpredictable code’, examines issues with our “our new algorithmic reality and the “growing conjecture that current programming methods are no longer fit for purpose given the size, complexity and interdependency of the algorithmic systems we increasingly rely on.” “Between the “dumb” fixed algorithms and true AI lies the problematic halfway house we’ve already entered with scarcely a thought and almost no debate, much less agreement as to aims, ethics, safety, best practice”, Smith says.

I was particularly interested in the changing understandings of what an algorithm is.

In the original understanding of an algorithm, says Andrew Smith, “an algorithm is a small, simple thing; a rule used to automate the treatment of a piece of data. If a happens, then do b; if not, then do c. This is the “if/then/else” logic of classical computing. If a user claims to be 18, allow them into the website; if not, print “Sorry, you must be 18 to enter”. At core, computer programs are bundles of such algorithms.” However, “Recent years have seen a more portentous and ambiguous meaning emerge, with the word “algorithm” taken to mean any large, complex decision-making software system; any means of taking an array of input – of data – and assessing it quickly, according to a given set of criteria (or “rules”).”

And this, of course is a problem, especially where algorithms, even if published, are not in the least transparent and with machine learning, constantly evolving.

Issues in developing apprenticeship programmes: UK and Spain

May 22nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

soundtechAfter years of running down apprenticeship schemes through a policy focus on mass university education, the UK, in common with other European countries, has in the past few years turned back to apprenticeship both as a strategy for providing the skills needed in the changing economy and as a way of overcoming youth unemployment especially or those with low school attainment.

The turn to apprenticeship has gone through a number of phases. In its earliest incarnation there was a tendency to just label any vocational work based programme as an apprenticeship. This did nothing for the reputation of apprenticeships either with young people or with employers and there was widespread criticism of the quality of many of the courses on offer.

Two years ago, the government undertook yet another shakeup of the apprenticeship programme, introducing a training levy for large companies and placing a focus on higher level apprenticeships including degree programmes.

Yet this reform has also run into problems. Despite setting a target of three million new apprenticeships by 2020, there was a near 27% fall in the number taking up trainee posts in the last quarter of 2017.

The number starting apprenticeships dropped to 114,000 between August and October, down from 155,700 in the same period in 2016. That followed a 59% drop in the previous three months after the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April last year.

The biggest drop came in “intermediate” apprenticeships, the basic level, which dropped 38% to 52,000. The highest level of apprenticeships – known as degree apprenticeships – rose nearly 27% to 11,600. Schemes for adult apprentices were worse affected than for those young people, falling by just over 30% compared with 20%.

Last week, the UK House of Commons Education Select Committee heard evidence from the Further Education minister Anne Milton, the quality inspectorate Ofsted, the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Education and Skills Funding Agency on the quality of apprenticeships and skills training.

What seems remarkable from the TES report on the issues emerging from the meeting is how much they parallel problems in other European countries attempting to develop new apprenticeship systems, such as Italy and Spain. Indeed, nearly all of the issues also emerged in our study on apprenticeship in Valencia, Spain, all be it in different forms. This first article provides a quick summary of some of the issues raised at the House of Commons, together with a look at their resonance in Spain. In later posts I will look at some of the issues separately, particularly in reference to developments in the Dual System in Germany.

Higher level apprenticeships

According to the TES, high up the agenda were degree apprenticeships. While degree apprenticeships may raise the prestige of apprenticeship funding, this does little for the lower skilled young people looking for what in the UK are called intermediate level qualifications. Similarly, in Spain the new FP Dual apprenticeship programme has gained biggest traction at a higher apprenticeship level, demanding good school examination results for entry.

Despite the fact that Spain has a decentralised regional system for approving new apprenticeship programmes and the UK operates a national system, in both countries there seems to be significant issues around the level of bureaucracy in getting approval for new programmes and for the management of programmes.

Judging quality

In both countries too, the quality of apprenticeship programmes appears to be variable. Paul Joyce, deputy director for FE and skills at Ofsted, said there was a “very mixed picture” in terms of the quality of apprenticeships, adding: “It is certainly not a universally positive picture in terms of quality.” He said that of those providers inspected so far this year, “round about half are ‘requiring improvement’ or are ‘inadequate’, so it’s a very mixed bag”.

In Spain with no inspection system and few attempts at any systematic evaluation it is difficult to judge quality. Anecdotal evidence suggest also a “very mixed picture” in part due to the lack of training for trainers.

The role of Small and Medium Enterprises

The House of Commons Select Committee heard from Keith Smith, director of apprenticeships at the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), who said there was an aspiration to give employers more control in the system.

He added: “For small businesses, we need to be really careful we provide them with the right support and infrastructure to do that. They’re not the same as big levy-paying employers, they don’t have the same back-office support.

“We’re trying to design this very much with micro-businesses in mind. So, if it works for micro-businesses, it will work for all small businesses.”

Despite that, there would appear to be little take up from small businesses at present, possibly due to lack of knowledge about the new system, or because of the bureaucracy involved.

Similarly in Spain, there is limited take up by small businesses, Whilst in reality vocational schools are in charge of the system, the curriculum for apprenticeship programmes is developed in partnership between the schools and the companies.

More support needed for disadvantaged

Apprenticeships and skills minister Ms Milton said she will do what she can to break down barriers for disadvanataged people, including lobbying other ministers on issues such as travel discounts, an apprentice premium and the benefits system. After education secretary Damian Hinds yesterday refused to commit to the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge of transport subsidies for apprentices, Ms Milton was also coy on the issue.

In Spain there is continuing confusion over support for apprentices. With the adoption of the FP Dual system largely in the control of the regional governments, different regions have different policies, some stipulating pay for apprentices, some of training allowance and others not. Similarly, in some regions transport is paid and in others not. Sometimes it depends on agreements between individual employers and vocational schools.

 

The Green Slime Neoliberal Lens

April 2nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Like many of us I guess, I am disillusioned that the rich promise of social networks for informal learning and the sharing of knowledge has been overwhelmed by endless drive for monetization. Even such basic features as privacy and data security seem to be determined more by how to make money than by any ethical concerns.

I long ago lost faith in Facebook. However, I still have a soft spot for Twitter. Even though curating follower lists takes some time, it is amply paid back by the links to so many things – reports, papers, blogs etc.I would never have stumbled on before.

All this is a rather lengthy prelude to two slides I found last week. Sadly I have lost who was the creator (anyone care to claim them?). But these are great slides.

Image from Tweetbot

 

Image from Tweetbot 1

 

 

 

They have had “Enough” of it – They say #NeverAgain

March 26th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last week I came to Tampa, Florida, for my Easter break. Due to that fact I have felt closer to the news on the current youth movement in the United States with the motto #NeverAgain. As we know, this movement was started as the survivors’ reaction after the shootings in Parkland, Florida. The angry survivors, mostly seniors at high school, took the initiative to launch a new movement for strict gun laws and against the corrupt gun lobby (and politicians following its guidance). So, last week I saw a lot of media reports on the ‘March for Our Lives’ led by these young survivors from Parkland – now supported by hundreds of thousands participating in the demonstrations and celebrities supporting them.

But this post is not about the numbers or the celebrities, it is about these young activists who have achieved a lot and who are ready to fight for their cause – whoever they have to fight against. Below I try to grasp some key moments of this movement and add some reports (partly delivered by German media who tries to interpret what is going on).

Emma Gonzales “We call BS”

One of the early events of the movement was the gun control rally on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, days after the gunman entered her school in nearby Parkland and killed 17 people.

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/17/us/florida-student-emma-gonzalez-speech/index.html

Here some quotes of the impressive speech of EmmaGonzalez:

“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

“If the President wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.”

“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS.Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

The movement takes off – and the “March for Our Lives” takes place everywhere in the US

What happened then – of that I have been better informed by the German media. They have given a reports on the interim events and on the growing pressure on politicians. Whilst the first reactions from the White House and from the leading politicians tended to belittle the problems and the activists, the reports on mass engagement to participate in the March for Our Lives (24th of March) got the politicians alerted. This was reflected in the hasty process to tighten the gun laws in Florida just on the advent of the forthcoming March for Our Lives. See on this the report of the news department of the German TV channel ARD (with video and audio reports included):

http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/parkland-waffendebatte-101.html

And then came the great day of the mass demonstrations. The report of the German TV channel ZDF informs of the preparations and on the atmosphere on the evening before the marches:

https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-plus/videos/heuteplus-schueler-demonstrieren-gegen-waffen-100.html

The speech that silenced the masses

Again it was Emma Gonzales who delivered the speech that got the most attention. Few but significant words in the beginning, long silence in between and then the concluding statements that delivered a strong messge.

https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-sendungen/videos/emma-gonzalez-schweigen-volle-laenge-100.html

I think this is enough of the events and of the movement that has reached great dimensions. The leaders of the movement are young but not naive. They have stood up against the gun lobby and mighty politicians – and shown that they cannot be intimidated. Instead, the politicians have got the challenge to stand up with them or to enjoy their last term of office. To me these young activists merit to be called as ‘profiles in courage’. To be sure, they know what they are fighting for – and they know that the future will be theirs.

More blogs to come …

The slow cancellation of the future

March 12th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

leeds-ucu-strike-christianhogsbjergWriting in the Guardian, Becky Gardiner, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths University in London, explains why she is on strike. Although the strike in the UK universities is now into its fourth week and is ostensibly abut cuts to pensions it raises wider issues’

‭Becky says:

My favourite banner on the picket line reads “Against the slow cancellation of the future”, a phrase popularised by the late cultural theorist, Mark Fisher. In the grip of neoliberalism, we begin to believe that there is no alternative, Fisher told us.

In universities, this slow draining of hope began with the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, and gathered pace when they were tripled in 2010. Successive governments, enthusiastically aided by overpaid senior management drawn from outside the university sector, have turned higher education into a utilitarian and consumer-driven activity that students buy in exchange for skills for the job market.

The latest idea coming from the UK Department for Education (DfE) is to introduce a ratings system would which would allow students to make “consumer-style comparisons of degree courses.” Subjects will be given a gold, silver or bronze award, and details will be made available about post-degree employment prospects, potential earnings and dropout rates, according to the DfE.

The problem for DfE is that for all their efforts educations is not a consumer good. And statistics suggest that the best indicator of potential earnings comes not from which university or indeed which subject is studies but is dependent on the social class that the student comes from. So those courses with more upper class students will have the best post employment prospects, presumably attracting more upper class students and reinforcing their positioning in the consumer style ratings. The slow cancellation of the future seems to be speeding up.

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    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.


    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time


    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”


    Teenagers online in the USA

    According to Pew Internet 95% of teenagers in the USA now report they have a smartphone or access to one. These mobile connections are in turn fueling more-persistent online activities: 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis.

    Roughly half (51%) of 13 to 17 year olds say they use Facebook, notably lower than the shares who use YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat.

    The survey also finds there is no clear consensus among teens about the effect that social media has on the lives of young people today. Minorities of teens describe that effect as mostly positive (31%) or mostly negative (24%), but the largest share (45%) says that effect has been neither positive nor negative.


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