Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Pontydysgu in Europe

March 18th, 2021 by Graham Attwell

I’ve had a few queries lately about whether Pontydysgu can still take part in European projects. With regard to Erasmus Plus I’m afraid the answer for Pontydysgu UK is no. It seems that the UK were invited to continue as part of Erasmus plus on the same basis as Norway paying into the project funding. But the UK government refused on the basis that it was too expensive. According to gossip the UK wished to continue with student exchanges but not participate in the Erasmus projects and the EU, not unreasonably in my view, said it was all or nothing. They have replaced Erasmus plus with the Turing scheme which, they claim, will be backed by over £100 million, providing funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas, starting in September 2021. As opposed to the European basis for Erasmus, it would appear the Turing scheme is more focused on English speaking countries in other parts of the world and on boosting UK trade.

The good news is that Pontydysgu SL,  our Spanish spin out based in Valencia is of course able  to participate in Erasmus Plus and other European programmes. And, coming soon,  we are reorganising our web site, launching Pontydysgu EU in English and Spanish.

The UK has, however, decided to participate in Horizon Europe, the European research programme, and both Pontydysgu Ltd in the UK and Pontydysgu SL in Spain will be very happy to be partners in bids.

 

 

Celebrating Martin Luther King – Revisiting a German radio program of January 2017

January 19th, 2021 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday, on Monday 19.01.2021 our American friends celebrated  Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. This reminded me of a blog that I wrote four years ago on the important travels of Martin Luther King Sr and Jr (father and son) to Germany. Both visits had consequences and it is worthwhile revisiting the memories of these trips – once again.

Four years ago I happened to listen to the German radio program “Am Sonntag morgen” (on Sunday morning) – provided by the German Lutheran church. And came to follow a special program about the travels of Marin Luther King Sr and Jr in Germany. Inspired by the program I wrote a blog entry in which I wanted translate the content of  that program into English. So, the following section of this blog article is a compressed English version of the text provided by the German priest Andrea Schneider for Deutschlandfunk. The original text is available here:

http://rundfunk.evangelisch.de/kirche-im-radio/am-sonntagmorgen/eine-folgenreiche-reise-8611

Eine folgenreiche Reise. Martin Luther King in Deutschland (A travel with consequences. Martin Luther King in Germany)

Let us start with the father – Martin Luther King Sr. He was originally called Michael – and so was his son. But in the year 1935 he and some other baptist preachers attended an international baptist conference in Berlin. The Nazis were already in power and tried to make an image as tolerant rulers allowing such events to happen. But this was not the point of this story. King Sr (still called Michael) took the opportunity to visit the home places of the reformer Martin Luther (Wittenberg and Eisenach). There he got very much impressed of the spirit of Martin Luther – civil courage and self-determination – and he wanted to convey this spirit to the American civil rights movement where he was already involved. So, after returning home he renamed himself and his son as Martin Luther King – Senior and Junior.

The son – Martin Luther King Jr – follows in the footsteps of the father and continues his work as a preacher, intellectual and activist in the civil rights movement. By the year 1963 he had become world famous as the leader of the non-violent civil rights movement of black Americans – the man who gave the speech “I have a dream …” in the largest demonstration for civil rights. One year after – in 1964 (nearly 30 years after his father) he travels to Europe to participate in the international conference of baptists (this time in Amsterdam). And just like his father, he has his own extension program to explore Germany – but his target is the divided Berlin.

Little is known of this part of the travel of Martin Luther King – and mostly we thank for our knowledge a Berlin school pupils’ documentation project “King Code”. What this project has found out by interviewing witnesses and tracing documents makes us clear, why the details of this visit were kept secret.

On 13.09.1964 a well-known person from the German Democratic Republic (DDR) tries to escape to West-Berlin and is shot at just before he reaches the other side. An American sergeant risks a lot by dragging the wounded person to the Western side and takes him to the hospital. Martin Luther King gets to know of the incident, visits the place of shooting and visits the victim at the hospital. In his famous speech at the Waldbühne he predicts that the wall – the symbol of inhumanity for him – will fall down. But he wants to do more – he insists to visit East Berlin as well. The American authorities wanted to prevent this and confiscate his passport but he managed to get through the border control with his credit card as a travel document.

Thanks to the above mentioned school project we can listen to witnesses and an audio recording of the speech of Martin Luther King in the crowded Marienkirche (and memories of another speech in the nearby Sophienkirche). King presents his audience greetings from America and from all over the world. He then emphasises that people on both sides of the Berlin Wall ar e children of God and thus alike as human beings – and therefore, no regime can take that quality away from them. He speaks of justice, equality and civil rights – determined that that the path leads to freedom. Three months later he receives the Nobel Price for Peace and continues his work in the civil right movement.  Sadly, King was murdered some years later but his life work became know everywhere. And so, for the civil rights movement in DDR his message was present when they demonstrated for freedom and justice with the message for non-violence: “Keine Gewalt!” And in November 1989 the Berlin Wall and the borders of DDR were opened – another dream to come true.

In 2013 the activists of the school project “King Code” had the pleasure to witness the visit of the first black president of the USA to Berlin and to listen to his speech. Barack Obama spoke for open-mindedness between different religions as well as between residents and migrants. And in the spirit of Martin Luther King he emphasised that injustice at one place on earth is a threat to other places as well. In this respect he passed the message further to the young generation.

– – –

So, this was in a nutshell the message of the radio program that I listened to four years ago. I think it is really worthwhile to revisit the legacy of Martin Luther King in general and to consider the impact that his example had on the peaceful revolution in East Germany (DDR) in the year 1989. And now, thinking of what all is going on in our world, it is worthwhile to pay attention to the message that was promoted by the Ameican civil rights movement of the 1960s, here presented by Joan Baez:

I guess that this is enough of this theme. I am looking forward to seeing that this ‘some day’ is getting nearer.

More blogs to come …

 

Word of the Day

January 7th, 2021 by Graham Attwell

Rather than comment on the goings on in America yesterday, I will leave it to Susie Dent and her extremely timely Word of the Day tweet.

Language courses and science, technology, engineering and maths subjects cut

September 16th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
jet engine, jet, airplane

LittleVisuals (CC0), Pixabay

Over the past few years there has been great emphasis placed in the UK on the importance of science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) for the future development of the economy. there has also been attention placed on the poor record of language learning in the country. And education – and especially the vocational further education colleges have been urged to ensure that employability is high on te agenda.

It is surprising then to see the latest report from the UK nation Audit Office which has found that “Some colleges have stopped teaching modern languages courses and some science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, while others have significantly decreased employability activities.”

As a report on Sky News says, the Aidit Office report the reason being that core funding for the college sector has fallen and its financial health “remains fragile” – with an increasing number of colleges across the UK under financial pressure due to the coronavirus crisis.

The report warned that mental health and careers support for college students had also reduced.

Accountability and algorithmic systems

September 3rd, 2020 by Graham Attwell
programming, computer language, program

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

There seems to be a growing awareness of the use and problems with algorithms – at least in the UK with what Boris Johnson called “a rogue algorithm” caused chaos in students exam results. It is becoming very apparent that there needs to be far more transparency in what algorithms are being designed to do.

Writing in Social Europe says “Algorithmic systems are a new front line for unions as well as a challenge to workers’ rights to autonomy.” She draws attention to the increasing surveillance and monitoring of workers at home or in the workplace. She says strong trade union responses are immediately required to balance out the power asymmetry between bosses and workers and to safeguard workers’ privacy and human rights. She also says that improvements to collective agreements as well as to regulatory environments are urgently needed.

Perhaps her most important argument is about the use of algorithms:

Shop stewards must be party to the ex-ante and, importantly, the ex-post evaluations of an algorithmic system. Is it fulfilling its purpose? Is it biased? If so, how can the parties mitigate this bias? What are the negotiated trade-offs? Is the system in compliance with laws and regulations? Both the predicted and realised outcomes must be logged for future reference. This model will serve to hold management accountable for the use of algorithmic systems and the steps they will take to reduce or, better, eradicate bias and discrimination.

Christina Colclough believes the governance of algorithmic systems will require new structures, union capacity-building and management transparency.I can’t disagree with that. But also what is needed is a greater understanding of the use of AI and algorithms – for good and for bad. This means an education campaign – in trade unions but also for the wider public to ensure that developments are for the good and not just another step in the progress of Surveillance Capitalism.

AI and Algorithms: the UK examination debacle

August 20th, 2020 by Graham Attwell

This article was originally published on the Taccle AI web site.

There’s a lot to think about in the ongoing debacle over exam results in the UK. A quick update for those who have not been following the story. Examinations for young people, including the O level and A level academic exams and the more vocationally oriented Btec were cancelled this year due to the Covid19 pandemic. Instead teachers were asked to firstly provide an estimated grade for each student in each subject and secondly to rank order the students in their school.

These results were sent to a government central agency, the Office of Qualifications known as Ofqual. But instead of awarding qualifications to students based on the teachers’ predicted grades, it was decided by Ofqual, seemingly in consultation or more probably under pressure, by the government to use an algorithm to calculate grades. This was basically based on the previous results achieved by the school in each subject, with adjustments made for small class cohorts and according to the rankings.

The results from the A levels were released last week. They showed massive irregularities at an individual level with some students seemingly downgraded from predicted A* *the highest grade, to a C or D. Analysis also showed that those students from expensive private schools tended to do better than expected, whilst students from public sector schools in working class areas did proportionately worse than predicted. In other words, the algorithm was biased.

As soon as the A level results were announced there were protest from teachers, schools and students. Yet the government stuck to its position, saying there would be no changes. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “Let’s be in no doubt about it, the exam results wed have got today are robust, they’re good, they’re dependable for employers”. However, concern quickly grew about the potential of numerous appeals and indeed at the time it would take teachers preparing such appeals. Meanwhile the Scottish government (which is autonomous in education policy) announced that they would revert of the teachers’ predicted grades. In England while the government stood firm demonstrations by school students broke out in most cities. By the weekend it was clear that something had to change and on Monday the UK government, responsible for exams in England and Wales, announced that they too would respect teacher predicted grades.

The political fallout goes on. The government is trying to shift the blame to Ofqual, despite clear evidence that they knew what was happening.  Meanwhile some of the universities who are reliant on the grades for the decision over who to offer places to, are massively oversubscribed as a result of the upgrades.

So, what does this mean for the use of AI in education. One answer maybe that there needs to be careful thinking about how data is collected and used. As one newspaper columnist put it as the weekend “Shit in, shit out”. Essentially the data used was from the exam results of students at a collective school level in previous years. This has little or no relevance as to how an individual student might perform this year. In fact, the algorithm was designed with the purpose not of awarding an appropriate grade for a student to reflect their learning and work, but to prevent what is known as grade inflation. Grade inflation is increasing numbers of students getting higher grades each year. The government sees this as a major problem.

But this in turn has sparked off a major debate, with suspicions that the government does in fact support a bias in results, aiming to empower the elite to attend university with the rest heading for a second class vocational education and training provision. It has also been pointed out that the Prime Ministers senior advisor, Dominic Cummings, has in the past written articles appearing to suggest that upper class students are more inherently intelligent than those from the working class.

The algorithm, although blunt in terms of impact, merely replicated processes that have been followed for many years (and certainly preceding big data). Many years ago, I worked as a project officer for the Wales Joint Education Committee (WJEC). The WJEC was the examination board for Wales. At that time there were quite a number of recognized examination boards, although since then the number has been reduced by mergers. I was good friends with a senior manager in the exam board. And he told me that every year, about a week before the results were announced, each exam board shared their results, including the number of students to be awarded each grade. The results were then adjusted to fit the figures that the boards had agreed to award in that year.

And this gets to the heart of the problems with the UK assessment system. Of course, one issue is the ridiculous importance placed on formal examinations. But it also reflects the approach to assessment. Basically, there are three assessment systems. Criteria based assessment means that any students achieving a set criterion are awarded accordingly. Ipsative based assessment, assesses achievement based on the individuals own previous performance. But in the case of UK national exams the system followed is norm referenced, which means that a norm is set for passing and for grading. This is fundamentally unfair, in that if the cohort for one year is high achieving the norm will be raised to ensure that the numbers achieving any particular grade meet the desired target. The algorithm applied by Ofqual weas essentially designed to ensure results complied with the norm, regardless of individual attainment. It has always been done this way, the difference this year was the blatant crudeness of the system.

So, there is a silver lining, despite the stress and distress caused for thousands of students. At last there is a focus on how the examination system works, or rather does not. And there is a focus on the class-based bias of the system which has always been there. However, it would be a shame if the experience prevents people from looking at the potential of AI, not for rigging examination results, but for supporting the introduction of formative assessment or students to support their learning.

If you are interested in understanding more about how the AI based algorithm worked there is an excellent analysis by Tom Haines in his blog post ‘A levels: the Model is not the Student‘.

 

Gap between rich and poor university students widest for 12 years

July 31st, 2020 by Graham Attwell

Via The Canary.

The gap between poor students and their more affluent peers attending university has widened to its largest point for 12 years, according to data published by the Department for Education (DfE).

Better-off pupils are significantly more likely to go to university than their more disadvantaged peers. And the gap between the two groups – 18.8 percentage points – is the widest it’s been since 2006/07.

The latest statistics show that 26.3% of pupils eligible for FSMs went on to university in 2018/19, compared with 45.1% of those who did not receive free meals. Only 12.7% of white British males who were eligible for FSMs went to university by the age of 19. The progression rate has fallen slightly for the first time since 2011/12, according to the DfE analysis.

AI and Young People

July 17th, 2020 by Graham Attwell

Last December, the Youth Department of the Council of Europe organised a seminar on Artificial Intelligence and its Impact on Young People. The aim of the seminar was to explore the issues, role and possible contributions of the youth sector in an effort to ensure that AI is responsibly used in democratic societies and that young people have a say about matters that concern their present and future. The seminar looked, among other things, into three dimensions of AI”

  • AI and democratic youth participation (including young people’s trust/interest in democracy)
  • AI and young people’s access to rights (including social rights)
  • AI and youth policy and youth work

According to the report of the seminar, the programme enabled the participants to put together their experience and knowledge in proposing answers to the following questions:

  • What are the impacts of on young people and how can young people benefit from it?
  • How can the youth sector make use of the capacities of to enhance the potential of youth work and youth policy provisions for the benefit of young people?
  • How to inform and “educate” young people about the potential benefits and risks of AI, notably in relation to young people’s human rights and democratic participation and the need to involve all young people in the process?
  • How does AI influence young people’s access to rights?
  • What should the youth sector of the Council of Europe, through the use of its various instruments and partners, do about AI in the future?

Not only is there a written report of the seminar but also an excellent illustrated report. Sadly it is not in a format that  can be embedded, but  it is well worth going to the Council of Europe’s web page on AI and scrolling to the bottom to see the report.

European Union, AI and data strategy

July 9th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
lens, colorful, background

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

is the rapporteur for the industry committe for European Parliament’s own-initiative  on data strategy and  a standing rapporteur on the World Trade Organization e-commerce negotiations in the European Parliament’s international trade committee.

Writing in Social Europe she says:

Building a human-centric data economy and human-centric artificial intelligence starts from the user. First, we need trust. We need to demystify the data economy and AI: people tend to avoid, resist or even fear developments they do not fully understand.

Education plays a crucial role in shaping this understanding and in making digitalisation inclusive. Although better services—such as services used remotely—make life easier also outside cities, the benefits of digitalisation have so far mostly accrued to an educated fragment of citizens in urban metropoles and one of the biggest obstacles to the digital shift is lack of awareness of new possibilities and skills.

Kampula-Natri draws attention to the Finnish-developed, free online course, ‘Elements of AI’. This started as a course for students in the University of Helsinki but has extended  its reach to over 1 per cent of Finnish citizens.

Kampula-Natri points out that in the Nordic countries, the majority of participants on the ‘Elements of AI’ course are female and in the rest of the world the proportion exceeds 40 per cent—more than three times as high as the average ratio of women working in the technology sector. She says that after the course had been running in Finland for a while, the number of women applying to study computer science in the University of Helsinki increased by 80 per cent.

Is graduate pay a true measure of the quality and relevance of courses?

July 8th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
learn, school, balloon

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

That education policy in the UK is confused is nothing new, neither given the rapid turnover in education ministers is it surprising. But the latest turn, although rhetorical at the moment, is both strange and worrying.

In the last two weeks both the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Education Minister Michelle Donelan have criticised the quality and relevance of university courses. Johnson talked about “low-value courses” in his major set-piece speech on economic recovery post-Covid-19 while Donelan said that too many students “have been misled by the expansion of popular sounding courses” with what she described as poor standards and “no real demand from the labour market”.

Clearly most of this rhetoric is ideological. Johnson is talking about more funding for Further Education Colleges, which have been starved of funding through the period of austerity. However, it is being suggested that one motive may be that university cities tend to vote Labour, but in many of the towns in which the Conservatives won new seats in the election last November, there are not universities but are Further Education colleges.

To justify the talk of low value and poor quality courses the government produce various data as evidence. There are different surveys looking at issues related to satisfaction and student outcomes. The first is the student satisfaction survey conducted in every university. Although comprehensive it is doubtful that this survey has much greater validity than the happy sheets I used to hand out at the end of staff development workshops. Universities go to great lengths to make sure students are happy, through various gimmicks and social events.

The Graduate outcomes for all subjects by university (LEO) survey is undertaken by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). It surveys the employment and earnings of higher education graduates using matched data from different government departments. It is interesting that the ONS describes the survey ads “experimental.”

Although interesting the sheer number of variables impacting on graduate earnings after finishing at university render the findings meaningless when compared to subject sample sizes. After Donelan’s speech, former universities minister Jo Johnson tweeted salary data is about as useful a guide to course quality as an MP’s majority.

Of course, one of the “experimental” findings is that students undertaking STEM subjects have higher earnings that those doing humanities and arts. And the strong suspicion it is humanities and arts courses that Johnson and Donelan are firing at.

Many would probably argue that earnings are not the best proxy for judging course quality in any case. But it is interesting that the Graduate Outcomes survey, through a series of reflective questions. found that graduates of creative arts courses are more likely to be using skills learned during their course in employment than their peers who studied maths, biology, or physics.

 

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    Gap between rich and poor university students widest for 12 years

    Via The Canary.

    The gap between poor students and their more affluent peers attending university has widened to its largest point for 12 years, according to data published by the Department for Education (DfE).

    Better-off pupils are significantly more likely to go to university than their more disadvantaged peers. And the gap between the two groups – 18.8 percentage points – is the widest it’s been since 2006/07.

    The latest statistics show that 26.3% of pupils eligible for FSMs went on to university in 2018/19, compared with 45.1% of those who did not receive free meals. Only 12.7% of white British males who were eligible for FSMs went to university by the age of 19. The progression rate has fallen slightly for the first time since 2011/12, according to the DfE analysis.


    Quality Training

    From Raconteur. A recent report by global learning consultancy Kineo examined the learning intentions of 8,000 employees across 13 different industries. It found a huge gap between the quality of training offered and the needs of employees. Of those surveyed, 85 per cent said they , with only 16 per cent of employees finding the learning programmes offered by their employers effective.


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