Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Understanding data about society

May 29th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

I have often written about the problems in interpreting and making sense of data. I very much like an article ‘What drives anti-migrant attitudes‘ by and published on the Social Europe Site yesterday.

They analysed data from the European Social Survey (ESS)—a biannual survey of Europe’s societies and people’s attitudes since 2002and looking at how people think about migration and migrants. They say: “It is not the presence of migrants as such that generates anti-migrant sentiments: these are strongest in countries with very few migrants. Similarly, on an individual level there is a strong negative correlation between personal contact with migrants and attitudes.”

“The analysis of the data showed that more general societal processes are more likely to shape attitudes: the level of trust in one another and in state institutions, the perception of social cohesion and the feeling of safety in a direct (physical) and indirect (existential) sense. We found that individuals who rejected migrants, extremely and homogeneously, did not differ in demographic characteristics from the rest of the population. Where they did differ was in their subjective perceptions of control: to a much greater extent, they feel they have financial difficulties, are alienated from politics, lack trust and hold security-focused, individualistic values. All in all, people who feel politically disempowered, financially insecure and without social support are the most likely to become extremely negative towards migrants.”

The European Social survey is a time series survey. This allows comparison with earlier results. Messing and Sagvari found a similar pattern in looking at changing attitudes over time. Those countries in which people are more trusting of public institutions, and more satisfied with the performance of their governments, democratic institutions and national economies, are the most likely to be more accepting of migrants.

Working for Europe – Celebrating Europe – Part Three: The Europa-Fete in Bremen

May 12th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

I started a series of blog posts by mentioning that we celebrated the Europe-Day on Thursday, the 9th of May, here in Bremen. Then, In my first post I explained the background of the Europe-Day and then reflected on two periods of my career as a European researcher in vocational education and training (VET). In my second post I reflected on my encounters with expatriate communities and/or European initiatives in Thessaloniki (1995-2002) and Bremen (from 2005 on). Now it is time to get back to the celebration of the Europe-Day. Below I have selected some photos of the Europa-Fete at the central sqare (Marktplaz) of Bremen, surrounded by the old City Hall (Rathaus), the new City hall (Bürgerschaft), the churches and old buildungs.

Europa-Fete Bremen-1

Here the stage for performers (in front of the new City hall, to the left the St. Pete’s Cathedral)

Europa-Fete Bremen-4

Here cheerful and active expatriate Finns and Finland-friends with a Finnish flag …

Europa-Fete Bremen-7

… but representing the Bremen Lapland-initiative that focuses mainly on the Sami people on Russian territory.

Europa-Fete Bremen-9

And last but not least: The stand of the “Pulse of Europe” movement that has been active during the last few years. It has kept our European spirits up whatever has happened in the European politics.

I guess this is enough of this reporting. The next Pulse of Europe event will start in two hours. I need to get there in good time. But I will keep the European themes up while working and learning for Europe.

More blogs to come ...

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

 

 

 

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    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


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    “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.”

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