Check out this offering from Operationcheckpoint.com, a Web site devoted to "airport security education for children":
Scan It®is an educational and creative play toy that helps children become acclimated with airport and public spaces security. The device is both a fun toy and an educational tool. It detects metal objects and simulates an X-ray scan via a functioning conveyor belt that glides articles over its metal detector path. When metallic items are present the unit beeps and lights up.
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
But wait, there's more. Playmobil has a security checkpoint on Amazon.com:
Here are a few customer reviews:
I think this was good. I use it with my Playmobil getaway car al the time. I hope that they make a Playmobil Enemy Combatant Detention Center soon. That would be great!
One little oddity to point out is that the xray monitor displaying the bag contents shows what appears to be a fire extinguisher, a duck and several brown poo-shaped objects.
I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger's shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger's scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up.
Here's a story I missed earlier:
Since February 2007, the value of India's stock market has doubled to 20000 points, and the biggest winners have been India's richest. Based on these gains, India's four wealthiest men are now worth more than China's 40 wealthiest combined. [...]
All told, India's 40 wealthiest businessmen are worth $351 billion, according to Forbes – easily the most in Asia. Its four richest – steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, [oil and supermarket magnate Mukesh] Ambani, his brother Anil Ambani, and [real estate baron Kushal Pal] Singh – hold more than half that sum.
No wonder Japanese mothers are scrambling to send their kids to Indian schools.
Vermiculate. Lobscouse. Desuetude. Macerate.
Just about every American high school student who has planned to attend university has had to learn words such as these in preparation for the SAT exam that is used as part of the college admissions process.
Now, by learning these words, whether for fun or for test preparation, you can also help end hunger. A computer programmer created a Web site, Freerice.com, that throws multiple-choice vocabulary questions at you. For every one you answer correctly, the site donates 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. The first few questions are relatively easy, but as you answer questions correctly, subsequent ones become progressively more difficult.
The Economist has a great cover story about the rising price of food, a main reason for which is a U.S. policy that supports the development of ethanol made from corn (the rise of Asia is another major factor, but that's a good thing). Read the piece for the full account of what is going on and why it is so dangerous, but in the meantime, ponder this graphic:
A new study published Thursday by the American Institutes for Research shows that U.S. students still lag behind their peers in Singapore, South Korea, and Japan in the critical areas of math and science education. Numerous other reports over the last several years have purported to show the same mediocre quality of the U.S. education system. In 2005, Microsoft founder Bill Gates described the U.S. high schools as "obsolete." President Bush mentioned the need for greater emphasis on math and science achievement in his 2006 State of the Union address. And just last month, an influential group of tech-industry CEOs from such companies as Cisco and Sun Microsystems added their voices to the choir of business leaders demanding changes to the U.S. education system.
But what do these reports, studies, and rankings really tell us? Not a whole lot, according to Vivek Wadhwa, whose recent article in BusinessWeek debunks many of the common misconceptions about U.S. math and science education. Even Singapore's minister of education has downplayed the importance of such rankings, despite Singapore's first-place status:
[The U.S.] is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well--like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."
The World Economic Forum's recent 2007/2008 Global Competitiveness Report supports that conclusion. In it, the United States maintained its position as the world's most innovative economy despite the shoddy performance of its math and science education, which ranked 45th. Singapore, meanwhile, stayed in first place in math and science education but came in at a disappointing 23rd in capacity for innovation and 22nd for the availability of scientists and engineers—10 places below the United States in the same category.
Even if U.S. math and science education is not completely inadequate, there is still one area in which the United States can vastly improve: geography. Miss South Carolina's less-than-shining moment earlier this year was no fluke; National Geographic's 2006 Survey of Geographic Literacy found that 63 percent of young people in the United States could not find Iraq on a map and 50 percent couldn't even locate New York.
In Israel, hundreds of thousands of youngsters have been wandering the streets, and it's not because they're skipping school. Rather, it's because the country's public secondary schools have been shut down since their teachers went on strike on Oct. 9 to protest low salaries and poor working conditions. Starting teachers make $600 monthly (less than the rent for a decent one-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv), and classrooms have 38 to 40 students.
On Monday, Knesset member Avishay Braverman called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to help resolve the situation. "Mister prime minister, Annapolis is important. Finding a solution to this strike is more important than Annapolis," he said, referring to a Middle East peace meeting the United States is arranging in Annapolis, Maryland.
The strike is symptomatic of an educational breakdown that some say will hurt Israel's high-tech industries, which generate 12 percent of the country's gross domestic product and more than one third of its exports. In the 1960s, Israeli kids ranked near the top in international assessments of math and science. By 2002 though, Israel was 33rd out of 41 countries. Additionally, potential math and science teachers have been ditching schools for more lucrative jobs in the high-tech sector.
Israel's education problem extends to universities as well. Up to 3,000 professors have left for jobs abroad in the past decade. Meanwhile, funding for Israel's seven universities has fallen 20 percent in four years, and the number of instructors has held steady, while the number of students has jumped 50 percent in the last decade.
Let's hope Israel's low-paid teachers don't have to resort to what Cambodia's teachers have to do. At schools that are supposed to be free, they have been reduced to charging students "informal fees" to top up their salaries, which can be as low as $30 a month. In a country where one third of the people live on less than 50 cents per day, many Cambodian parents can't afford the fees—which for one student were almost 25 cents per day—and kids have to drop out of primary school.
Many of Passport's readers are college students who are looking to launch careers in foreign policy. As it's job-huntin' season on campus, here's a timely guest post from Peter W. Singer, a military expert at the Brookings Institution and the author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, on how to become a foreign-policy wonk.
We hope you find it helpful.
Frequently, I get e-mails from young students who want to know how to crack into the world of foreign policy. Below are the most frequent questions and my answers, which FP thought actually might be of use or at least amusement. Please judge their worth by the amount of money that you paid for them.
How did you decide to get into the foreign-policy world?
I've been interested in these issues since as long as I can remember. I was the weird kid in elementary school, who for book reports would choose Soviet Military Power (the Pentagon's somewhat overhyped annual report on the Red menace) rather than Sweet Valley High or The Boxcar Kids. Yes, it was totally nerdy. Guilty as charged. By the time I got to college, I applied to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs as my major. If I didn't get in, my backup plan was to go into the history field. Fortunately, I did, and thoroughly enjoyed it. When it came time to figure out a job afterwards, I flirted a bit with the idea of becoming a management consultant. My thinking was that I could feed the beast by getting subscriptions to various political magazines to read in my off time, while I made scads of money merely for using words like "synergy," "leverage," or "optimize." But I soon realized that I didn't know what those words actually meant and I would shoot myself after a few months. So, I went into the foreign-policy business instead.
[If you're reading this from the main page, read on after the break]
InTrade has set up a betting market for the Nobel Prizes for economics and peace. The peace prize winner will be announced on Friday, with economics to follow on Monday.
I'm not sure where people are getting their information, but the consensus among InTrade users seems to be that Al Gore is the overwhelming favorite, followed by Inuit climate-change activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri, and veteran negotiator and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.
The economics field appears wide open, with no prospective candidate trading at more than 10 points (100 means that those betting believe there is a 100 percent chance that a given person will be named). Here are the top five:
Harvard economist and former Bush administration official Greg Mankiw also handicaps the prize based on which economists are cited most often. "[I]f I had to bet a dollar on this year's prize," Mankiw writes, "I would put it on Fama, [Harvard's Marty] Feldstein, or Barro."
It seems that Angelina Jolie and hubby Brad Pitt have taken the advice of FP contributor Rob Long to heart and are deploying their star power in a major way. At a packed press conference at the annual conference of the Clinton Global Initiative this afternoon, Jolie helped launch a "historic education partnership for children of conflict" in partnership with CGI, UNICEF, Save the Children, and a number of other organizations. (Just to give you a sense of the atmosphere in the room, a casual flip of Jolie's hair set off every flash bulb in the room, not to mention a few camera phones.)
As for Brad, introduced earlier today as "the sexiest man alive," he debuted a plan in concert with famed green designer Bill McDonough to build 150 new "affordable and sustainable homes" in New Orleans's devastated Ninth Ward. (For you gossips out there, Angelina and Brad never appeared publicly in the same room today at CGI, as far as I know—though they did show up together last week for the New York premiere of "Darfur Now".)
Aren't MIT students supposed to be smart?
An MIT student wearing what turned out to be a fake bomb was arrested at gunpoint Friday at Logan International Airport and later claimed it was artwork, officials said.
Star Simpson, 19, had a computer circuit board and wiring in plain view over a black hooded sweatshirt she was wearing, said State Police Maj. Scott Pare, the commanding officer at the airport. [...]
The battery-powered rectangular device had nine flashing lights, and Simpson had Play-Doh in her hands, Pare said.
The phrases "Socket to me" and "Course VI" were written on the back of her sweatshirt, which authorities displayed to the media. Course VI appears to refer to MIT's major of electrical engineering and computer science.
Something is seriously wrong with this picture: An American student enrolled at the University of Florida is denied his constitutionally-protected right to question an elected leader in a nonviolent way. He's tackled by a half dozen police officers, tasered, and thrown in jail. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be given free reign to hold court before a group of students and faculty — and hordes of television cameras — at Columbia University next week.
So let me get this straight. Ahmadinejad, who is rumored to have taken Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and whose country is a leading state sponsor of terrorism, has more rights than an American college student. Friends, all is not well in American academia.
Some pundits are lamely attacking Columbia for allowing Ahmadinejad to speak. But of all people, these neocon types ought to understand that freedom means giving the microphone to someone who makes your blood boil. More convincing are folks like Matt Cooper, who is pointing out the hypocrisy in Columbia's eagerness to welcome Ahmadinejad even as they ban the U.S. military's Reserve Officers Training Corps from campus. Cooper asks, "If discrimination [is] the standard for banishment from campus why not Catholic groups? After all, the church bans women from becoming priests."
What's more worrisome, however, is the realization that, while Ahmadinejad will enjoy and test the very limits of the freedoms Americans are supposed to enjoy, a U.S. citizen was denied this priviledge earlier this week. American universities, one is left to assume, value the insights of a man like Ahmadinejad more than they do those of their own students.
The Indian district of Satara in the state of Maharashtra just announced a creative new plan to control soaring birth rates: offering to pay for a second honeymoon for couples who delay the birth of their first child by two years. The "honeymoon package" is worth 5,000 rupees ($125), or around 7,500 rupees ($175) if couples wait three years. It will go into effect on August 15th. Authorities expect 4,000 fewer births per year as a result of the plan.
India's population is growing at a rate of 1.7 percent per year, and is set to overtake China's by 2025. So an imaginative solution like Satara's to curb population "explosion" should be welcomed and repeated elsewhere in India, right?
Actually, no—it's incredibly short-sighted. While India's population is still increasing, it is also rapidly aging. In a few short generations, India will face the same demographic pressures—coupled with a far lower per capita income base—as other aging societies around the world. By 2050, the median age in India will be 38.6. The country definitely won't be as old as Japan or even the United States, but its problems will be at least as severe. Roughly 40 percent of Indians drop out of school before the age of 10, a quarter of Indian primary school age children are not in school, and only 11 percent of Indians, who are relatively affluent anyway, have pensions. "Social security" in India has traditionally meant dependence on extended families, particularly children. If these children aren't born, or aren't educated well enough to be able to provide for their aging parents, India's economy will be under immense strain. So to my mind, a much better idea would be to replace the "honeymoon package" with an "education package."
In the United States, it's legal to burn the country's flag; it's legal to put a Christian cross in a glass of urine and call it art; and it's legal to create a painting of the Virgin Mary that incorporates elephant dung. Despite the fact that many people understandably find these acts to be highly repugnant and offensive, they are protected as free speech.
Last Friday, however, a 23-year-old man was arrested on hate-crime charges after surveillance photos linked him to two incidents of throwing Korans into toilets at Pace University in New York. Granted, the behavior was offensive and inappropriate: It does not elevate the debate about Islam and terrorism.
But in the compelling interest of protecting free speech, this man's alleged Koran flushings should be treated as property crimes, not hate crimes. He appears to have taken the Korans from the university's meditation room. If true, then he should be charged with theft. If the toilets' plumbing was damaged, then he should also be charged with vandalism.
In fact, Pace University initially classified the first book flushing as an act of vandalism, but later referred it to the hate crimes unit of the New York Police Department. If the university wishes to punish such asinine behavior, then as a private university, it has the right to establish a code of conduct that takes disciplinary action against those who create a hostile environment on campus.
Free speech is essential for democracy. It doesn't require us to agree with what everyone says, but it does require us to tolerate—and even defend—the right of others to express themselves in offensive ways.
What's your name? Where are you from? Did you vote for Bush?
That's how one American student studying in Germany describes the start of a typical conversation with a German student. With anti-U.S. sentiment at an all-time high in Germany (as you might be able to tell from the picture at left), many American college students complain that they've become unofficial ambassadors for the United States, forced to justify Washington's every policy move.
To cool tensions down, the German-American Institute at the University of Tübingen launched a program called "Rent an American." American college students visit high schools. They bring photos of their lives back home and talk about the United States. They answer students' tough questions about Bush, war, the death penalty, and climate change. It helps that most American students in Germany seem to oppose Bush—it's not clear how this program would work if red-state Republicans had to answer students' pointed questions.
At the very least, the program shows German teens that a substantial fraction of Americans aren't blind followers of their president. And for the exchange students, it's a rude awakening to what studying abroad is all about.
American students who dream of being doctors often must take out enormous loans to pay for medical school. But eight American students from low-income backgrounds recently got their medical degrees without having to spend a penny. Through a deal between Cuban President Fidel Castro and members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, they received six-year scholarships to attend Havana's Latin American Medical School, which is recognized by the World Health Organization. Cuba paid for the students' schooling, accommodations, textbooks, and uniforms.
It's a clever twist on what FP editor Moisés Naím terms "rogue aid," but it's just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of students from countries around the world attend the Latin American Medical School. Additionally, Cuba has sent tens of thousands of its doctors to developing countries over the years to provide medical assistance, writes Ignacio Ramonet in a recent FP debate with Carlos Alberto Montaner. The Cuban healthcare system was also recently cast in a positive light in Michael Moore's documentary Sicko, in which 9/11 rescue workers end up getting free medical care in Havana. (Though Moore's case for universal healthcare in the United States would probably have been stronger had he left Cuba out of the picture.)
Cuba's healthcare diplomacy reminds me of Hugo Chávez's efforts earlier this year to provide discounted heating oil to poor Americans, which haven't won the Venezuelan president any brownie points in the United States. Given how strong anti-Castro sentiment is here, it's doubtful Cuba's training of U.S. doctors will do much to win American hearts and minds, either.
In the 2001 electoral campaign, Silvio Berlusconi festooned Italy's walls with gigantic posters announcing the beginning of the Internet age in the country's schools. Forget Latin and ancient Greek; the Internet would breed a new class of modern-day entrepreneurs. Italians liked that message, and Berlusconi won the race (though perhaps his tax cuts were the real reason for his victory).
But in Italy, the second-favorite national sport—after soccer, of course—is reforming public education. Each time a new government steps in, it rushes to undo what the previous government has put in place.
And so the Internet itself, with its associations with Berlusconi, has become Italy's latest political football. The new guidelines published by the ministry of education speak of "preventing cases of [teen] dependency on drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, [sports] doping, and the Internet" (my translation). It's an implicit rebuke of the previous administration, whose championing of the World Wide Web presumably created not venture capitalists, but video-game addicts.
What seems to have escaped both the left and the right, though, is that there are still very few computers in Italian schools. In 2001, there was one computer for every 30 kids, and although Italy is catching up, it still has a long way to go. Isn't it a little premature to worry about the dangers of Internet dependency among the little wannabe entrepreneurs?
European newspaper columnists often lament that Europe's best and brightest are leaving for greener pastures. But brain drain is only part of the problem with European labor. Europe is also undervaluing the brain power of half of those who stay behind.
A recent report by the European Commission (pdf) finds that women are still earning an average of 15 percent less than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap has shrunk by only 2 percent over the last decade or so, and there's no evidence that it's narrowing.
And here's the most baffling detail: It's better-educated women who are being underpaid the most. Statistics show that women with higher degrees earn 30 percent less than their male counterparts, whereas for jobs with fewer qualifications the gap is only 13 percent. Maybe they should start teaching Bargaining 101 in European universities.
It is a generally accepted axiom that the Vietnam War helped make America's baby boom generation one of the most socially aware generations in history. They knew what was going on in the world, even if the majority of them didn't like it. Might the war in Iraq be having the same impact on the current generation of young Americans?
Nope. Not according to a study (pdf) released yesterday by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, at least. Nearly one in three American teenagers, according to the report, pay almost no attention to daily news. Another 32 percent are merely "casually attentive." So, taken together, 60 percent of teens can be considered to be basically uninterested in what's happening in the world.
News flash: Teenagers are apathetic. Tell me something I don't know, right? It's tempting to just dismiss this as normal pubescent behavior. But that might be a mistake; these numbers appear to represent a sea change. "A few decades ago," the report notes, "there were not large differences in the news habits and daily information levels of younger and older Americans."
But surely, you say, "the Internet" must be informing America's youth. Apparently not. Just one in five teenagers say they get exposure to news on the Internet everyday, and two thirds of the teens who say they do get some news from the Internet also say they're not seeking it out, they "just happen to come across it."
I bet that if the military draft came back, though, you'd suddenly find U.S. teens paying rapt attention to what's going on out there.
We've all heard about students around the world who aspire to learn English so they can get well-paying jobs. But for students in Sudan, the language to learn is Chinese.
Sudan sells around 60 percent of its oil to China, and Chinese companies, products, and restaurants have made inroads into the African country. Sudanese university students who learn Chinese can get jobs as translators and work for Chinese oil and telecommunications companies. Recently, Khartoum University had a Chinese speech competition, and a Chinese professor there said, "… nearly 100% of students who graduate from the department get jobs with Chinese companies." In a troubled country like Sudan, that prospect is a great motivator to learn the language.
More than a billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, and the Chinese government actively promotes the language as a way of extending its influence. The country has sent hundreds of teachers to Africa, and it has established "Confucius Institutes" around the globe to encourage speaking the language.
And the trend to learn Mandarin Chinese isn't limited to Sudan. In Britain, the number of university students studying Chinese more than doubled from 2002 to 2005. Other Western countries have had similar increases.
In the near term, Mandarin isn't going to displace English as the world's global language. But at the end of the day, money talks. A few decades from now, money could be talking in yuan, not dollars.
The first year of graduate-level economics can be a rough experience, a wake-up call after four years of production possibility frontiers and utility curves. And now, stressed-out Ph.D. students have a new reason to tear their hair out: Not only does their first-year performance strongly predict whether they'll complete their Ph.D., but first-year microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics grades are also statistically significant predictors of job placement, according to new research by a team of top economics professors that includes Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame.
The results of the study, published in the latest issue of the American Economic Review, also show that Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, foreign citizenship, sex, and having a prior master's degree do not predict job placement. Interestingly, though, students who attend a foreign undergraduate institution perform "significantly better" in micro, macro and 'metrics, but on average, this doesn't give them much of a leg up on the job market. That's because the researchers also found, unsurprisingly, that "students who attended elite undergraduate universities and liberal arts colleges are more likely to be placed in top-ranked academic jobs."
This holds even though those students "do not perform significantly differently from other students."
Last Wednesday, the British University and College Union (UCU) recommended a vote on an "intellectual boycott of Israel". Supporters of the motion explained their reasoning to the BBC, saying that "Israeli academic freedom comes at the cost of the denial of the most basic of academic freedoms of Palestinian students."
The proposed boycott, which urges UCU members to avoid attending events at universities in Israel, would still need to be ratified at the UCU's national conference next year. Yet the idea has already stirred heated debate in Britain, with British government authorities rushing to publicly condemn the initiative. Many British academics have distanced themselves from it, and the Research Council of the UK made clear on Friday that British research funders will disregard any boycott.
And in Israel, some have already responded in true Middle East fashion: eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. A member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's party proposed labeling imports from any country that boycotts Israel with a tag reading, "This country is involved in an anti-Israel boycott." Haaretz's Bradley Burston struck back at "a uniquely far-left British brand of moral masturbation," noting bitterly that British intellectuals have singled out the "one group within Israeli society which has consistently, vigorously and courageously campaigned against the occupation since its inception."
Burston misses the point. Liberal or conservative, mainstream or extremist, universities should never be the target of a boycott. They're supposed to be the greenhouse of new and revolutionary ideas, not political footballs. If UK academics feel the urge to do something for the Palestinians, they should engage with their Israeli counterparts. Boycotting the schools completely will shut off that dialogue and accomplish nothing.
Readers of the New York Times might have been lucky enough to catch this gem of a story in the Metro section yesterday. In response to the already large and rapidly growing Chinese population of Flushing Queens, non-Asian residents are starting to attend free Mandarin classes being offered by the community. Many longtime residents resent the intrusion of new Asian immigrants. But many are adapting to their changing neighborhood by learning how to communicate better. The current session's class boasts a diverse group of longtime Flushing residents: an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor born in Poland, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants, and an African-American woman who grew up in a local housing project.
The 85-year-old, a retired stockbroker named Frank Sygal, already speaks Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, German, Hebrew, English, and Spanish. Chinese would be his eighth language.
His progress has been maddeningly slow; at one point, Mr. Sygal approached "dozens" of Chinese people, he said, in a fruitless attempt to translate the word "ka-ching," a term he had seen in a headline in The New York Post and assumed to be Chinese. He hopes that he will be able to carry on a conversation in Mandarin by the time he is 95.
Nevertheless, Sygal may be his class's most persistent student:
His first question of the night during one recent class, delivered in the accent of his native Poland, was followed rapidly by several dozen follow-ups: "Why do you say two words for 'bladder'? I have one bladder! For one bladder it's two words? What is word for state of Israel? What is word for 'oral surgeon'? If I go to study medicine in China, what do they teach me?”
Did you think Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop stretched the limits of economic practicality? Then you might have hard time wrapping your head around this one: The government of India wants to produce a $10 laptop. The amazing part is that they are, apparently, on their way to achieving that goal despite some early skepticism.
Including labor, the current cost of producing one of these laptops is only $47, but the Times of India reports that the government expects costs to come down due to the massive potential demand from a billion Indians.
The Indian government is keeping the technical details of their laptop a secret, so the chances of the project succeeding are still unknown. India is not exactly known for its technical manufacturing prowess. But even a viable $50 Indian laptop could pose a serious challenge to Negroponte's machine, the costs of which have already ballooned to $175 per unit. It's unclear, though, whether the Indian government would make the technology available beyond its domestic market.
For the past five years, India has been the leading country of origin for international students studying in the United States, with over 80,000 Indians enrolled in American institutions in 2004-05. Now, American universities are trying to tap right into the country's education market, so they're heading to India directly.
For two years, presidential delegations from Harvard, Yale and Stanford, to name just a few, have visited India to scope the talent. A number of top schools, including Columbia Business School and the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business, collaborate on exchange programs with Ahmedabad's famous Indian Institute of Management, while Carnegie Mellon offers a degree in partnership with the small private Shri Shiv Shankar Nadar College of Engineering in Chennai.
India's regulations in this area are still ambiguous, but that's changing. Proposed new laws would make it easier for foreign universities to set up campuses in the country and offer their own curriculum and degrees. This is sure to appeal to India's growing middle class, which places considerable prestige on foreign education. And in a country where around 40 percent of the population is under 18 and quality domestic higher education is stretched to the limit (only two percent of test-takers for admission to the Indian Institutes of Management and Technology get accepted), foreign involvement may offer a practical, mutually beneficial solution.
Hundreds of British university applicants have been nailed for plagiarising "life experiences" from popular websites that help students with their university applications. The applicants were caught after a suspiciously large number of them, hoping to indicate their early interest in science, mentioned "burning a hole in their pyjamas at the age of eight" with their chemistry sets. Three hundred and seventy medical course applications also expressed "fascination for how the human body works," and 175 included anecdotes involving an "elderly" or "infirm" grandfather. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) found that 5 percent of the 50,000 personal statements randomly surveyed contained "borrowed material," most of it from www.studential.com.
Fewer than one percent of applicants copied directly; the rest of them at least had the decency to modify their stories slightly. I mean, obviously no one will pick up on plagiarism if it's a sick grandmother, or if the hole was burnt in a sock. That's innovation at work.
The course is part of initiatives to encourage young people with immigrant backgrounds to get professional training. "Mainly people with migrant backgrounds and Turkish people work in this business but few have qualifications," said Kazim Abaci, head of Companies Without Borders, a German association designed to promote integration in the workplace. "We want to give those people a better chance and make them re-employable."
Most employees of kebab joints in Germany are of Turkish descent, so the program is clearly aimed at that group rather than at immigrants generally. It's either a transparent attempt to inculcate Turkish-Germans into the Teutonic obsession with cleanliness, or a clever way to reach a population that remains separated from the rest of the country in many ways. Whatever the case, it's good news that German NGOs are thinking of practical ways to integrate the approximately 2.5 million residents of Turkish descent into society, rather than letting the xenophobes set the agenda, as has sometimes happened in other European countries.
Over to you, France.
China's state news agency reports that only around 53 percent of Chinese can "effectively communicate orally in [M]andarin." That number goes down to 45 percent in rural areas, and only 31 percent of Chinese between the ages of 60 and 69 can speak China's main dialect well, as opposed to 70 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 29. Mandarin is the lingua franca of urbanites and the young, reflecting a government drive to standardize communication and strengthen national unity.
So what do Chinese speak when they aren't speaking what they call Putonghua (literally "common talk")? Hundreds of other dialects, such as Cantonese. The characters are the same throughout the country, but the pronunciation can be vastly different, making it hard for people from separate regions to understand one another. And with China's astonishingly rapid urbanization of recent years, migrants from outlying areas can have trouble communicating in their new hometowns.
(The sample size used by the Ministry of Education, which conducted the survey, is a little unusual: 500,000 people. I guess that's how it goes in a country of 1.3 billion.)
A public school that aims to teach Arabic language and culture to students in grades 6-12 is set to open this September in New York City. Ideally, half the students will have a background in Arabic language and culture, and half will not.
Given the well-known shortage of people in the U.S. military and intelligence services who are fluent in Arabic, you'd think Americans would be excited by a school that prepares students with language skills and cultural knowledge that are essential in the "war on terrorism." Already, there's been a surge in the number of college students who are learning Arabic, and that hasn't been controversial.
Unfortunately, a quick Google search reveals that some people are already criticizing the school. One conservative blogger asks, "Why should New York tax payers have to foot the bill for children to study Arabic culture?"
Hmmm ... maybe it's because preparing students to be global citizens with successful careers in international affairs, international business, and the military is in the public interest? (The U.S. federal government seems to think so. In August 2002, it set up the National Middle East Language Resource Center, which supports K-12 programs.)
UNICEF released a report today on the well-being of children in the world's wealthiest countries. According to the results, kids in the Netherlands top the list, followed by those from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. As noted in this morning's Brief, the worst off are those from Britain (and the U.S.), behind children from Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Taking a look at the the 21 member countries of the OECD, the survey looks at six dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks, and young people's own subjective sense of well-being. By those dimensions, pretty much all OECD children are doing OK, compared to those from developing countries. You gotta have food on the table in the first place, if you're going to sit down for a meal with your family.
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