Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says that boring university lecturers, like manual typewriters, are obsolete in today’s world. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
Arnold Kling would like to see more efficiency and cost saving at universities.
How do you introduce efficiency and cost saving at universities? Narrow scope and reduce features. Do students choose your school because of the chemistry department? If not, then get rid of it. Better to have three excellent departments than dozens of mediocre ones. Let students take courses on line in the ones that you do not cover.
What if a university unbundled its non-academic activities? Instead of using tuition to subsidize athletics, social events, and clubs, make students pay to participate in each of these activities. My guess is that participation would plummet. Students would find less costly ways to socialize.
If you want to reduce administrative overhead, you have to think in terms of radically reducing scope.
Arnold Kling, “Scope and Administrative Bloat at Universities“, askblog, 24 January 2013.
That is his conclusion. Read the whole piece to place it in context.
FT columnist Christopher Caldwell is always worth reading, and this week’s column is no exception. Mr Caldwell defends – with a critical eye – the call of Michael Gove, the UK education secretary, for more tests of rote learning in UK schools. Here is a short excerpt:
“Memorisation” used to be almost a synonym for “culture”. Hindus commit sutras to memory. A Muslim who knows the Koran by heart is esteemed as a hafiz. A bar mitzvah must read the Hebrew scriptures. Christian teenagers across the US will meet in Louisville, Kentucky in May for the Bible Bowl, at which they will compete on their verbatim recall of the Acts of the Apostles. Perhaps rote learning is despised because the authority it propped up is held in low esteem by today’s figures of authority. Memory is no longer a way to convey a society’s sacred heritage. It is a party trick. The internet has only multiplied our excuses for doing without it. In an age of Google and Wikipedia, memorisation seems a waste of time.
It is not. When Mr Gove says that education “can only come from the initial submission of the student’s mind to the body of knowledge contained within specific subjects”, he has tapped into lost wisdom. And we are wrong to have forgotten that, in education, submission is empowerment. American educators have made inculcating self-esteem a priority. Perhaps that is why US education gets such poor results, because education is at odds with self-esteem. The student is being educated in the first place because society assumes he is somehow deficient. Competition, perhaps cruelly, is meant to spur education by heightening this sense of deficiency. But we don’t think that way any more.
Christopher Caldwell, “It’s right to test learning by heart“, Financial Times, 17 November 2012.
Although I do not agree with Caldwell’s extreme position, he did cause me to reconsider my own views, which is very helpful. Read the entire column (registration required) and form your own opinion.
American journalist Christopher Caldwell (born 1962) is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative opinion magazine.
Carleton University economist Nick Rowe is an incredible teacher. His success, I believe, is due to his intelligence, his curiosity and – most of all – to his patience. I am always impressed by Nick’s patience and respect for those who comment on his posts, even when the comments make little or no sense. Here is a somewhat trivial recent example: an interchange Nick had last Sunday with ‘Peter N’, a person who seems to know something about accounting, but nothing about economics. Peter N insists that the term GDP (gross domestic product) is not meaningful, being “neither a stock nor a flow”.
Peter N writes (among other things): GDP … is neither a stock nor a flow …. (12:01 PM)
Nick Rowe responds: Could you explain what you mean by GDP being neither stock nor flow? Are you referring to measuring it in discrete vs continuous time? (01:26 PM)
Peter N writes: GDP is the integral of value adding flows for a defined period. While you could define a GDP flow (and IIR Keen does) I don’t see how you could measure it, given the complexities of imputation and reconciliation.
It certainly isn’t a stock. You can treat it as one if you want to compare it to itself over other periods or with its sector totals, but a true stock has a value at any given point in time, and this value is quantity, not a rate.
This distinction is made more important by the peculiar nature of GDP. Because it combines results from (at least) 3 different forms of accounting and contains a significant component of imputations, it’s difficult to compare it with stocks at known times. The result of accruing across the different systems is only meaningful compared with other examples of itself. (02:14 PM)
Nick Rowe responds: Peter N: OK. I would say that GDP is strictly a flow, but if you measure any flow in discrete rather than continuous time it becomes a stock, rather than a flow. A PITA theoretically, but not a big deal. GDP is a flow. Stats Canada measures a discrete time stock approximation to that flow. (02:17 PM)
Nick Rowe, “Can you please read a first year textbook?“, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, 29 July 2012.
Teacher absenteeism is a problem in many low-income countries. Timothy Taylor discusses an experimental attempt to improve teacher attendance in the tribal villages of Udaipur, India. Teachers at 60 ‘treated’ schools were asked to take time-stamped photos of their class at the beginning and end of each school day. Compliance (and non-compliance) was linked to pay. The researchers then compared absenteeism in the treated schools with absenteeism in 60 otherwise similar untreated schools.
The experiment was successful. Teachers responded to incentives, and absenteeism fell sharply: down from two of every five days to one of every five days. This is still a high rate of absenteeism, but the saddest part is that
the entire … study was carried out in “nonformal education centers,” rather than schools, and using “para-teachers,” rather than regular teachers. The reason is that in India, as in many other low- and middle-income countries, teachers are a highly organized labor group that politicians don’t dare to cross, and so proposals to increase the dismally low levels of teacher attendance don’t even happen in the regular school sector.
Timothy Taylor, “Teacher Attendance and Digital Cameras: An Experiment“, Conversable Economist, 15 June 2012.
Read the entire post, which is very informative. The main study, by Esther Duflo, Rema Hanna, and Stephen P. Ryan, was published in the June 2012 issue of the American Economic Review. An ungated version can be downloaded here.
“We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.” So said Massimo d’Azeglio, an Italian intellectual, just after his country’s unification in 1861. The current generation of EU politicians face a modern version of the d’Azeglio dilemma: They have made a European Union, now they must make Europeans. ….
But “making Europeans” will be much tougher than making Italians: the process of identity formation must take place across a huge territory with entrenched differences of language and culture.
All nation-builders have known that a shared national narrative and a common language are essential building blocks for the creation of a nation. Control of the education system is essential. In 1861, just one in 40 Italians actually spoke Italian. That was rectified through the schools. But today education remains firmly in the hands of the EU’s 27 nations. There is no common school curriculum inside the EU – far less instruction in a common language. ….
If Europe genuinely wanted all its citizens to be taught in a common language, the obvious candidate would be English. But proposing that English should be made the language of instruction in French schools would simply be a new and amusing way of committing political suicide.
Gideon Rachman, “Europe has yet to make Europeans“, Financial Times, 10 April 2012.
I am not sure that a single language – though helpful – is essential for building a nation-state. Numerous nations, including Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland and Spain are able to function with two or more official languages. The number of languages spoken by citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire rivaled that of pre-unification Italy. According to Wikipedia, only 36.8% of the population in the Austrian Empire spoke German as a mother tongue. In the Kingdom of Hungary 54.4% of the total population spoke Hungarian as a mother tongue, and 10.4% spoke German. The Dual Monarchy had 11 officially recognized languages, and it collapsed in 1918 only because it was on the losing side of World War I.
The European Union in the 21st century, like the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in the 19th, might thrive despite its ethnic and linguistic diversity. On the other hand, 23 official and working EU languages does seem excessive. How about reducing that number to two – English and French – patterned on Canada. France, like the province of Quebec, would have French as its official language. Belgium, like the province of New Brunswick, would be bilingual, with two official languages. In the rest of the EU, English would be the official language of government and public education. Or, moving to a Swiss model, the EU could add German to its list of official languages.
Just as in Canada, governments should be allowed to offer immersion schooling in any official EU language, even if it is not the official language of the country. (Four of the seven public high schools in Greater Victoria, BC, offer French Immersion even though almost no-one speaks French in Victoria. Many parents think, rightly or wrongly, that fluency in French will give their child an advantage over those who speak only English.)
Three US-based economists report the results of an experiment carried out in Kenyan primary schools. Here is the abstract of their report.
We examine a program that enabled Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) in Kenya to hire novice teachers on short-term contracts, reducing class sizes in grade one from 82 to 44 on average. PTA teachers earned approximately one-quarter as much as teachers operating under central government civil-service institutions but were absent one day per week less and their students learned more. In the weak institutional environment we study, civil-service teachers responded to the program along two margins: first, they reduced their effort in response to the drop in the pupil-teacher ratio, and second, they influenced PTA committees to hire their relatives. Both effects reduced the educational impact of the program. A governance program that empowered parents within PTAs mitigated both effects. Better performing contract teachers are more likely to transition into civil-service positions and we estimate large potential dynamic benefits of contract teacher programs on the teacher workforce.
Esther Duflo, Pascaline Dupas and Michael Kremer, “School Governance, Teacher Incentives, and Pupil-Teacher Ratios: Experimental Evidence from Kenyan Primary Schools“, March 2012.
The authors are from from MIT, Stanford and Harvard, respectively. The paper is also available as NBER Working Paper No. 17939.
The paper is interesting throughout, for example this passage from the section on “Education Governance in Kenya”:
Historically, Kenyan schools have had two types of teachers –those hired as civil servants through the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) of the Ministry of Education and Parent- Teacher Association (PTA) teachers hired locally and informally by local school committees. …. [Civil service] teachers are represented by a strong union, have civil-service protection, and receive wages and benefits considerably above market-clearing levels. …. Graduates of teacher training colleges typically have to queue for civil-service jobs, often undergoing many years of unemployment before they are hired. ….
PTA teachers are typically paid much less than their TSC counterparts. In the area of study, in 2004, PTA teachers received compensation in the range of 2,000 Kenyan shillings, or US$ 25 per month. In comparison, the average civil service teacher received around US$ 120 per month plus benefits, including housing allowances, provisions for retirement, and medical coverage. …. Despite the low pay and lack of job security, PTA positions are actively sought after by unemployed teachers, in part because teaching experience helps them obtain formal civil service teaching position.
Our paper provides a comparative perspective on the development of public primary education in four of the largest developing economies circa 1910: Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). These four countries encompassed more than 50 percent of the world’s population in 1910, but remarkably few of their citizens attended any school by the early 20th century. We present new, comparable data on school inputs and outputs for BRIC drawn from contemporary surveys and government documents.
Latika Chaudhary, Aldo Musacchio, Steven Nafziger and Se Yan, “Big BRICs, Weak Foundations: The Beginning of Public Elementary Education in Brazil, Russia, India, and China“, NBER Working Paper No. 17852, February 2012.
That is from the abstract of the paper. The NBER link requires subscription or payment to download the paper. There are many ungated versions available on the web, for example here.
I was very excited about this paper, until I came to the following sentence: “In addition to the variation in outcomes between BRICs and the rest of the world, there was enormous variation in educational outcomes (enrolments) and inputs (expenditures) within BRIC.”
Really? The authors actually consider warming a schoolhouse seat to be an outcome of compulsory public education! As an antidote to this reasoning, allow me to copy and paste a box from an essay that I wrote ten years ago, when I was employed by United Nations headquarters in New York
Box 2. Government Schools in Pakistan
Pakistan’s public schools (primary and middle) offer strict regimens for children, where playful learning is not common or encouraged. Many children, in rural and urban areas, spend long hours in dark and overcrowded classrooms, receive occasional beatings, are required to memorize an overload of (often irrelevant) facts which their counterparts in other countries can simply look up in encyclopaedias (or, in industrialized countries, increasingly on computer CD-ROMs), and face regular absenteeism by their teachers. This is the cause for high drop-out and repetition rates. ….
A positive recent development is the growth of the private education system. This is mainly an urban phenomenon, but is increasingly filling the gaps in the public system. It is estimated that, overall, private education now accounts for about 10-12 per cent of gross enrolments. Almost all of these schools are profit-based, but parents are willing to sacrifice a good deal of their meagre income and get better educational quality in return. In these settings, head teachers, teachers, students and community are excited about the educational process and take their school very seriously.
Source: Bragman and Mohammad (1998, pp. 78, 81).
Larry Willmore, “Education by the State“, United Nations DESA Discussion Paper No. 27 (November 2002).
The quote is from Jacob Bragman and Mohammad Nadeem Mohammad, “Primary and secondary education—structural issues”, in P. Hoodbhoy (ed.), Education and the State: Fifty Years of Pakistan (Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, 1998), pp. 68-101.
I recall reading, either in this essay, or in another essay in this volume, about the results of a natural experiment in Karachi. The researchers tested students who completed five years of public school and those of the same age who dropped out of school in the first year. The results for the two groups were the same, with one exception. The street kids scored higher for numeracy!
As further proof that school attendance is not a good measure of outcomes, consider the case of Sweden. This was the first country in the world to achieve universal literacy. By 1720, 90% of the population was literate, thanks to home schooling. Lutheran pastors taught mothers, who in turn taught their children. In the mid-18th-century, Swedes were literate but miserably poor. The industrial revolution began in illiterate England, and reached Sweden only a century later.
A new working paper reports the results of Growing America through Entrepreneurship (Project GATE), an experiment designed and implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Small Business Association between September 2003 and July 2005. More than 4,000 individuals applied for free entrepreneurship training services in seven U.S. cities. Half of the applicants were randomly assigned to the treatment group and given an array of best-practice training services. The other half were assigned to the control group, and not offered any free services. Project GATE differs from previous studies of this type because of its size, because applicants were not limited to individuals receiving unemployment relief or government welfare, and because of follow-ups at 6, 18 and 60 months after treatment.
The results were very disappointing. It seems that entrepreneurs are born, not made, since the free training had no long-term impact on entrepreneurial performance.
We find evidence that the training increased average business ownership in the short-run, but that the marginal businesses were unsuccessful and failed to produce tangible or subjective benefits at any of the three follow-up horizons (6-, 18-, and 60- months). We also find no evidence that training shifts the distribution of firms in important ways (e.g., disproportionately creating very successful firms) that might be missed by analysis of average treatment effects. ….
Many of the rationales put forward for subsidizing training—countering credit or human capital constraints in enterprise development, or labor market discrimination—are not borne out by the data. We do find evidence that GATE’s training had relatively strong positive effects on business ownership for the unemployed in the short run, but these effects disappear by the long run. These findings, and the estimated costs of providing training to GATE recipients of $850 to $1,300, suggest that entrepreneurship training may not be a cost-effective method of addressing credit, human capital, discrimination, or employment constraints.
The results here also speak to the importance of understanding which components of training are more and less helpful, and for which populations. Should subsidies for entrepreneurship training be re-allocated to job training? Should content from entrepreneurship training be grafted onto job training? Understanding more about the effects and mechanisms of entrepreneurship training is particularly important given the continued growth and popularity of these programs around the world.
Robert W. Fairlie, Dean S. Karlan and Jonathan Zinman, “Behind the GATE Experiment: Evidence on Effects of and Rationales for Subsidized Entrepreneurship Training“, Yale Economics Department Working Paper 954 (25 January 2012).
This report circulates also behind a subscription wall as NBER Working Paper 17804 (February 2012).
The authors are from the University of California-Santa Cruz, Yale University and Dartmouth College, respectively.
This is a exciting news. MIT is launching MITx, a not-for-profit virtual university, with a wide range of free, open-access courses. For a small fee, students will be permitted to sit an exam at the conclusion of a course and, if they pass, receive a certificate of successful completion.
MITx is the next big step in the open-educational-resources movement that MIT helped start in 2001, when it began putting its course lecture notes, videos, and exams online, where anyone in the world could use them at no cost. The project exceeded all expectations—more than 100 million unique visitors have accessed the courses so far. ….
Beginning this spring, students will be able to take free, online courses offered through the MITx initiative. If they prove they’ve learned the material, MITx will, for a small fee, give them a credential certifying as much. ….
[This] could make the university the global nexus of online higher education, which is the way most people are likely to access higher learning in the future. In the hunt for the best and brightest students around the globe, MIT won’t need to guess who’s in the top 1 percent of 1 percent—it can simply pick them out of the millions of students who will enroll in MITx.
Meanwhile, it will be fascinating to watch MITx mint a brand-new form of academic currency. What happens when it enters circulation? Will other universities accept it as transfer credit, or employers as proof of skills? How will those credentials affect the fast-growing market for online credits and degrees, much of which is driven by the expensive for-profit sector?
Kevin Carey, “MIT Mints a Valuable New Form of Academic Currency“, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 January 2012.
MIT is the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is physically located in Cambridge, Mass. The university answers common questions about MITx here.
One question that I had was “Will MITx offer MIT degrees?” The answer is “No. MIT awards MIT degrees only to those admitted to MIT through a highly selective admissions process.”
A follow-up question I had was “Will MIT accept MITx credentials as transfer credit toward a degree?” The MIT FAQ does not answer this question. Kevin Carey seems to answer it when he writes “there should be little confusion between credentials issued by MIT and MITx. The latter won’t dilute the value of the former.” By implication, the answer is “Don’t count on MIT accepting MITx credentials for credit!”. This makes the experiment all the more fascinating.
HT: The Browser