Black & Pakistani kids' underachievement is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution

The BBC blithely reports Government spin that

Asian and black pupils made the greatest rate of improvement in GCSEs in England last year.

Underneath the headline, here are the proportions of students getting 5 or more Cs at GCSE, by race:

  • Black Caribbean 35.7%
  • Black African 43%
  • Pakistani 45.0%
  • White 52.3%
  • Indian 66.6%
  • Chinese 74.2%

Improvement is certainly to be celebrated, but with the highest-performing group doing almost twice as well as the lowest, what a long way we have to go!

We’re not the only ones thinking about this. Across the pond, Bill Gates has been pumping some of his substantial fortune into solving the problem through his Gates Millennium Schollarship programme.

He’s now starting to see the problem as systemic, according to a speech last week

…only a fraction of our kids are getting the best education. Once we realize that we are keeping low-income and minority kids out of rigorous courses, there can be only two arguments for keeping it that way – either we think they can’t learn, or we think they’re not worth teaching.

The first argument is factually wrong; the second is morally wrong.

What strikes me is his willingness to own the problem: “we are keeping low-income and minority kids out of rigorous courses” (an attitude that might help explain his extraordinary wealth, by the way). That’s something I don’t see in Derek Twigg’s remarks.

Read the whole speech for Bill’s solutions; like most of what he does, they are clearly thought through and highly strategic. Refreshingly, they don’t seem to involve buying his company’s products.

Life after Google

Just when we were all getting the idea that search tools are now so good they can replace hierarchical file systems, along comes Alex Bokov dreaming about what might replace search as our key tool for acquiring the knowledge we need…

I think someday the internet experience will be streamlined to the following:

You turn on your device. You scribble/type/thumb at it furiously for a few minutes. You hit ‘send’. You don’t address it to anybody in particular, it just goes out and everyone who needs to see it eventually will.

Then you click ‘receive’ and you get what your history of choices identifies as the stuff you most need to see today.

The distinctions between one site and another will be as irrelevant as what type of database or CGI flavor a particular site is using. There will be a site-independent meme-layer, and above that will be a user-configure subscription and UI layer. I think del.icio.us has made link-repositories site independent (or will, once people realize what I did) and your project will do the same for BBS’s.

via Tagsurf

Bug report

Early on in the rollout of Paperless School we discovered that if you want good, accurate bug reports from students, it’s best to get them to tell you directly rather than report via their teacher. It doesn’t always work out quite as expected, though. This is from today’s log, with personal details anonymised …

Report from student

  • Username: xxxxxx
  • School: xxxxxxxx High School
  • Were you at school or at home when this problem happened?
    School
  • What happened?
    I’m being attacked by a man-eating walrus!
  • Were you able to get around the problem and carry on? No, its got me cornered
  • How serious is this problem? urgent

Response from support

Thank you for your bug report. I am afraid that man-eating walruses are not a component of our system and are certainly not my speciality. I wish you luck in your fight and hope you survive intact.

I do hope reporting this doesn’t create a trend…

Instant Messaging from the teenage perspective

Danah Boyd is an anthropologist who researches the cultural implications of social software, and like the great anthropologists, she lives with her subjects (the early adopters) as one of them.

These early adopters are mainly teenagers, and I’ve often found Danah’s writing
to provide insight into the way they perceive technology. We adults have a bad habit of trying to understand new technology by analogy with what’s already familiar; for example treating a computer as a fancy typewriter. Kids typically start from scratch and develop new paradigms.

Danah’s latest monologue is on the subject of the cultural divide in instant messaging (IM). IM users, she says, fall into two categories, the ‘always ons’ and the ‘occasionals’. Occasionals are the bad guys.

The thing about members of this latter category is that they *always* want to talk when they come online. This makes sense – they’re appearing online only to talk, not to share presence. They are seeing IM as a communication tool first and foremost.

Yes, that’s right, you thought IM was for communciation. Oh dear, you really are too old. The real reason:

As someone who is always on, i spend a small fraction of the day using IM. It is always on because of presence [my emphasis].

Presence, as in being seen to be there. If any analogy is to be drawn, it’s the traditional role of the village church. If you’re not seen to be there, you’re simply not part of the community.

If you’re thinking of experimenting with IM as an educational tool (and you should be), then it’s well worth reading the whole post.

And if you want to chat about it, you’ll find me present at the following IM addresses

  • Jabber: ian@jabber.dk
  • ICQ: 198294569
  • MSN: iangs1

Response from MirandaIM: extolling the virtues – what about the other side?

With reference to personal use of IM (I would argue slightly differently for business use) – How little people appear to rate intonation, inflection, body language and the eyes when discussing the merits of IM as a communication tool. Not for nothing are the eyes the ‘window to the soul’ and so much is missed through the imbalance of the senses when using IM.

I am cynical about the ‘presence’ theory that suggests that it is for others’ benefit. I would suggest there is a much more egotistical streak involved, certainly with most youngsters.

Anyone blogged the dangers of IM? – miscommunication and isolation are two biggies. What about bullying?

Chalkface defined

This morning, Google Alerts tells me Chalkface is now defined in Encarta. No mention of us specifically of course, but nonetheless a nice little stroke to my ego to start the day.

U.K. education teaching in a classroom: teaching in a classroom, as distinct from the other duties of a teacher ( informal )

[Modeled on coalface, from the idea of a blackboard at the front of a classroom]

No mention in the OED as yet, but ‘at the chalkface’ is to be found in the Cambridge International Dictionary of Idiots Idioms.