Archive for February, 2011

Hagwons as restaurants

February 21, 2011

An economist at Harvard recently discussed how market forces could improve education if schools were more exposed to those forces.  At least, that’s what I think he did; to be honest I have read only dissections of his discussion and found them interesting, particularly as they relate to hagwons in Korea. Quotes are from Metaphor Hacks and I learned of the article via the Lousy Linguist.  The economist, Ed Glaeser, compared schools to restaurants, which he feels are strongly affected by competition.

So first we have the quality of the food. This would seem to map quite nicely onto quality of education. But it doesn’t. Or at least not in the way Gleaeser and his like would like.  Quality of the food that can impact on competition is a surface property. We cannot also always trust people that they can judge the quality apart from the decor of the restaurant or its reputation – just like with wine, they are very likely to judge the quality based on a  review or the recommendation of a trusted acquaintance. In Glaeser’s analogy, we’re not really talking about the quality of food but the quality of the dining experience. And if we project this onto the quality of a school, we’re only increasing the scope of the problem. No matter how limited and unreliable, we can at least judge the quality of the overall dining experience by our own reaction to our experience. But with schools, the experience is mediated through the child and the most important criterion of quality – viz an educated human being at the end – is deferred until long after the decision on quality has been made. It’s like judging the quality of a restaurant we go to for an anniversary dinner by whether we will be healthy in 5 years.

It’s quite likely the most popular restaurants don’t serve anything particularly healthy or prepared with regard to the environmental impact. Quality is only important to them as one of many competitive advantage. They also use a number of tricks to make the dining experience better – cheat on ingredients, serve small portions on large plates, etc. They rely on ‘secret recipes’ – the last thing we want to see in education. And this is exactly the experience of schools that compete in the market. They fudge, cheat and flat out lie to protect their competitive advantage.  They provide the minimum of education that they can get away with to look good.

I have worked for some great hagwons; ones that were run with the goal of educating the students.  I also had the misfortune of working for a hagwon that would be well-described by the final two sentences of the quote.

I think we need to look at two or more metaphors when describing education.  The last two sentences really describe, mean-spiritedly, any large corporation  I am no expert on stocks or securities, but I think any publicly-traded company is required to provide share-holders with the maximum possible profit.

On the other hand, any individual working directly with clients has a very different approach and view. In keeping with the above food analogies, teachers might best be compared to the individual chefs or wait-staff or hot-dog-trolley worker.  These people need to provide what they think are the best quality products for their clients that they can.

Any metaphor can be stretched too far and teachers aren’t really like food service people; for example, we interact with our clients for extended periods and we usually don’t market the product ourselves.  Still, the above article and its spot-on description of hagwons is eerie.


enjoying the winter

February 14, 2011

More photos to follow.

I can understand that some in Muskoka don’t care for the winter, but I only experience a ‘real’ winter for one month every three years.  We’re having a lot of fun in Ontario!

mayors encourage public transit

February 10, 2011

In China, mayors are encouraging residents to use public transit.  I think the same applies to Korea and love the public transit options here although I typically drive to work.  I hope I am not described in this Onion news article.

Really, the Scientific American article is worth reading.

Making your own traffic signage

February 9, 2011

I cannot find it now, but I seem to recall that in Toronto,  someone had added (painted) bike lanes onto a few streets.  Some people were cautiously approving but all were concerned about the uneven widths of the car lanes afterward.

On the other hand, almost everyone is approving of the 600 stop and yield signs that were placed by private citizens in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Some anonymous guerrilla urban planner has planted nearly 600 “undocumented stop signs” in the town of Cranston, RI. A special town government committee has elected to keep all but 21 stop signs and 2 yield signs — apparently, the unknown freelancer put her or his stop signs in places that really needed them.

Education in the news

February 1, 2011

This time I’m not apologizing for the weak content but rather for storing links I want to check out more fully when I return to my own computer.  I guess these links seem important to me so I am attempting to provide value in my posts. The content is good, but it is not mine and I cannot comment fully upon it.

Scientific American describes instances of under and over education.  Or, about cowardly teachers and insufficiently attentive teachers: American biology teachers are avoiding evolution content and French teachers are making GMOs.

Regarding the former link, in which some teachers simply gloss over or skip content, I wonder if we ESL teachers do the same with cursing and the like.  The closest I get to teaching ‘forbidden English’ is to explain what gee or gosh or dang really mean – I use the example, excellent in Korea, of stubbing my toe and saying “18”.  Oh, that and telling the students with “Fuck” on their shirt to put their coat on over it and not bring it back to my class.

Shelly Terrell is encouraging educators to set 30 new goals for themselves in an effort to keep up with technological changes and changes in teaching theory – a way of keeping yourself current. Teach Paperless confirms that technology will change and discusses what we can do with it.

Kalinago has a post describing how she became an ESL teacher and Scott Thornbury wonders if ESL education is a profession.  My own path to ESL was a winding one and I still struggle to be a professional so I hope to read these soon.

Finally, some amusing news on the same level as finding that a fortune telling class has been canceled due to unforeseen circumstances, we learn that a  class on weather has been canceled due to bad weather. Via Boingboing

UPDATED:  Testing boosts learning and a two-year-old learns the Periodic Table.

And Learning to learn.  Here is an ecxerpt:

Kristin E. Bonnie, an assistant professor of psychology at Beloit College, said that on her tests, she has always let students pick a few questions on the multiple-choice portion (say 3 of 25) that won’t be graded. It’s a way to show students that she understands they may not grasp everything right away.

In the past, she just let students cross out the questions they didn’t want to answer. Now, she makes them answer all the questions — and to exempt a question from grading, students must pick from a list she provides of the reasons they are selecting that question. Students choose from options such as “I don’t remember the material” or “I was able to narrow it down to two possibilities, but not one” or “I didn’t study” or “I’m not confident of my answer,” among others.

The idea is to make students think for just a minute about why they don’t know an answer (or don’t know it with confidence).

In another metacognition strategy, students are asked, after they take exams and then when they receive their grades, to take a few moments for reflection and to answer such questions as how much they studied, how they studied, and so forth. Those reflections can be anonymous — understandable, Bonnie said, when she reads a reflection that states simply “there wasn’t a whole lot of studying going on” (although she quipped that she had a good idea who wrote that response).

By forcing students to stop for a few minutes and associate their study habits with their exam performance, and to think about why they don’t know an answer, the academics hope to change students’ habits — to encourage them to figure out what they don’t know and to study in more effective ways (and more). “We want those who are not doing well to think about it,” Bonnie said.