It’s the people, not the technology

Kentaro Toyoma with school children in India.

Technology can’t provide a quick fix for social problems, Kentaro Toyoma tells MIT Technology Review.

When he worked for Microsoft in India, Toyoma tried to use technology to strengthen schools, teach farming techniques and improve health. Now a “recovering technoholic” and university professor, he’s the author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.

One Laptop per Child, which which provided low-cost laptops to children in the Third World, had little effect, says Toyoma.

In randomized, controlled trials . . . schools with laptops did not see their children gain anything in terms of academic achievement, in terms of grades, in terms of test scores, in terms of attendance, or in terms of supposed engagement with the classroom.

Children are “overjoyed” when they get a new gadget, he says. But it’s “the same joy that you see when you peek over the shoulder of a kid who has a smartphone in their hands in the developed world, which is to say they’re overjoyed because they’re playing Angry Birds.”

I think it’s perfectly sensible for parents to want a certain amount of exposure to technology for their children, both as a form of explorative play and as a way to get them used to technology that they’ll undoubtedly encounter later in their life. I think the fundamental error people make is that, therefore, we should have the computer be the primary instrument of education for all children.

Providing content is easy, he says. What’s difficult is motivating children to learn. “Whether the technology helped or not was really up to people.”

India: Bride dumps groom who can’t add

From India: A bride walked out of her wedding ceremony when her groom failed to solve a simple addition problem, reports the Deccan Chronicle.

The question she asked: How much is 15+6?

His reply: 17.

“The groom’s family kept us in the dark about his poor education,” said Mohar Singh, the bride’s father. “Even a first grader can answer this.”

After police mediation, both families returned the gifts and jewelry that had been exchanged before the wedding, said a police officer.

An Elephant Mom protects her young

In the time of the Tiger Mother, Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar strives to be a protective, nurturing, supportive elephant mom, she writes in The Atlantic.

Sharma-Sindhar grew up in India, where children aren’t reprimanded in the first five years, she writes. “I can’t recall a time when I cried and a grown up didn’t come to console or hold me.” She slept with her mother till she was five.

The phrase I would hear in almost every home we visited during my childhood was some version of ‘Let the kids enjoy themselves.’ They have the rest of their lives to be grown up. And the social fabric of our world supported them. We would go to the fanciest of restaurants with our parents and run around and play tag. No one would stop us—not the managers, not the other diners. It was normal. Soon enough, the servers would join in. It was lovely.

Her elephant mom was a doctor.

I failed a Hindi test when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I remember going to her, teary-eyed, with my results—and hearing her tell me that it didn’t matter. There were many more tests ahead. As I sobbed in her lap, she stroked my hair, hugged me, and told me there would be another test, and I could pass that one. (I did get the annual proficiency prize for Hindi a year later at the same school.)

Now, she’s raising her own daughter in the U.S. Other parents think she’s coddling her, failing to teach “grit” and resilience.

Asians ace GMAT math

Americans can’t compete in math with Indian and Chinese business school applicants, reports the Wall Street Journal.  Asian students do so well on the quantitative portion of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) that admissions officers are looking for ways to admit more U.S. applicants.


Forty-four percent of GMAT takers are Asian, compared to 22 percent a decade ago. U.S. students, once the majority of test-takers, now comprise 36 percent of the whole.

A new benchmarking tool “allows admissions officers to compare applicants against their own cohort, filtering scores and percentile rankings by world region, country, gender and college grade-point average,” reports the Journal.

“I need to be able to show my scholarship committee, which includes faculty, that this person is in the top 5% of test takers in his region,” even though that individual might not rank highly against test takers world-wide, said Sara Neher, assistant dean of M.B.A. admissions at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business,

South and East Asian students average 151 hours in test preparation, reports GMAC. U.S. students average 64 hours.

Smart enough?

38.7% of adults are college grads

As of 2011, 38.7 percent of working-age Americans had earned a two- or four-year college degree and another 5 percent of adults held a “postsecondary certificate with significant economic value,” reports the Lumina Foundation.

India plans to establish 10,000 community colleges by 2030 to train 500 million young people in job skills. Now young people are turning to private job training centers.

China and India rising

The Competition that Really Matters comes from China and India, argues the Center for American Progress.

While “the state of America’s children has improved dramatically in the last century,”  the U.S. advantage is eroding, the report warns.  “Educational attainment and achievement gaps that track income and race groups have become more entrenched— and more worrisome.”

Meanwhile, China and India are investing in the next-gen workforce.

U.S. vs. the world in sports and school

Why is the U.S. so good at athletics — look at the Olympic medal count — and so mediocre in education? Not so fast, answers Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. Sure, the U.S. and China win the most gold (and silver and bronze) medals. We’re also very big countries.  Looking at the per capita medal count (as of Aug. 10) tells a different story.

The U.S. ranks 40th in Olympic medals per capita on the chart, but “an impressive eighth in the world in reading” on PISA, Petrilli writes.

In raw numbers of high-scoring students, the U.S. is number one for math and reading, according to PISA. (Remember that China and India don’t participate.)

It’s good to be big, Petrilli writes.

The reason that the world’s best universities continue to be populated by so many Americans is that (1) most of those universities are here, and (2) we produce more top K-12 students than anybody else. As long as that’s the case, we will continue to lead the world economically and culturally.

But watch out for the Chinese.

The skills mismatch

“While jobs requiring STEM knowledge and skills are growing at nearly twice the rate of other occupations in the United States, just 13 percent of college students choose a STEM major, according to Investigating the Skills Mismatch on the Top of the Class blog. More than 40 percent of Chinese college graduates and nearly 50 percent in Singapore have STEM degrees, according to an Accenture report. Brazil will pass the U.S. in new engineering PhDs by 2016.

Source: Accenture. (2011).

Only 10 percent of Chinese engineers and 25 percent of Indian engineers are educated to a global standard, compared to 80 percent of U.S. engineers, a 2005 McKinsey report found. However, there are a lot of people in China and India. “Accenture calculates that even if just 20 percent of Chinese STEM graduates are qualified to a world standard, this would represent more than 700,000 graduates by 2015, as compared to just 460,000 in the United States.”

Students hit hard by textbook costs

While community colleges have kept tuition under control, students have been hit hard by rising textbook costs. Increasingly, students say they’re trying to get by without buying all the assigned books.

Virginia’s community college system will help India develop job training centers.