What I’ve Learnt About Education

To get through this let’s start with some assumptions and then we can take those and explain what I think about them. There are two scales for this. The macro and the micro, so how education considers the masses and how it treats the individual. Given my thinking style the following is likely to be a mess of thoughts and ideas rather than a coherent essay!

The Macro

I’m going to let you into a little secret. This is going to be controversial although maybe not that surprising if you’ve ever thought about education.

No one really knows what the education system is for, and no one is willing to decide the reason we do this.

Here’s my reasoning for this statement. No one has decided to state what examinations are for. What is their purpose. You might have some ideas about this but I don’t recall a Secretary Of State ever really telling us what the system is for. Let’s have a look:

Is the system to educate children so they know things? In this case they would be allowed to follow their own choices for learning and encouraged and supported by teachers and staff while progressing through whatever curriculum was attractive. Pupils would be supported to make progress and encouraged to develop their understanding. Learning would be at a speed which suits the individual and academic inquisitiveness encouraged. I don’t think you would have examinations. Just a written report about what how that individual could use their knowledge. This is not what happens in schools.

Is the system to measure pupils as a guide for future employers? If so then we would want a system that allows us to measure in a standard way each child across cohorts and the years. There would be a system in place that FAIRLY gave us a list of outcomes about each child. This is not what happens in schools. The measuring system is examinations and the results of those are used to measure individuals and schools which can’t be done effectively for each when the system is split like that, ask a statistician. We don’t have a system of examinations which compares across years because the results “keep going up”.

The government considers education to be a service which can be measured and that measurement is mostly the examination results of the individuals in the system. But how do you show progress? By progress I mean getting better examination results and not actual progress. The examination system is rigged to show better results each year because the exam boards are in competition with each other. Our current examination system does not do any of the things you think it does. The grade inflation – APPROVED BY THE REGULATOR – means that the grades don’t reflect an individual’s ability and they don’t reflect a school. The system is broken and no one seems to want to attempt to admit it.

One method for clearing up what the examinations do is to state that the results every year will be norm referenced. So, the top 5% will get a particular grade, the next 10% the next grade and so on. This would mean that the examination results each year would be the same. It is not the case that people ten years ago were any dumber than those today. If exam results were scored this way then the results a pupil achieves would reflect their ability compared to the rest of the cohort. BUT, this method would not allow the results to show “progress”. Government couldn’t say that their interventions with the system are working because the examination results would be static forever. There would need to be other ways to measure the success of policy changes and they would be academic studies which, because they can control for effects, would show that policy changes do fuck all to results and teachers just try their best most of the time.

For me, as an educator I would like the system to encourage personal growth and intellectual curiousness in people. I would like students to want to learn and to be fascinated by whatever aspects of the universe they want. This can’t be measured and so is highly unlikely to ever become a governmental system because every right wing government in my lifetime [which is all of them post 1979] wants education measured, to spit out students with certain letters or numbers to show how they can be economically viable.

On a gross scale we expect the education system to develop academically, and with knowledge, the youth of the current generation. We want them to know things useful to themselves and we then want to measure them as a guidance for how they can be used within society to progress the zeitgeist. We want people to have a list of “things I’m good at” and we want them to be able to use that knowledge. We want people to add to society, to be useful. We want people to be motivated and to learn. We want the system to be fair and for all people to have the same opportunities.

The recent experience of Covid Lockdowns showed me more than any other time that the education system is firstly a childcare system for allowing parents to contribute economically to society while their children are not with them. While I consider that a by-product of the education system it is clear that parents fucking love the fact that they don’t have to spend all day with their children and that schools can take them and look after them. Pre-Covid I don’t think I would have mentioned this as my first point but that is how it felt with comments on social media and generally the new and old media going on about how hard it is to have your offspring constantly around at home.

The government seems to think that the education system is a linear thing forcing knowledge into children to make them economically productive. Hence all the moaning about lost learning recently and generally down-talking students and pupils. It appears that to the government the education system is a “putting knowledge in kids” system and a childcare system. It’s down to teachers and educators to reach the economic worth of children and this is measured by examination results. The job that we do is measured by examinations. This system has only been around for around twenty years, before that I think schools were seen as successful if they didn’t burn down each year.

In the grand scheme of things we know that you should be careful what you measure to garner success. Schools have become objects of pushing exam results rather than education. It’s all about making the school look as though it’s doing a good job because good results mean a good school. I don’t think good results mean a good school. In the overall sense there is also an issue with random variations in results being used to push particular interventions. Consider that natural variation is a thing and so results just will vary from year to year. Also, consider that schools are constantly measuring children and comparing their results through the years against a benchmark from when they were eleven years old. There is NO leeway for individuality in this.

Some schools have numbers people. Staff whose job is to analyse the numbers and results as pupils progress through the years. In my career I have met many of these staff and only a few actually understood numbers and statistics. Many places even outsource their number manipulation to companies whose market did not exist twenty years ago. This number tracking is meant to allow schools to track pupils and intervene where necessary while also tracking staff and cohorts to ensure they are making progress. Well, that’s great you might think. Managers in school can see which staff are doing a good job, which staff aren’t, which pupils are making good progress and which pupils aren’t. Here’s the thing: if you’re good as a “middle manager” then you know your staff, you know their weaknesses, you can intervene and help staff. If you are a vaguely human teacher then you know when pupils are struggling, you know when pupils are doing well. We don’t need this layer of bureaucracy to help us do our job. Amazing, I know, but the management intervention just isn’t needed.

Schools are clearly a place to dump children for childcare so parents can contribute to the economy of the country. It genuinely feels as though that is the primary by-product of our education system. Just look at all the shit that followed schools closing for the Covid lockdowns we had. Parents seemed unable to cope with having their children around all the time and the economy ground to a halt because children had to be looked after. I honestly thought that learning stuff just happens to be the least important thing that education does.

The education system has never been about learning for learning’s sake, no matter how much idealists like to say it.

The Micro

Let’s look at what we might expect for a pupil attending a school. I’m writing this from the perspective of a parent and interactions with parents of pupils I teach. I know that I would like to think that all staff at a school have my child’s interests as their main focus. I would want them to understand my child’s personality, I want them to understand the motivations and weaknesses of my child and I want them to work tirelessly to help my child achieve their “potential”. More about “potential” later.

In the day to day running of lessons in a secondary school I can assure you there is no way that I, as a teacher, am able to do my best for every pupil all the time. I teach classes of around 30 pupils for an hour at a time. Five classes a day means 150 pupils. All of whom we would like to think I work to improve their knowledge each day. The reality is nothing at all like that. Teachers are human. Pupils are human. Some days it’s all we can do to get through a lesson and get to the end of the day. Some days everything flows really well and we might consider we have done a good job. Some days it’s a heap of shit and you know you’ve done terrible and write that day off.

In the fixed period of time that exists in a lesson I can focus on a few pupils. There is no chance I can help all pupils to the same extent. You would like to think that I understand all of the weaknesses of the individuals and have the chance to boost them all through a lesson. But let’s look at this. I teach for around twenty to thirty minutes each lesson, longer in sixth form lessons. I then set some work, so by the time the pupils are actually doing something there might be twenty minutes of practice time. In that time I’m working to evaluate at the class level what they understood. The individual gets lost in that. I have, at most, thirty seconds to help an individual if they are all to be treated the same. This is just not going to happen.

I have conversations with parents where they ask what specific weaknesses their child has with a topic or subject. You honestly think I can keep a matrix in my head of which topics for which kid for around two hundred children? I might be special, mentally, but I am definitely not that special. That’s why we hand examinations back to pupils, so they can evaluate what they can do and what they can’t.

Parents want to know that I have every pupil’s progress in my main focus. While I can do that, kind of, sort of, it’s not as good as parents think. The government has policies which force me to focus on a few in class and consider their needs. It could be those at the top or it could be those at the bottom or it could be those with special needs. All of this energy is lost for the person in the middle. I honestly don’t think I can focus on all the groups the school policy forces me to.

Here’s the rub. Education comes down to the pupils. Humans are complicated lumps of sentient meat and having to focus every day for five hours a day is an impossibility. It’s hard work. Pupils don’t and can’t do that. They have to be teased and coaxed into working on school stuff. That’s all fine but with my subject as soon as you are a little behind the rest of everything is going to be a struggle. We change topics and move things around to spread out the types of work we do but in the grand scheme of things other factors are always a bigger influence on pupils that teachers in an individual lesson. This has been understood for many years. I don’t understand why it isn’t understood by government or most school management.

There may be some terrible teachers out there. In fact there are. I’ve worked with some. But you are always going to have a ten percent tail. They are always going to be there. You can’t really do anything about that tail. I know that schools pretty much hope that they leave at some point and go somewhere else. For me, my input to teaching relies on my energy levels and some times that’s high and others it’s low. I probably have a lower “fuck it” threshold that most, but then I think my lessons go OK and my pupils broadly do OK. Oh, OK is not an acceptable outcome. OK just means middling and so all lessons are meant to be excellent or something similar. Gone are the days when OK means OK. Being OK is fine for me, but then I’m not a manager.

POTENTIAL. This word gets bandied about as though all pupils have some lofty goals they should be aiming for. In reality it means fuck all. What happens if you reach your potential? Can you stop. Is “potential” a limiting factor? I absolutely hate that word in the education context. As a teacher I want pupils to do the best they can for the majority of the time. All while recognising that humans are complicated and sometimes this just doesn’t happen. That child has potential just means we think they have the capacity to learn a lot – more likely they have the capacity to get good examination results which isn’t always the same as learning. “Reach your potential” – I hate it.

The Secret

In ten years from your GCSEs no one is going to give a shit about what you got. They open doors initially but they don’t slam them shut for you. There are plenty of future opportunities to get where you want, you just need to find your motivation.

This is communication number 1941, so here are some things that happened that year:

  • An earthquake kills 1200 in Saudi Arabia.
  • The valley of geysers is discovered in Kamchatka.
  • The first British jet is flown.
  • A lot of pretty depressing holocaust stuff.

I’m Just Disappointed

I do know that it’s wrong to use your mobile phone while driving but I just had to in this case. Fortunately I was in a traffic queue and just after I spotted this advert there was serendipity. Given the hurry I was in and the distance of the bus from me I’m quite pleased with how the picture turned out.

Education Kind Of
Education, Kind Of

What surprised me about the advert was partly that Fashion History should have been something starting with a T to match the tarot part of that sentence and I think KAE missed the point of how those literary devices work. The main surprise in this advert was to see KAE advertising courses in Tarot. I don’t think they should.

Tarot is either the name for a pack of cards used in Europe for about 400 years or tarot refers to the practice of conning people with bullshit, from Wikipedia: “the late 18th century, some tarot decks began to be used for divination via tarot card reading and cartomancy leading to custom decks developed for such occult purposes.”. I’m guessing that this reference to Tarot on this advert isn’t just about the design of the cards but more likely to be about the spooky divination of said cards. Let’s see.

As I type this I’ve got another tab open [actually it’s a whole browser on my other screen] and I am going to look through the tarot information on the KAE website. The first thing I noticed in the search results is that there are two course and they don’t cost as much as I thought they would, but the socialist in me does think that if people want to further their education then it should be free of cost, however I do understand the modern world.

KAE Search Results

In a moment I am going to click on the more information hyperlinks and see where that takes me. Le Boutillier. Hmm. Le Boutillier. Very sensible choosing a name that sounds like it’s from New Orleans or of French descent. It gives you a certain credence in this realm of tarot. It could be that Le Boutillier is their birth name but I suspect not, I will try and find out.

Understanding the Tarot is an online course run out of the Tonbridge part of KAE. It’s a basic course for anyone “wishing to understand how Tarot reading can be commonly used to measure potential outcomes and evaluate influences surrounding a person, an event, or both.” So this is a course in nothing. There’s a little bit about understanding the 22 Major Arcana cards but the rest of it is absolute nothing. Oh well.

Creativity and Inspiration with Tarot is an online course [sensible in a pandemic] and it is basically learning how to make up shit in story form from the cards that you have. So I guess it’s about using your imagination. There isn’t anything about telling the future or past but just the story aspect of the cards. The tutor for this course is Martin Laya Rey. Almost definitely not their real name and made up to sound exotic. I’ll see what they say about themselves shortly.

Ally Le Boutillier. Her biography on KAE says “a Reiki Practitioner, Hypnotherapist, Bereavement Counsellor and Numerologist.” Of those things there only one is actually a real thing to do and even then, given her other practices I wonder if she can counsel people without resorting to after-life souls stuff. Now to google and see what happens. Oddly she does not have her own website, there’s some things on Linkedin and Facebook but I’m not trawling through those sites. It does appear that Le Boutillier is her last name, she mentions her late father and his name is the same. Perhaps I was harsh about that. She does have a YouTube channel and she has a playlist called Deepak Chopra. That is all you need to know. Deepak is a man who utters such vague rubbish that those who believe the supernatural love him.

Martin Laya Rey has two google results and that is the page at KAE and an advert tweet for a cook at a cafe in a cinema. This is super odd. Maybe I’m the odd older person as I have a number of google results for my name. It seems odd that no one else is called that also. So, I have no other information on this person. I could go to Facebook but I don’t like making myself busy on that site, they are immoral. In terms of names I have no idea from web results if it is their actual name so let’s go with a yes.

My conclusions. This stuff seems harmless enough. Tarot is a giggle if you take it as a bit of fun. I guess it’s like a Ouija game – which is a game and the science of it is well known – the problem is when people take these things seriously and start taking the advice of the cards. There is a false hope in the idea that there are super natural things and even more false hope that they are communicating to us through vague symbols and other people. The legitimacy provided to tarot by it being an official course on an adult education platform does not help and is one of the ways that practitioners are able to claim that they do a real thing. It’s a bit like the reiki poster up in the doctors surgery. Reiki is rubbish but gets condoned because it has a poster up in a place of goodness.

The Wrong Way Round

It’s just into the new year and I have tried to stay away from writing about this sort of this for most of last year but I need somewhere to let this stuff out and you are the people who I tell. I’ve mentioned before, many times, that this is a place for me to form my ideas and arguments. I’m not very good at that. I know what I think and I am quite convicted with those ideals, however I will change my mind once I see evidence that means I should. I don’t want to say I’m right about everything, I know I’m not, but I try to see things from a “do no harm” point of view. Right, disclaimers completed so here we go.

There is a lot of talk this morning about children’s education being affected by school closures. I want to consider that first. Yes, during the last national lockdown a lot of children struggled to keep up with the school work and a lot of children suffered mental health issues. If we look at the keeping up with the school work issue first there seems to be this idea that we have a fixed amount of things to teach pupils in schools. That’s not true. The reason people think like that is that they consider taking examinations, which by definition have a fixed content, to be the measure of schooling. This is bullshit. I can teach as much or as little as is required. We should look at the qualifications and change those. If we have teacher assessed grades for the next two years then it doesn’t matter if I fail to teach geometrical applications of vectors to my class. If an employed accepts someone who has a grade 8 in mathematics does the employer use that as a measure of that person’s ability to prove geometrical results using vectors or solving quadratic equations by completing the square? No, they do not. Employers use examination grades to give a measure of ability overall. Is that person good at mathematics? A teacher or centre assessed grade will still give that measure to employers, college or university.

STOP thinking that education is 200 things that pupils have to know before they leave school and start thinking about education as a process. Missing school for a few months doesn’t make kids any more stupid. It protects those in society from getting a dangerous virus that is KILLING 500 people a fucking day in this country.

Right, so I’ve fixed this concept of a fixed amount of education and we can use teachers to give grades so that society has a measure of the pupils we released to the wild. The next issue spoken about is that pupils need to be in school. The best place for young people is in school and I have some things to say about this.

Firstly, being in a supportive social environment is incredibly important to young people and mixing with others around their age is important. But the issue at stake here is that schools are where we force the rules of society onto people. It’s where we create the lifelong rules that people follow so that they fit into this current society. Late for school? Get punished. Mess around? Get punished. Swear at a teacher? Get punished. This societal requirement for school means that teachers and school staff do far more than educate children in the academic requirements of the world. We support the growth of young people and allow them to see different views and practice arguing and learning about how the world works. Schools are more than examination factories, we are places for creating future society because we don’t trust other people or families to do that well.

The mental health of our young people is incredibly important and schools form a massive part of giving meaning and a belonging to young people. Schools give structure to lives and help people develop. Having faced episodes of mental health issues in my life I am fully aware of how important good mental health and a supportive structure is to an individual. Rather than forcing society to rely on schools as a place of mental health support there should be much more of a support structure outside of school. The government admitting that we need pupils in schools for mental health reasons means that we have failed as a society to support our young people. If we require schools to do all these things then we are doing the bare minimum as a country. Pupils struggle without the support of school and I know children in supportive families who are having problems. The issue isn’t that schools are closed. The real issue is a lack of funding for support services outside of school and constant cuts over the last twelve years or more.

What sort of society do we live in where we are at the point of forcing schools to be open to support the economic activity of parents? Another reason being spouted for schools staying open is that parents can’t work if their kids are home. What sort of society have we created where the “family” unit can’t operate as a family and has to rely on state sponsored childcare? This is the government admitting that without teachers and schools taking your children off your hands for six hours a day then we can’t run economically as a country and that horrifies me. It would be nice to have the recognition that these are the things that schools perform for society. But recognition rarely comes.

So, to turn things around we need to do the following:

  1. Change how our qualifications work to support real learning in schools rather than examination results being the result of children need to know these 200 things.
  2. Pump money into bespoke services to look after the mental health of all people.
  3. Pump money into creating a society that can cope economically without aspects of education always being open.

Now you can see the issues. Everything I have said, except removing public examination, will cost money. It’s a political choice.

Oh, by the way. I’m angry and have been for four years. But it’s getting worse. I’ve been shrugging all governmental responses off over the last year or so but I’m going through a phase of not being able to do that.

Testing The ‘Rona

I have spent the last few days angry and I expect it will continue. This government was, until yesterday, insisting that schools return for education and school stuff in the new year. This is while this country is ravaged by Covid-19. The numbers do not look good. The virus is rampant and the spike after christmas jollities will occur in a week when, once again, the government will act as though they don’t understand a two week delay to everything they introduce. They are incompetent and have always been. They lack the balls and empathy to do the right thing. I hear people say it must be difficult for people in charge and while I agree with that sentiment I feel those people are largely trying to find an excuse to forgive the tories from their utter ineptitude. The current bunch of politicians in charge of this country – and voted for by most of the country – are selfish pricks who don’t care about anything other than themselves.

There has been an insistence that schools must stay open whatever is happening and that education is really important. Wow. Given the lack of investment in schools and education over the last twelve years I’m surprised at this attitude. Maybe tories just don’t like their children and do everything they can to get them out of the house. I haven’t had a real term pay rise for over twelve years. Education has been underfunded for over twelve years. Just like the NHS the tories haven’t invested because of their policy of austerity over the last fucking decade.

So we should keep schools open but we don’t get the funding to do so. It’s like there is a belief that we should teach a fixed amount to the children and then test that “learning” or the whole system will fail. I don’t understand this rigid thought process. I can solve this now. Let teachers grade their pupils over the next two years. Cancel public examinations. Remove all forms of accountability by exam results. Let teachers give realistic grades to their students as a measure of how they have progressed and learnt over the last while. This removes the need for examinations, removes the need for all pupils to have learnt the same things and removes the need for keeping schools “open”. To be clear, when schools are closed the education is still happening. Teachers have upskilled immensely over the last year to do their best to deliver their passions and subjects online. Pupils motivation and parental support are always the biggest inhibitors to education – not what the schools or teachers do.

So, I’ve “fixed” education for you. Now you can put in policy to maintain the health of the nation and ensure that we work together to end this pandemic and get the disease under control. It is criminal that the number of deaths is as high as it is. The sheer ineptitude of the government should be enough to cause a revolution but that won’t happen in this country and that makes me sad. I don’t think there will be any accountability of this government for the deaths and illness. I think in four years when we have the next election there will be enough selfish people in this country to vote the tories back in. I am largely ashamed to live in such a selfish and racist country.

So, to testing. That is the point of this communication. I’ve read about testing for covid and I’ve decided to write this to get some handle on what it all means. This writing in my way of processing the information. So, some things to say first. There are different types of test and they aren’t all the same. If you test and get a positive it is likely you have the disease. If you test negative though it does not mean you are clear. Let’s see why. Testing relies on the virus replicating in your body enough so that there is lots of it in your saliva or snot. When you breathe or cough you expel tiny droplets and these are then absorbed by someone else, this is how this virus transmits. Also, we could leave virus particles on surfaces and other people then touch those surfaces and their mucus membranes. The current tests rely on either swabbing to see if your viral load is high or blood tests to see if you have developed blood cells that fight the disease.

The PCR test is the most accurate but takes time and money. They are almost 100% accurate if you have the disease. The false negative rate is low as long as you have some symptoms. It could be that you are infected but in the early stages and we know that it can take UP TO fourteen days for symptoms to first show. Therefore any negative doesn’t mean you are clear. All other types of Covid test are compared to PCR testing as it is highly accurate.

The Lateral Flow quick test has been hailed by the government and I suspect is the one being rolled out to schools for some fucking reason. Let’s look at the numbers involved with this test. Because it all comes down to probability and getting the numbers correct. The sensitivity [detecting the virus if you have it] ranges from 79% to 49% when those administering the tests range from laboratory scientists to tests performed by self-administration. We will use these numbers shortly.

The specificity of the lateral flow test [telling you that you are infected when you aren’t] runs at 0.4%. More accurately the specificity of the lateral flow test is 99.6%, it is a measure of how accurate the test is at being doubly wrong. So, if you aren’t infected there is a very good chance that you will get a negative result and only 0.4% of people who aren’t infected will be told they have the disease.

However, if you do have the ‘rona then the probabilities look far worse. The lateral flow test will miss around 50% of those people and declare them negative. This quite clearly shows that a negative result doesn’t mean you are negative. It doesn’t mean you can go visit grandma and it doesn’t mean you can go out. I’ve just read from UCL that up to 86% of carriers of SARS-Cov-2 virus might be asymptomatic. You need to have symptoms for the lateral flow test to work (ish), the lateral flow test will miss half of those infected and the rate is even worse if they are self-administered. This is not good news.

I’ve done some number crunching and it looks as though the probability of you testing negative even though you have the ‘rona could be as high as 25% [50% in some cases]. Oddly, maybe, this is an example of probability I teach sixth formers although I have to say I normally use the concept of a “terrorist detector” to show how immigration policies are bullshit. So, this all means that the government policy of using Lateral FLow Tests in large scale population preemptive testing is bollocks and won’t work. Just like everything else they have done this virus reaction won’t do what they think it will and be a waste of time and money and lives. If only they had paid attention to the Italians, Koreans and such like in the early days.

We all have a right to be very angry about the government’s response to this pandemic. We can acknowledge that it must be tough at the top but we can also acknowledge that they are doing an amazingly shit job of it. We are suffering and people are dying [500 a day] because the British public voted in a bunch of self-obsessed selfish losers who think it is their right to govern when, in reality, they are the worst possible group of people to lead us through this crisis. Fuck them.

I read a few articles to get this information but these were the main ones. Horizon Magazine of the EU research centre and also this one from UK Patient Site along with this one from the BMJ.

Make Decisions Now

All throughout this Covid crisis there doesn’t seem to have been much appreciation by the government that every decision they make will have a two to three week delay in any action that then occurs. This disease isn’t a quick-show-er, it takes a while to simmer and then it fucks your face. For the last month we have been experiencing five hundred deaths a day. The latest figures show a drop in that purely because it was Xmas and the paperwork will take a short while to fill out.

Graph
UK Deaths

We also have news of the new variants of Covid going around and this isn’t that surprising. If you have a lot of genetic replication you get a lot of mutations and the ones that survive are those that manage to pass on more quickly. Not a surprise. More evidence for evolution you religious bigots.

It’s time for the government to make the choice and close schools for the next month. We had headlines in December about the biggest growth in the virus was secondary school age children, that wasn’t a surprise really. Schools have done everything they can to try to make their sites “covid-safe”. I would like to point out that much like “natural” in food advertising “covid-safe” doesn’t mean anything. All it does mean is that schools are trying to do their best to follow the rules set by the government [I do understand that some schools will be worse than others and there’s not a lot I can do about that]. You might be thinking that I would obviously want schools closed for the next month, but I am going to disappoint you. I would rather be in school, I recognise it’s the best place for kids, it’s where they get the best learning experience, it’s best for them mentally. Working at home is MUCH harder than being in school. Many of my colleagues suffered bad backs and necks from working online. I had nerve issues in my legs. Everyday I spent eight hours staring at a screen while trying to do the best I can to educate and look after the welfare of pupils. There comes a time when the government needs to recognise that schools are a hub of transmission vectors and they need to close for a while.

A NEGATIVE test doesn’t mean you are NEGATIVE.

The government publishes data regularly on it’s Coronavirus Site.

It Doesn’t Say That

Here we go again. Another BBC News Headline and Fooyah goes off on one to deride the state of news. But first let me tell you where my biases lie.

I have recently decided to stop scanning my general Twitter feed. I follow about a thousand feeds on that account and a lot of them revolve around my interests of religion, airplanes aeroplanes, science and politics. Given what Donald Trump says and could possibly do after the 20th along with how that affects my interests you can imagine that my twitter feed is filled with horror. Even last year during the post-Brexit week I found that twitter was feeding the news I wanted while the traditional BBC site and radio news wasn’t giving me the detail I wanted. I felt I wanted to know everything that happened when it happened.

I have started to recognise that this was becoming an obsession. Constantly wanting to check Twitter. Missing parts of TV shows programmes because I was looking at my feed. I was starting to miss out on peace, on enjoying concentrating. I have now stopped looking at that particular feed. I use my normal account highlighted down the right hand side of this site because that feed has only friends and twitter is one of the methods I stay in touch with some friends. I don’t officially do Faceshit so that doesn’t really matter.

From now on I am going to get my news in manageable chunks by listening to the radio and occasionally browsing the BBC website. I gave up TV news a long time ago as I couldn’t cope with the forced human interest narrative they assigned to every story. The human interest of news didn’t affect me, I want to know the news behind the story, not the “this made Chloe from Bakersfield miss her train”.

I watched this video after my decision, it was sent to me by a friend and while I have some criticisms of the things said in the video I felt some of it applied to me and I am far from a millennial.

I do have some issues with some of the things he says and I am definitely not convinced he is right about everything but it is very interesting. I could see some of these behaviours in myself and so decided to change my behaviour to be more positive to my life. One of my current issues was feeling anger at all the Trump tweets or news items and being powerless to affect them in any way. By ignoring them I hope to gain some sense of control and happiness over those parts of my life. I can get on with my life largely as it is and just calmly wait for the end-times.

I have become largely convinced that mobile devices need to be banned in schools. Not because I am a nasty bastard but because we have a SOCIAL DUTY to teach children to concentrate on tasks that last longer than a few minutes. The young need to learn to be able to delay reward. They are in a system where I want them to learn during all my lessons in a week and the pay off is years away in their examination results, in their choice on university and in the pay of their future careers. I don’t have a science study to back this up but I do think we are doing a disservice to the young because they expect reward constantly.

Oh, but they can play computer games and concentrate for hours.

Yes and no. They are constantly rewarded while playing computer games. The tasks are short term and the rewards are built in regularly to make the kids feel good. This is the equivalent of checking an answer in the back of a maths text book and seeing that you got it right. That little hit of success. One of these is “fun” and the other takes place in a structured lesson where the ultimate pay off is years away.

A student I taught a few years ago who, in the run up to his exams, took his phone, turned it off and placed it in a plastic bag which he kept on him for emergency purposes. He did this for three months. He recognised the distraction that his phone is. It doesn’t matter if you find out something has happened 2 minutes after the event or 5 hours after the event. It’s the same thing that has happened. That kid got As and A* at A Level and now studies at a top university.

Look, I love my phone and I like my console and this computer where I am currently typing. I don’t want to throw them away. But I do think there are serious sociological problems that need to be faced. We are failing the youth by not preparing them to concentrate persistently at a task with a delayed reward.

This was the headline on the BBC News website, I heard about the article from listening to the radio 4 article. I also found the same “news” item in the Daily Fucking Piece Of Shit Mail.

Now, I’m not very good at reading science papers. I have tried and find the language very dense and deliberately obscure. Given my interest in REAL THINGS learning how to read science papers is probably a good thing. I found the original paper from where these headlines derive. It is linked here. The PDF can be found here, or below.

A cached copy from this website

I just want to cover some of my observations from reading the paper before writing about the news articles.

A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the Relations Between Digital-Screen Use and the Mental Well-Being of Adolescents

This paper was a test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis [bullshit name making it seem acceptable or a good thing even though it’s a happy story about a fucking thief]. This paper is to test the happiness-screen time hypothesis. It doesn’t set out to find out if screen time makes teenagers happier than not having screen time. It doesn’t have a control group. All it does is see whether the youngsters have an ideal happiness-screen time relationship. It could have found out that 20 hours a a day was the ultimate happiness value.

Most of the paper talks about the regression curve they decided would fit and how they tested that. Essentially they found an upper limit in the curve.

The number of students used in the study was large. All the data was self-reported and that can cause issues of under-reporting of negative trends. This paper didn’t seek to find out how much happier students were before and after. All they looked into was the happiness of students compared to how much screen time they have. There’s no before and after. There’s no analysis of how increasing or decreasing screen time affects individuals. It could be imagined that deliberately affecting the well being of teenagers negatively would be immoral.

This study sought to confirm a previous hypothesis that a quadratic curve could be used to fit to the data and that from that there would be a maximum [inflexion in the paper]. It didn’t seek to find out anything else.

This study seeks to inform future studies and has nothing to do with optimum time to get students the most well-being. It just modelled that. There were no controls. We do NOT know from this study what happens if a student stops using their phone and does other stuff. This study wasn’t about that. It’s not a before and after study. It’s a study about now.

Interesting, but also obvious, was that different digital activities had different effects on well-being. Being on a phone has a lower time than watching TV. They are very different activities.

The study also says that they did not look into whether academic work was affected or what the possible outcomes are with high or low digital device usage. This study JUST looked at modelling the Goldilocks Hypothesis. My instinct is that the Goldilocks Hypothesis probably exists for most things. Want to eat chocolate? Have a certain amount to get most well-being feeling. Want to exercise? A certain amount will maximise your well-being score, and so on.

So, now a few quotes from the BBC article.

Moderate screen use ‘boosts teen wellbeing’

NOT what the paper says. The paper did NOT compare before and after, just what exists now. They are very different things.

They found a “Goldilocks effect” where a few hours of device-use seemed to boost mental wellbeing.

They were testing for the Goldilocks effect. They didn’t discover it. Their aim was to model it mathematically. Again, BOOST, no it doesn’t say that. Boost implies a before and after effect which was not measured by this study.

In addition, the first hour or two of screen time was actually associated with an increase in mental wellbeing for those using computers, smartphones, video games and watching TV or films.

FFS, not an increase just what is. IF I HAVE THIS WRONG PLEASE LET ME KNOW. I am not expert in reading science papers. Have a look yourself and tell me.

The BBC article is pretty bad but there are redeeming features to the article and even they explain that this paper confirms the hypothesis. It’s good to have some science about these things but the NEWS can’t report it very well. And we wonder why there are issues with fake-news and this being a post-truth world.

I need a few deep breaths now as I take some quotes from the Daily Shit article. I can’t read the whole thing without encountering a rage so I will rely on the bullet points at the top of the article.

Researchers found there is little evidence screen time damages teenagers

NOT what they were looking for. The study was to confirm the Goldilocks Effect. We would need a CONTROL group to decide if damage is done.

The found that, in fact, 257 minutes on a computer is beneficial for them

No, it didn’t. See above.

It is the ‘sweet spot’ when teens have had enough time to develop online skills

No, it doesn’t say that. For fucks sake. If we trained teenagers in developing internet skills properly they would soon realise that the DM website is full of shit.

 I’m done. If I tried I expect I could take the whole DM article and pull nearly every sentence apart. The main problem is I don’t want to. I don’t want to read that shit. It’s misleading. The BBC article was misleading but not as bad. It was still misleading.

No wonder we have problems with people trusting the news and sources. No wonder they want to listen to “news” that agrees with their own narrative about how the world works rather than challenge their own understanding. I try to be unbiased in my understanding of the world. I try to give weight to things that disagree with my perception of the world because it challenges me and because, as a human, I am incredibly unable to decide what it correct or true. That’s why science developed. It’s why there are true investigative reporters. The world should be able to cope with REALITY even if they fundamentally oppose what that reality is. We should be accepting of things that challenge us and make us think but ultimately make us more aware of what is really going on.

After all, isn’t the truth what we seek?

Addendum

Let’s have another look at that graph:

I don’t know about you but a peak happiness going from 47 to 48.5 or so doesn’t seem impressive. Also, we don’t know how many students were at each level, so we don’t know how many students were at the zero hours per day level [I was sure I read this in the paper but can’t now see it].

Also, 20% of students reported more than 12 hours a day engagement.

it was clear that many participants had reported
simultaneous screen use; approximately 20% of the sample
reported a sum of more than 12 hr of engagement on
weekdays, and 35% of the sample reported a total of
more than 12 hr on weekend days

Fuck! These poor kids. We need some serious intervention so we are able to help these people in society as a whole, so they can develop friendships, so they can function.

Beat Them Up

I need to vent some anger and rage. I’ve been so annoyed recently at what politics and society has become that it has to come out. Normally I can get away with a rant with friends at work or friends elsewhere, definitely not the family though, there are some relationships that probably would cope with that level of anger potentially aimed towards their actions.

Now I’m picking on a soft target for my anger. Education news. And I hate talking about education. I’ve been involved in education since I was 4. I don’t have the answers but there are times when there’s plenty of bollocks and bullshit messing with kids learning things.

So, the BBC headline is:

schoolsbrexit

You can go ahead and read the story if you wish, I’ll be here, waiting.

This is a classic case of “shit goes wrong therefore blame education”. This country’s education system gets blamed for an awful lot. If there’s a need to tweek the way people feel about things then why not introduce that into schools? The government has always done one of two things:

  • Blame the education system for not influencing pupils enough the right way.
  • Blame the education system for influencing pupils enough the wrong way.

You see, the government thinks that all teachers are lefties, pinkos, commies, or liberal. The government doesn’t like teachers having power over pupils because all teachers are, by definition, caring about the future and society as a whole. The government sees schools as hot beds of resistance to the progress of society. That’s why teacher are called upon to include more and more social manoeuvring in all that they do. The government recognises that we have influence and while we influence lots the wrong way we can influence almost nothing the correct way.

What you should do is have a look over headlines and see how often “we will get schools to deal with this” crops up. It’s almost as if it’s a way for governments to say “we are dealing with that at an early age so it’ll be ok”.

Right, Brexit. In my opinion what caused Brexit? fucking austerity and a political class that shows little regard for the common man. A political class out to promote itself and not actually work for society and the progress of all. A political class whipping up notions of acceptable fascism and racism and a political class who consistently use an “us and them” rhetoric.

So there’s a correlation with social deprivation and the Brexit vote. Which means there’s a correlation with schools. THAT’S NOT CAUSATION YOU FUCKING TWAT.

So, here’s some of my views [no, they aren’t social science or proper investigations, therefore they are anecdote, but I don’t care].

  • Society has no control over what influences kids these days, social media is what influences them. They don’t watch TV like I used to or chat to their mates.
  • In the old days music was a concern because teenagers were obsessed with it. Now it is social media. Music didn’t try and sell them fake news and bullshit.
  • I might have a particular class for four hours a week. There are about 25 kids in that class. I am meant to be able influence each of these kids?
  • Kids spend 5 hours a day in lessons. Maybe another 90 minutes in school. The school enforces some of society’s rules and expectations. But that’s not a major influence on them.
  • Education, in this country, is not prized or treated as a good thing. If you have a keen, educated society you are less religious, more socially aware and more understanding. You might even pay attention to politics and things.
  • Knowing things (the correct things) should be prized. YES there are things that are correct. There is a right way to find out these things.
  • Learning to critically think and appraise news sources needs to be a skill ALL people have before being allowed to vote.

Possibly a little controversial here, but let’s face it, this communication has wandered a great deal. We have UK citizens [sorry, but really it’s fucking SUBJECTS] voting about shit they don’t understand, BREXIT, the general populous voting on a subject that the media has consistently FAILED to educate the public about what the EU does. A public that has taken all the information un-critically and voted correspondingly.

We also have the next PRESIDENT of the world’s most powerful country telling the world that you should let people make up their own minds about what is true! Utter bullshit. People have to be informed and have the facts as best determined by fucking experts. You very much don’t let the people determine what is true. You have experts, people who understand things explain WHY things are true to people.

I despair.

 

Multi Tasking

There’s a common myth that humans can multi-task and work well at all the tasks upon which they are concentrating. First, let’s discuss the term multi-task. It’s derived from computer speak then best definition is:

apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task at the same time.

Now, I am going to mention what the science tells us about multi-tasking. When I say science in any of my communications I mean the broad consensus of the outcomes of scientific studies. I don’t mean just what a single scientist or person says, I aim to give you the CONSENSUS. Over time science has looked at things, asked questions and tried to answer them. The human endeavour has produced, over time, a consensus on how reality works. When we find errors we correct them. Science is a self correcting process. If things are wrong, science will correct them. The consensus changes with our latest understanding of what is correct. You will always be able to find a scientist who will disagree with the consensus, especially with politically charged ideas [anthropogenic global climate change], but the consensus is important as it gives us the best ideas of how things work.

OK, my research here is mostly from Wikipedia. I am perfectly aware that this can be a site that has reliability issues, but on matters of science I think it is a good start point. I would NOT look at Wikipedia to get a balanced view of politics or people, but on science issues it is very good.

There has been a reasonable amount of research into human multi-tasking and the results of these experiments indicate that although we can switch tasks quite quickly we can perform none at the best of our ability. If you multitask you are going to do all the jobs to a poorer standard than if you concentrate on a single thing at a time. Moreover, if you wish to complete all tasks to a good ability then you will get them done quicker if you concentrate on a single task at a time.

Our brain is NOT a computer and the analogy fails all the time if it is thought of as a computer. Our memory is remarkably plastic, our brain function is plastic and our concentration can only really be on one thing. If you start reading about how our brains work and the amount of information they ignore and just make up you will be very surprised.

There is no evidence that there is a gender difference in multi-tasking, so if people say women are good at it you should correct them. You should also correct people who say they can multitask. Point out the evidence says that you will perform the tasks less well than if you cover them individually. These people will try to argue from personal experience but they would be wrong to do so. We are very subject to confirmation bias and incorrect thoughts that personal experience is pretty much always subjective. The reality is often different – just remember that dancing bear in the basketball players video.

I was going to give you personal examples of failures to multitask, but my previous paragraph excludes me from doing so. In which case I will just give you some more general ideas to confirm in your heads that what I say is generally true [I’m using your preponderance to have confirmation bias as a route to accepting this communication].

Ever been driving and talking or doing something and then suddenly thought: I don’t remember the last mile of driving?

Ever phased out of a conversation because something is happening in the background?

If you talk to people who design cockpits for airplanes they will always talk about reducing the pilot work-load. This is so that the pilot can concentrate on flying the plane rather than have to worry about checking things all the time and flicking switches. If the pilot has a reduced work-load s/he will be better at doing his/her job properly and being aware of the important things.

When driving cars it is important to concentrate on the driving aspect of being on the road and not other stuff happening in the car. It is your job to make sure you are safe to you and the other road users around you. If things go wrong it is your concentration that could save you and others. The problem is that for most of the time when driving nothing goes wrong and so people concentrate minimally on driving and spend their time “multi-tasking”. This reduces their ability to pay attention to what is going on around them. Gladly it is quite rare for shit to happen but it does happen and you need your whole attention when it does. Pilots spend their entire careers practising over and over again the drills needed to save an aircraft and the lives on board so that if/when it does happen they can automatically make the right decisions. We don’t practise any of this in cars, apart from an emergency stop for our driving test, and so this causes problems when things do go wrong. People are not practised at what to do. I would argue that this is largely because it is not financially worth it to save a few lives on the roads compared to the investment that would be needed to make everyone practise car saving techniques regularly.

That last paragraph loses the plot a little. But here’s the summary and a little more exposition. People can only perform a single task to their total ability. If they attempt to multi-task then the overall effect is a significant drop in their output and understanding.

In terms of education this communication explains why children can’t do homework in front of the television. I would also argue that listening to music will hamper their understanding as they will concentrate on the music and not what they are studying, or they are doing both but to poor effect. I have some music on while writing this but I couldn’t tell you what words they are singing because I am mostly concentrating on this writing. I am using the music to block out other distractions and this may prove useful for learning if it is in an environment where there are auditory distractions. Finally, we take examinations in quiet rooms because the quiet allows us to concentrate on the task in hand.

Now, for some Gran Turismo.

Boardom

I went walkabout on Sunday with my niece and we spent the day wandering around 35 km around London with me boring her most of the time. We had lunch at the RAF Club and also saw a gig at Electrowerkz in the evening. One of the things I did was to show her around Imperial College and the student union.

In Beit Quad of Imperial College there is a place that used to be my office [it’s no longer an office] and also the union dining hall. Inside the hall are some honour boards and on there, my name! I have wanted to go back and get a photo of this for some time now and this proved to be the perfect opportunity.

Dep PresIf you look, you will see me in the 1994 to 1995 season, just after Charles Leary.

Honour Boards

Here’s a link to a previous communication about IC.

Arrrrrrrrrrrgh

I don’t understand the logic or reason behind this:

BBC Rounding

My questions are:

  • What colour would 54.4% be?
  • What colour would 59.15% be?
  • What colour would 64.5% be?

Why are they coloured using whole numbers to differentiate the boundaries and then why tenths for the light blue-ish colour?

Ohhh, I think I get it. Because the national average is 59.2% that means it’s ok to have three colours below that and only two above it.

Does this chart say that no local authorities managed to get the average but some were below it and some were above it?

There are about 52 areas below average. There are way more (I got bored of counting) above that. Does this mean there is positive skew?

Do you know what?

I CAN’T TELL FROM THIS DIAGRAM. IT TELLS ME NOTHING OF ANY USE.