Posts Tagged ‘Education

14
Jan
11

A slap on the side of the head

I’ve said before I’m grateful to Sputnik and the USSR for enabling me to get a good education back in the ’50s and ’60s. The US taxpayers were generous to education during that time mainly, it seems to me, because we were scared as hell the Soviets were going to surpass us.

Perhaps something similar is happening again. This time it’s the Chinese. All of a sudden they seem like the 900 lb. gorilla in the room. Back last December the results of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of it’s international standardized education program (PISA) comparing 2009 test scores on math, reading, and science for 15-year-olds in 65 countries. The top four aggregate scores were, in order, Shanahai-China, Finland, Hong Kong-China and Singapore. The US teens in 24th place in math, 17th in reading and 23rd in science. The US students ranked down in the pack with many European countries.

That results have raised alarm in some quarters.

“We have to see this as a wake-up call,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview on Monday.

“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

Well, in the US a sense of crisis seems to be needed to get any action on social issues. So perhaps another Chinese surprise–the quite visible test flight of a stealth fighter just as US Secretary of Defense Gates landed for a visit–will add the the sense of urgency.

Maybe it’s a question of whose “exceptionalism” will win. The US has proclaimed it’s exceptionalim for decades. Scholars say the Chinese have a sense of cultural exceptionalim that goes back a couple of millennia. So when is the chest thumping of exceptionalism a confidence-builder, and when is it a pair of foggy, rose-colored glasses that obscure a society’s perception of the capabilities of other people?

28
Apr
10

the learning load for kids ramps up

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Since the crash of 2008 many Americans have been reeling under a barrage of information about financial dealings such as derivatives. Much of what we’ve heard on the news from Wall Street financial and government officials has left many of us glassy-eyed. We’ve had a crash course in high-finance, and a lot of it’s more than we ever wanted to know.

In todays’ Huffington Post Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and Valerie Jarrett, a White House Senior Advisor, suggest that our children need stronger education in money matters in school. They cite the recently completed National Financial Capability Challenge testing the knowledge of high school students.

More than 2,500 teachers and 76,000 students in all 50 states participated in the voluntary exam, which shows interest is strong. But the scores were disappointing. The average student is just squeaking by with 70% correct. Students failed to answer basic questions about credit cards, car insurance, and compound interest.

To remedy this situation the propose more school education about the intricacies of financial transactions.

Let’s pass serious financial reform. Let’s promote financial access. And at the same time, let’s make sure that we are providing all Americans — especially our youth — with the financial education they need to succeed in this increasingly complex, fast-moving economy. Their futures — and ours — depend on it.

It’s hard to disagree with the idea, but my point is that there’s hardly any area of life where more and better education in school wouldn’t offer better prospects. My professional background is health, so I could argue that stronger education in how our bodies work, how we can prevent illness, and how to cope with the medical system would help avoid serious situations for individuals and society such as the obesity epidemic sweeping the nation. Finance is just one more need in a long list. I’m confident parents and educators see benefit in stronger teaching of the basic three “Rs,” math and science, job and people skills, to name a few.

While I was in cancer public health many organizations in my state, California, tried to get comprehensive health education as part of school curriculum. Two things kept it from happening. One was school educators who said the curriculum was already too full. The other was opposition from some parents and religious leaders who didn’t want “comprehensive” health ed to include anything having to do with sex.

Life seems to get more complicated with each generational cycle. Complexity begets more complexity. My dad was a member of the so-called Greatest Generation. He was a city fireman. When he retired in the ’70s his financial dealings consisted of his pension, a paid-off home mortgage, Social Security, and a life insurance policy. Investing was only for the rich, not working guys like him. I sometimes envied the simplicity of his financial life when, a decade after graduating college, my employer began to push for 401(k)s, offered supplemental annuities, everybody had to have a mutual fund, and supposedly financially savvy folks began to leverage their home equity. People seemed to know what they were doing, yet we had the financial panic engineered by pros who know even more. I’m not sure education is the antidote for flimflammery.

16
Mar
10

Article: Remember the Tamagotchi?

In Wired News last week Thomas Goetz wrote an article about how — in the rapidly emerging world of sensors and self-monitoring — we may become something like the Tamagotchis kids wore a decade or so ago. The Tamagotchi (in case you’ve forgotten) was a little character on a watch face that you had to pay attention to during the day or it got sick and even died from neglect.

The new thing is to use the medical sensors that are being developed to get real-time information from your body and use it to give you a reading on how you’re doing. This could be constructive information for a variety of health situations. I referred in my post last week on things that need to be done for a new health paradigm as an avatar system. It could live on your smartphone, pick up sensor information from your body, compare it with your on-phone health profile, and tell you how you’re keeping up with health goals like exercise. It could feed you — or nag you — with appropriate health information. I agree with Goetz that a game interface may be the most interesting way to interface with some health informaiton.

This evening I’m attending the VLAB meeting at Stanford called “The Internet of Things: Sensors Everywhere.” I hope to get a better fix on where body sensor tech is and what we can expect in the near future.

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01
Mar
10

Health paradigm shift needed for the 21st C, part 1

The Society for Participatory Medicine recently asked its members (I’m one; it’s open to the public) what they wanted from the society. The request prodded me to think about what might be undertaken to advance “participatory medicine” or “health 2.0” which are similar if not identical concepts. Others might be better at identifying distinctions.

The purpose of the Society for Participatory Medicine is: “To accelerate change in the culture of healthcare to a more participatory model, through leadership, advocacy, information and tools.” I think it’s fair to say “participation” means a more even role between doctors and patients in making decisions in medical situations. If you go back to my parent’s generation (mid-twentieth century) typically doctors held the information, authority, and decision making power in virtually all medical situations. People didn’t expect to need to know much because, if you got sick, you went to the doctor and he — typically, he — told you what was wrong, what he’d do about it, wrote the prescriptions, and sent you to the hospital if necessary. If you lived in that era you know that generation gratefully accepted the doctor’s direction and didn’t ask many questions. The TV show Marcus Welby, MD, dramatized the medicine of the time.

But, as I described in an earlier post, a portion of the population was not satisfied with the situation and began to question established practices. This was especially true of women not too happy with male-dominated gynecology. In the 1970s, as I recall, emphasis on “informed consent” began to grow. When I went to work in cancer public health in the early ’70s it was shocking to learn that some doctors did not tell some of their patients they had cancer because the physicians judged the patient couldn’t take the shock. The patient participation movement has really accelerated since the internet broke the dam on medical information. The public has gotten much freer access to information from sources other than their personal physicians, which, in may cases, wasn’t much.

That’s the past, the 20th century model. Where can we go from here? Organizations are pushing the envelope, but I’d like to entertain a few ideas for the 21st century that would shift health and medicine in a more radical way.

In earlier times much of health care was the domain of women: an extension of their maternal, nurturing role in the family. The late 19th and the 20th centuries saw the rise of “scientific” medicine. (For an excellent history get hold of sociologist Paul Starr’s, The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The rise of a sovereign profession and the making of a vast industry. The title alone says a lot.)  The complexity and volume of medical knowledge as well as the financial advantage of professional exclusivity eventually resulted in the consolidation of medicine into the system of medical education, licensing, legal authority for therapeutic practices, and self-policing that dominates today. And the swelling of a huge medical industry focused almost exclusively of physicians as the kingpins and market managers reinforced the doctor-centered system. The responsibility for learning and applying medical knowledge placed doctors in a paternalistic position while patients remained in a passive, unschooled position.

I would not challenge the notion that medicine has made great progress under the current system, nor that the trend to super-specialization of medical knowledge will continue. But I have to ask: Should relative passivity and health ignorance of the public and inability to make health judgments remain our aspiration going forward? Are we not capable of knowing much more, of participating more fully in  effective health behavior? That includes accepting the power and responsibility for our own wellbeing. In the past when information was more difficult to distribute relatively low health literacy might have been more understandable and acceptable, but surely we can do better in the future.

My position is that we have already more powerful knowledge tools than even a couple of decades ago and those tools are growing in capability as we speak. There are seeds of a potential to put individuals in a much improved position if we are willing to build systemic support and institutions that augment our abilities as much as the institutional infrastructure that supports the medical profession. It is possible if we have the will to put much greater innovation into it. I believe we can up our game as “patients” — the noun we have accepted — and relate to physicians and scientific/medical institutions in a more capable way.

This is not just some power grab. It seems to me taking charge of our health is not only possible, it is essential. The pathetic political struggle currently going on around “health reform” in the US shows how powerless we’ve allowed ourselves to become. While various interests use politicians as sock-puppets to stage a drama about the future of medicine, we citizens have become primarily ineffective, frustrated spectators. But I hope many folks have learned that we cannot continue to let our most precious possessions — our health and that of our family — remain in the hands of others. And we’ve learned our financial wellbeing is intimately tied to our health status. Serious disease has too often become a financial catastrophe aw well.

Well, I’ve spent a lot of words on the history and context behind what I think we ought to consider for a health promoting environment for the future. In the next post I’ll get down to grinding out the main points.

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