But I am going to argue that the “internal” factors (a student’s interest in science and technology, i.e. whether or not a student suffers from math-phobia, which in turn depends on the styles of pedagogy) matter too. Here’s why. Clearly someone who is math-phobic and has an aversion to mathematics will not opt for an engineering degree in college. So at the very least, something must happen that makes the best and the brightest in India less prone to math-phobia. Clearly that something cannot be the style of science pedagogy, which, if anything, is even more authoritarian in India.
The difference, I will argue, lies in the way that other subjects — the non-technical ones — are taught in India. In these subjects, students are asked to learn a lot of things by heart (a.k.a. rote learning) and there is an emphasis on facts rather than method. When compared with this, the best and the brightest often find the problem-solving methods of mathematics and science strangely appealing.
This is probably one of the top 5 posts I’ve read about the Philippines this year.
Marketman’s Running Survey
In the survey I am running (or if you read this later, survey that I ran), it seems some 40% of readers actually think the Philippines is POORER than it is, in other words, a fairly negative sentiment. Some 24% of you got it right, with roughly 86-88% of the families earning less than PHP25,000 per month for a family of 5. But approximately 36% of you were varying degrees of being overly optimistic, and believed that many more families earned more than they actually do. Okay, so hold this thought for a moment. Roughly 87% of all families in the Philippines, representing 75.7 million people, are living on less than PHP5,000 (USD110) per month per person on average in income.
One walked into Kimball Elementary School and climbed the stairs to Mr. William Taylor’s math classroom, a tidy, powder-blue space in which neither the clocks nor most of the electrical outlets worked.
The other walked into a very similar classroom a mile away at Plummer Elementary School. In both schools, more than 80 percent of the children received free or reduced-price lunches. At night, all the children went home to the same urban ecosystem, a zip code in which almost a quarter of the families lived below the poverty line and a police district in which somebody was murdered every week or so.
At the end of the school year, both little boys took the same standardized test given at all D.C. public schools—not a perfect test of their learning, to be sure, but a relatively objective one (and, it’s worth noting, not a very hard one).
After a year in Mr. Taylor’s class, the first little boy’s scores went up—way up. He had started below grade level and finished above. On average, his classmates’ scores rose about 13 points—which is almost 10 points more than fifth-graders with similar incoming test scores achieved in other low-income D.C. schools that year. On that first day of school, only 40 percent of Mr. Taylor’s students were doing math at grade level. By the end of the year, 90 percent were at or above grade level.
As for the other boy? Well, he ended the year the same way he’d started it—below grade level. In fact, only a quarter of the fifth-graders at Plummer finished the year at grade level in math—despite having started off at about the same level as Mr. Taylor’s class down the road.
This tale of two boys, and of the millions of kids just like them, embodies the most stunning finding to come out of education research in the past decade: more than any other variable in education—more than schools or curriculum—teachers matter. Put concretely, if Mr. Taylor’s student continued to learn at the same level for a few more years, his test scores would be no different from those of his more affluent peers in Northwest D.C. And if these two boys were to keep their respective teachers for three years, their lives would likely diverge forever. By high school, the compounded effects of the strong teacher—or the weak one—would become too great.
Thanks to Academic Earth, a friggin’ gift, you can follow (video) lectures given at universities like Stanford, MIT, Harvard & Yale on some of the most popular subjects. There once was a time when you couldn’t wait to get out of school, I suppose it makes sense to have a time where you’d do anything to learn new things.
Especially things you choose. And only those subjects you really like (did anyone say obligated French?).
The videos include all sort of subjects, such as Computer Science (/love), Mathematics, Engineering, … all explained by well-respected professors.
After too many years at this job (I am in my mid-40s), I have grown to question higher education in ways that cannot be rectified by a new syllabus, or a sabbatical, or, heaven forbid, a conference roundtable. No, my troubles with this treasured profession are both broad and deep, and they begin with a fervent belief that most of today’s college students, especially those that come to college straight from high school, are unnecessarily coddled. Professors and administrators seek to “nurture” and “engage” and they are doing so at the expense of teaching. The result: a discernable and precipitous decline in the quality of college students. More of them come to campus with dreadful study habits. Too few of them read for pleasure. Too many drink and smoke excessively. They are terribly ill-prepared for four years of hard work, and most dangerously, they do not think that college should be arduous. Instead they perceive college as an overnight recreation center in which they exercise, eat, and in between playing extracurricular sports, they carry books around. If a professor is lucky, the books are being skimmed hours before class.
A father writes Tim Harford (author of the book Undercover Economist) to inquire on how to divvy up a stash of cash as incentives for his son to pass his exams. Harford answers:
Start by promising more than you can deliver. If you offer €10,000 for a perfect score, you will only need to apologise after your scheme has succeeded. That may seem to undermine your credibility, but the real risk lies the other way: your son may expect to get the money from his doting dad anyway. Discourage this view or your plan will be in vain.
You must also pitch the stakes just right. Research in behavioural economics suggests that trivial rewards are worse than no rewards, but also that performance suffers when too much is at stake.
Finally, focus on the early exams, because success breeds success. Promise your son €200 for every excellent result in these: that should engage his interest without throwing him into a panic. If things go well, the money will run out before the high-pressure exams. But by then he will have mastered his subjects anyway.
Now, the question here is can we develop an insurance scheme that will fund the incentives (drawing from the insurance policy)? In the payment term, parents would be pressed to help their child (via tutoring). In the long run, (in the ideal case) the child will have enough study habits and have high enough grades to qualify for college scholarships.
On the other hand, the child may be put off by the hard work involved with studying which will increase the lure of those ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes when he gets older.
Philantrophist Eli Broad has an educational program called Spark to improve school children’s test scores:
Seventh-graders can earn up to $50 a test — for 10 assessment tests throughout the year. There’s a similar program for fourth-graders. The money goes into a bank account that only the student can access. The better you do, the more money you earn, up to $500 a year for seventh-graders. The idea is to make school tangible for disadvantaged kids — short-term rewards that are in their long-term best interest…
[Eight-grader Soledad Moya] said she wasn’t a “studying kind of” person before the awards. Now she and her friends like to look in the dictionary and memorize words and their definitions, and they ask their teachers for more practice tests. Even though she’s not eligible for the awards now that she’s in eighth grade, she’s still studying harder before tests, she said. “Once you get started with something, you keep doing it.”
The changes she saw in students like Moya caused Lisa Cullen — a literacy and social studies teacher at the school — to go from skeptic to supporter: “I saw how it takes away the uphill battle you have trying to get students to study for tests.” She saw a definite increase in students’ excitement, enthusiasm and effort.
Wow! That is exactly of why I studied to ace that Science in fourth grade, to buy myself a horde of comics.
Even though they may say that it’s basically bribing kids to study (isn’t that what scholarhsips are about?), you have to concede that the short-term gains are quite tangible and attractive enough to be taken upon on. In plain economics, it’s the power of incentives!
What experts underestimate here is the power of building a long-term habit in the school children participating with the program. Not only are study habits going to be built, but the confidence and self-esteem of the students will also be given a boost.