US schools should take a lesson from Asia.

I just read about the results of a 2015 global education survey that shows U.S. high school students come in a dispiriting 26th out of 65 places worldwide in combined scores for math, science and reading tests.
images

This latest league table, ranking more than a third of the world’s nations, shows once again the poor performance of the United States, slipping behind successful European countries and being overtaken by Vietnam. It also highlights the decline of Sweden, with the OECD warning last week that it had serious problems in its education system.

The OECD’s Program for International Assessment (PISA) suggests that while America lags, Asia soars: Out of the top 10, eight are in the Asia-Pacific region — led by Shanghai and Hong Kong in China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

The rise of education in Asia is no accident. It reflects deliberate policies and long-term investments that recognize the centrality of quality education to a nation’s economic growth.

After living in Singapore and witnessing their growth and progress first hand I was especially taken by the former Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s quote after the 2011 survey, “A nation’s wealth in the 21st century will depend on the capacity of its people to learn.” I think we should follow their lead.

I have listed a few of their key “best practices” from the most recent report that we here in the US are still only debating but should certainly adopt;

1) Rigorous standards and coherent curricula. I also saw this first hand in Japan, Asian nations establish high academic standards and a demanding school curriculum that clearly defines the content to be taught and is sequenced to build on a student’s abilities step by step. High-quality teachers and principals.

2) Teachers are routinely recruited from among the top high-school graduates and, unlike in the U.S., principals generally do not apply to become school leaders as much as they are selected and prepared to do so. There are comprehensive systems for selecting, training, compensating and developing teachers and principals — delivering tremendous skill right to the classroom.
15slide2
3) Emphasis on math and science. Math and science training begins early in primary school and rigorous courses such as biology, chemistry and physics, as well as algebra and geometry are part of a core curriculum for secondary school. Specialist teachers are often employed in elementary schools unlike “generalists” usually found in U.S. schools.

4) Time and Effort. With longer school years and sometimes longer school days, Asian students often have the equivalent of several more years of schooling by the time they finish high school than the typical American student. Asian students are also expected to work hard in school, reflecting a societal belief that developing one’s skills and knowledge reflects effort more than innate ability.

The time has come for America to learn from Asia and the world. Our ability to compete and lead in a global economy may well depend on it.

Is the CIA Reading My Blogs? Maybe.

cia_345601

America’s spy agencies want to read your blog posts, keep track of your Twitter updates — even check out your book reviews on Amazon. Yikes I certainly hope not. In case they are, “good afternoon guys.”

In 2009, In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA and the wider intelligence community, put cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It’s part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using ”open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day.

At that time Visible Technology crawled over half a million web sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. It didn’t touch closed social networks, like Facebook, it does now.

Most people use social media like Facebook and Twitter to share photos of friends and family, chat with friends and strangers about random and amusing diversions, or follow their favorite websites, bands and television shows. But what does the US military use those same networks for? Well, no one can tell you…that’s “classified.”

One use that is confirmed, however, is the manipulation of social media through the use of fake online “personas” managed by the military. Recently the US Air Force had solicited private sector vendors for something called “persona management software.” Such a technology would allow single individuals to command virtual armies of fake, digital “people” across numerous social media portals.

These “personas” were to have detailed, fictionalized backgrounds, to make them believable to outside observers, and a sophisticated identity protection service was to back them up, preventing suspicious readers from uncovering the real person behind the account. They even worked out ways to game geolocating services, so these “personas” could be virtually inserted anywhere in the world, providing ostensibly live commentary on real events, even while the operator was not really present.

When the story was first reported on the Air Force contract for this software, it was unclear what the Air Force wanted with it or even if it had been acquired. The potential for misuse, however, was abundantly clear. A fake virtual army of people could be used to help create the impression of consensus opinion in online comment threads, or manipulate social media to the point where valuable stories are suppressed. Ultimately, this can have the effect of causing a net change to the public’s opinions and understanding of key world events.

Perhaps even this blog was created by a fake persona…who is Jerry474 anyway?