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1.0 INTRODUCTION

One of the sectors which fosters national development is education by ensuring the development of a functional human resource. The institution of strong educational structures leads to a society populated by enlightened people, who can cause positive economic progress and social transformation. A Positive social transformation and its associated economic growth are achieved as the people apply the skills they learned while they were in school. The acquisition of these skills is facilitated by one individual we all ‘teacher’. For this reason, nations seeking economic and social developments need not ignore teachers and their role in national development.

Teachers are the major factor that drives students’ achievements in learning. The performance of teachers generally determines, not only, the quality of education, but the general performance of the students they train. The teachers themselves therefore ought to get the best of education, so they can in turn help train students in the best of ways. It is known, that the quality of teachers and quality teaching are some of the most important factors that shape the learning and social and academic growth of students. Quality training will ensure, to a large extent, teachers are of very high quality, so as to be able to properly manage classrooms and facilitate learning. That is why teacher quality is still a matter of concern, even, in countries where students consistently obtain high scores in international exams, such as Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In such countries, teacher education of prime importance because of the potential it has to cause positive students’ achievements.

The structure of teacher education keeps changing in almost all countries in response to the quest of producing teachers who understand the current needs of students or just the demand for teachers. The changes are attempts to ensure that quality teachers are produced and sometimes just to ensure that classrooms are not free of teachers. In the U.S.A, how to promote high quality teachers has been an issue of contention and, for the past decade or so, has been motivated, basically, through the methods prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act (Accomplished California Teachers, 2015). Even in Japan and other Eastern countries where there are more teachers than needed, and structures have been instituted to ensure high quality teachers are produced and employed, issues relating to the teacher and teaching quality are still of concern (Ogawa, Fujii & Ikuo, 2013). Teacher education is therefore no joke anywhere. This article is in two parts. It first discusses Ghana’s teacher education system and in the second part looks at some determinants of quality teaching.

2.0 TEACHER EDUCATION

Ghana has been making deliberate attempts to produce quality teachers for her basic school classrooms. As Benneh (2006) indicated, Ghana’s aim of teacher education is to provide a complete teacher education program through the provision of initial teacher training and in-service training programs, that will produce competent teachers, who will help improve the effectiveness of the teaching and learning that goes on in schools. The Initial teacher education program for Ghana’s basic school teachers was offered in Colleges of Education (CoE) only, until quite recently when, University of Education, University of Cape Coast, Central University College and other tertiary institutions joined in. The most striking difference between the programs offered by the other tertiary institution is that while the Universities teach, examine and award certificates to their students, the Colleges of Education offer tuition while the University of Cape Coast, through the Institute of Education, examines and award certificates. The training programs offered by these institutions are attempts at providing many qualified teachers to teach in the schools. The National Accreditation Board accredits teacher training programs in order to ensure quality.

The National Accreditation Board accredits teacher education programs based on the structure and content of the courses proposed by the institution. Hence, the courses run by various institutions differ in content and structure. For example, the course content for the Institute of Education, University of Cape Coast is slightly different from the course structure and content of the Center for Continue Education, University of Cape Coast and none of these two programs matches that of the CoEs, though they all award Diploma in Basic Education (DBE) after three years of training. The DBE and the Four-year Untrained Teacher’s Diploma in Basic Education (UTDBE) programs run by the CoEs are only similar, but not the same. The same can be said of the Two-year Post-Diploma in Basic Education, Four-year Bachelor’s degree programs run by the University of Cape Coast, the University of Education, Winneba and the other Universities and University Colleges. In effect even though, same products attract same clients, the preparation of the products are done in different ways.

It is through these many programs that teachers are prepared for the basic schools – from nursery to senior high schools. Alternative pathways, or programs through which teachers are prepared are seen to be good in situations where there are shortages of teachers and more teachers ought to be trained within a very short time. A typical example is the UTDBE program, mentioned above, which design to equip non-professional teachers with professional skills. But this attempt to produce more teachers, because of shortage of teachers, has the tendency of comprising quality.

As noted by Xiaoxia, Heeju, Nicci and Stone (2010) the factors that contribute to the problems of teacher education and teacher retention are varied and complex, but one factor that teacher educators are concerned about is the alternative pathways through which teacher education occur. The prime aim of many of the pathways is to fast track teachers into the teaching profession. This short-changed the necessary teacher preparation that prospective teachers need before becoming classroom teachers. Those who favor alternative routes, like Teach for America (TFA), according to Xiaoxia, Heeju, Nicci and Stone (2010) have defended their alternative pathways by saying that even though the students are engaged in a short-period of pre-service training, the students are academically brilliant and so have the capacity to learn a lot in a short period. Others argue that in subjects like English, Science and mathematics where there are usually shortages of teachers, there must be a deliberate opening up of alternative pathways to good candidates who had done English, Mathematics and Science courses at the undergraduate level. None of these arguments in support of alternative pathways, hold for the alternative teacher education programs in Ghana, where the academically brilliant students shun teaching due to reasons I shall come to.

When the target is just to fill vacant classrooms, issues of quality teacher preparation is relegated to the background, somehow. Right at the selection stage, the alternative pathways ease the requirement for gaining entry into teacher education programs. When, for example, the second batch of UTDBE students were admitted, I can say with confidence that entry requirements into the CoEs were not adhered to. What was emphasized was that, the applicant must be a non-professional basic school teacher who has been engaged by the Ghana Education Service, and that the applicant holds a certificate above Basic Education Certificate Examination. The grades obtained did not matter. If this pathway had not been created, the CoEs would not have trained students who initially did not qualify to enroll in the regular DBE program. However, it leaves in its trail the debilitating effect compromised quality.

Even with regular DBE programs, I have realized, just recently I must say, that CoEs in, particular, are not attracting the candidates with very high grades. This as I have learnt now has a huge influence on both teacher quality and teacher effectiveness. The fact is, teacher education programs in Ghana are not regarded as prestigious programs and so applicants with high grades do not opt for education programs. And so the majority of applicants who apply for teacher education programs have, relatively, lower grades. When the entry requirement for CoEs’ DBE program for 2016/2017 academic year was published, I noticed the minimum entry grades had been dropped from C6 to D8 for West African Senior Secondary School Examination candidates. This drop in standard could only be attributed to CoEs’ attempt to attract more applicants. The universities too, lower their cut off point for education programs so as attract more candidates. The universities as alleged by Levine (2006) see their teacher education programs, so to say, as cash cows. Their desire to make money, force them to lower admission standards, like the CoEs have done, in order to increase their enrollments. The fact that, admission standards are internationally lowered in order to achieve a goal of increasing numbers. This weak recruitment practice or lowering of standards introduce a serious challenge to teacher education.

The Japanese have been able to make teacher education and teaching prestigious and therefor attract students with high grades. One may argue that in Japan, the supply of teachers far exceeds the demand and so authorities are not under any pressure to hire teachers. Their system won’t suffer if they do all they can to select higher grade student into teacher education programs. To them, the issues relating to the selection of teachers are more important that the issues relating to recruitment. However, in western and African countries the issues relating to recruitment are prime. It is so because the demand for teachers far outweighs that of supply. Western and African countries have difficulties recruiting teachers because teachers and the teaching profession is not held in high esteem. Teacher education programs therefore do not attract students who have very good grades. It is worth noting that, it is not the recruiting procedure only that determines whether or not teacher education will be prestigious, however recruiting candidates with high grades, ensures that after training, teachers will exhibit the two characteristics essential to effective teaching – quality and effectiveness. Teacher education can be effective if the teaching profession is held in high esteem and therefore able to attract the best of applicants. Otherwise, irrespective of incentives put into place to attract applicants and irrespective of the measures that will be put in place to strengthen teacher education, teacher education programs cannot fully achieve its purpose.

In order to strengthen teacher preparation, there is the need for teacher preparation programs to provide good training during the initial teacher training stage, and provide and sustain support during the first few years after the teachers have been employed. That is why Lumpe (2007) supports the idea that pre-service teacher education programs should ensure teachers have gained a good understanding of effective teaching strategies. Methodology classes therefore should center on effective teaching strategies. Irrespective of the pathway the training program takes, the program must be structured such that trainees gain knowledge about pedagogy, besides the knowledge of subject matter. They should also get enough exposure to practical classroom experience like the on-campus and off-campus teaching practice. Whether or not there is the need to fill vacancies in the classroom due to the high teacher attrition, many countries face, teacher preparation programs should aim at producing quality and effective teacher and not just filling vacancies.

3.0 DETERMINANTS OF TEACHER QUALITY

Teacher quality has such enormous influence on students’ learning. Anyone who has been in the teaching business will agree that teacher quality is central to education reform efforts. Priagula, Agam & Solmon (2007) described teacher quality as an important in-school factor that impact significantly on students’ learning. Quality teachers have positive impact on the success of students. Where the students have quality and effective teachers the students make learning gains while those with ineffective teachers show declines. With respect to the classroom teacher, teacher quality is a continuous process of doing self-assessment so as to have professional development and a self-renewal, in order to enhance teaching. For the teacher educator, an effective or quality teacher is one who has a good subject-matter and pedagogy knowledge, which the he/she can build upon.

Outstanding teachers possess and exhibit many exemplary qualities. They have the skills, subject matter, and pedagogy to reach every child. They help equip their students with the knowledge and breadth of awareness to make sound and independent judgments. Three determinants of teacher quality will be considered here. They are; pedagogical knowledge, subject-matter content knowledge and experience.

3.1 PEDAGOGICAL CONTENT KNOWLEDGE

Trainees of every profession receive some sort of education that will give them insight into and prepare them for the task ahead. That of the teacher is called Pedagogical Content Knowledge or Pedagogical Knowledge. Pedagogical Content Knowledge can be described as, knowledge the teachers use in organizing classrooms, delivering the content the students must show mastery over and for managing the students entrusted into their care. Generally speaking, pedagogical knowledge is knowledge the teacher uses to facilitate students’ learning. Pedagogical Content Knowledge is in two major forms – teachers’ knowledge of the students’ pre-conceptions and teachers’ knowledge of teaching methodologies. Students come to class with a host of pre-conceptions relating to the things they are learning. The pre-conceptions may or may not be consistent with the actual subject-matter that is delivered. Teachers must have a good idea of both kinds of preconception, in order to help students, replace the inconsistent pre-conceptions or build upon the consistent pre-conceptions to bring about meaningful learning. Teachers must have a repertoire of teaching methodologies for facilitating students’ learning. When the methodologies are applied wrongly little or no learning occurs in students. In effect when either of the two is weak, the teacher becomes a bad one because that teacher will not be able to execute his/her responsibility in the vocation he/she has chosen. Due to this during teacher preparation, Pedagogical Content Knowledge is emphasized.

Teachers gain Pedagogical Content Knowledge from various sources. Friedrichsen, Abell, Pareja, Brown, Lankford and Volkmann (2009) distinguished three potential sources of Pedagogical Content Knowledge. They listed the sources as professional development programs, teaching experiences and lastly teachers’ own learning experiences. During their days as students in teacher education programs, teachers are assisted in variety ways to gain Pedagogical Content Knowledge. For examples, during practice, they learn how to put the pedagogical skills they learnt. Teacher education programs and other professional development programs create avenues for teachers to gain pedagogical content knowledge through workshops, lectures, working together with colleagues, and in teaching practice. Then their experiences in their classrooms as they teach students lead them to gain insight into which methodologies work under best under specific situations. That last source is usually ignored. It indicates that the professional knowledge of the teacher begins to develop long before the teacher becomes a candidate entering into teacher education. This means, the way teachers teach influences to a large extent the prospective teachers’ professional knowledge and beliefs. This type of learning is, generally, overlooked by teachers at all levels because unintentional and informal, it is.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge can be gained through formal and informal means. Learning opportunities for pedagogical content knowledge, formally, designed by institutions, based on learning objectives which generally are prerequisite for certification, constitutes the formal means. In formal learning, students have clear ideas about the objective of acquiring pedagogical skills. Informal learning, on the other hand, is not organized intentionally. It takes place incidentally and so can be considered as ‘side effect’. As Kleickmann et al (2012) described it, it has no goal with respect to learning outcomes, and it is contextualized to a large extent. This is often called learning by experience. Informal, but deliberative, learning situations exists. This occurs in situations such as learning in groups, mentoring, and intentional practicing of some skills or tools. Werquin (2010) described informal, but deliberative, learning as non-formal learning. Unlike formal learning, non-formal learning does not occur in educational institutions and does not attract certification. Whether pedagogical content knowledge

Pedagogical Content Knowledge is used to bridges the gap between content knowledge and actual teaching. By bridging the gap, it ensures that discussions of content are relevant to teaching and that discussions themselves are focused on the content. As such, Pedagogical Content Knowledge is something teachers must pay attention to. Teachers who possess and use good Pedagogical content knowledge have good control over classroom management and assessment, knowledge about learning processes, teaching methods, and individual characteristics (Harr, Eichler, & Renkl, 2014). Such teachers are able to create an atmosphere that facilitates learning and are also able to present or facilitate the learning of concepts by even lazy students. They are able to make learning easier by students hence teacher with high pedagogical content knowledge can be classified as quality teachers. It is worth noting that it is not pedagogical content knowledge only that makes good teachers. A teacher will not be good if he/she is master of pedagogical knowledge but lacks subject matter content knowledge.

3.2 SUBJECT-MATTER KNOWLEDGE

The goal of teaching is to help learners develop intellectual resources that will enable them participate fully in the main domains of human taught and enquiry. The degree to which the teacher can assist students to learn depends on the subject-matter the teacher possesses. That is to say, teachers’ knowledge of subject-matter has influence on their efforts to assist students to learn that subject-matter. If a teacher is ignorant or not well informed he/she cannot do students any good, he/she will rather much harm them. When the teacher conceives knowledge in such a way that it is narrow, or do not have accurate information relating to a particular subject-matter, he/she will pass on these same shallow or inaccurate information to students. This kind of teacher will hardly recognize the consistent pre-conceptions and challenge the misconceptions of students. Such a teacher can introduce misconceptions as he/she uses texts uncritically or inappropriately alter them. It is the teacher’s conception of knowledge that shapes the kind of questions he/she asks and the ideas he/she reinforces as well as the sorts of tasks the teacher designs.

Teachers’ subject-matter matter content knowledge must go beyond the specific topics of their curriculum. This is because the teacher does not only define concepts for students. Teachers explain to students why a particular concept or definition is acceptable, why learners must know it and how it relates to other concepts or definitions. This can be done properly if the teacher possesses a good understanding of the subject-matter. This type of understanding includes an understanding of the intellectual context and value of the subject-matter. The understanding of subject matter generally reinforces the teacher’s confidence in delivering lessons, thereby making him/her a good teacher.

3.3 EXPERIENCE

Experience is one of the factors that account for variations in teacher salary, the world over (Hanushek and Rivkin, 2006). The fact that salary differences are based on the number of years the teacher has served, suggests that employers believe the teachers experience makes him/her a better teacher and such a teacher must be motivated to remain in the service. Though some studies like that Hanushek (2011) have suggested that the experience positively influences teacher quality only in the first few years, and that beyond five years, experience ceases to have positive impact on teacher efficacy, common sense tells us the one who has been doing something for a long time does better and with ease. Experience will therefore continue to pay, since, more experienced teachers have the propensity to know more about the subject-matter they teach, and think and behave appropriately in the classroom, and have much more positive attitudes toward their students.

Teachers who have spent more years of teaching, usually, feel self-assured in their skill to use instructional and assessment tools. These teachers are able to reach even the most difficult-to-reach students in their classrooms. They also have greater confidence in their capability to control the class and prevent incidence that might make the teaching and learning process difficult. Their experience makes them much more patient and tolerant than their counterpart with few years of experience (Wolters & Daugherty, 2007). Novice teachers progressively gain and develop teaching and classroom management skills needed to make them effective teachers. They spend time learning themselves – trying to understand fully the job they have entered. The teachers who have spent more years teaching have gained a rich store of knowledge the less experience teachers will be trying to build. Teachers’ sense of effectiveness is generally associated with good attitudes, behaviors and interactions with their students. This is something the experienced teacher has already acquired. These explain why more experienced teachers are usually more effective teachers than the novices.

Another reason more experienced teachers tend to be better teachers than their inexperienced counterparts, is that, experienced teachers have gained additional training, and hence, have acquired additional teaching skills, needed to be effective from direct experience. Usually the training of teachers does not end at the initial teacher training stage. After graduation, teachers attend capacity building seminars, workshops and conferences. These give teachers the opportunity to learn emerging teaching techniques and also refresh their memories on the things they have learnt. Such seminars, workshops and conferences mostly add to the teacher’s store of knowledge. The other advantage the experienced teachers have is that they have encountered more situations to develop the skills needed to be effective teachers through additional direct, and sometimes indirect experiences. That is to say, they have encountered challenging situations which gave them the opportunity to build their skills. Whether they were able to overcome these challenging situation or not, does not matter so much. If the teachers encounter difficult situations in their classes, they learn from them. If the teachers are able to overcome difficult situations, they get to know how to resolve such situations at the next encounter, otherwise their reflections and suggestions from co-teachers gives them ideas about how to approach same or similar situations. They also have a greater chance of being exposed to current and competent models. More experienced teachers have a higher chance of demonstrating superior self-efficacy in most areas, because they have learned the needed classroom management and instructional skills from their colleagues. Teachers who have been in active service for many years are most likely to be classified as quality teachers, because of what they have learnt from in-service training, capacity building workshops and seminars, their interaction with other teachers and what they have learnt from experience in their classrooms.

4.0 CONCLUSION

Teacher education aims at providing teacher education program through initial teacher training for teacher trainees, and in-service training for practicing teachers in order to produce knowledgeable and committed teachers for effective teaching and learning. To realize this mission, teacher education programs have been instituted for the training of teachers. These programs differ from one country to another. Even within the same country, there may be different programs training teachers for the same certificate. These alternative programs are a created, specially, where there are shortages of teachers, and attempts are being made to train large numbers of teachers at a time. These alternative programs ease the teacher certification requirement, allowing those who under normal circumstances would not become teachers. This introduces serious challenges. Because large numbers of teachers are needed within a short period, their training is somewhat fast-tracked resulting in what is usually referred to as half-baked teachers – teachers of lower quality. Applicants who did not gain admission into the program of their choice come into teaching only because they have nowhere else to go. Such applicants tend not to be dedicated to the teaching service in the end. Fast-tracking initial teacher preparation actually harm the mission for which the initial teacher training institutions were created. This is because the teacher produced through such training are usually not of high quality.

Teacher preparation has a direct impact on students’ achievement. The most important in-school factors upon which student’s success hinges, is a teacher who has been well prepared. A well-prepared teacher is one who has gone through a strong teacher preparation program. It is therefore necessary for educators to work to create needed improvements in teacher preparation. To strengthen teacher preparation, teacher preparation programs must provide strong preparation during the initial teacher training period and give support to fresh teachers until they are inducted. Pre-service teacher education should emphasize the acquisition of effective teaching strategies. This can be done in methodology classes and corresponding field experiences. Students who have quality teachers make achievement gains, while those with ineffective teachers show declines, therefore having high quality teachers in classrooms has a positive impact on students’ achievements.

Pedagogical content knowledge, subject matter content knowledge and experience determines the quality of a teacher. Teachers make subject-matter accessible to students by using Pedagogical content knowledge. Pedagogical content knowledge has two broad areas of knowledge: teachers’ knowledge of students’ subject-matter pre-conceptions and teachers’ knowledge of teaching strategies. What Pedagogical content knowledge does is that, it links subject-matter content knowledge and the practice of teaching, making sure that discussions on content are appropriate and that, discussions focus on the content and help students to retain the content. The teacher’s job is to facilitate the learning of subject-matter by students. The degree to which the teacher can assist students to learn depends on the subject-matter content knowledge the teacher possesses. Teachers who possess inaccurate information or comprehend the subject-matter in narrow ways, harm students by passing on the same false or shallow subject-matter knowledge to their students. The last of the three determinants of teacher quality is experience. Teachers who have served more years gain additional and more specific training by attending seminars, conferences and workshops and in-service training and so tend to understand their job better. They also might have met and solved many challenging situations in their classroom and therefore know exactly what to do in any situation.

5 Things to Know About Free Appropriate Public Education and Special Education

Do you have a child with autism or a learning disability and you are concerned about their education? Does your child with Dyslexia struggle with their academics even though they are receiving special education services? Free Appropriate Public Education is a right for all children receiving special education services. This article will discuss 5 things that you will need to know about FAPE, to help your child receive it.

1. The legal definition of FAPE is: special education and related services that are designed to meet the child’s unique needs, gives meaningful benefit, and has been given at no charge to the parents. Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) includes and Individual Education Plan that is designed to meet the child’s unique educational needs and gives meaningful benefit.

2. The Supreme Court Case that gave us this definition of FAPE is Board of Education Vs. Rowley 458 US 176 in 1982. You may be able to use this case in the future if you have a dispute with your school district over FAPE.

3. In the Rowley Case the justices determined that there are two areas that must be met to determine if a child with a disability is receiving FAPE:

A. Procedural Requirements: Did the district follow the correct procedural requirements and provisions in developing the child’s IEP?

B. Will the IEP developed by the school district give the child meaningful educational benefit.

If either one of these is not done by the school district, then it means that the child is not receiving a free appropriate public education.

4. IDEA 2004 states that a procedural violation must rise to the level of substantive violation, to constitute a lack of FAPE. In other words the procedural violation must be a major violation, in order to be a violation of FAPE. Some hearing officers and courts have found that parents being denied the ability of being an equal participant in their child’s IEP, is a substantive violation which is a denial of FAPE.

5. A new recent court case N.R. vs. Kingwood Township the court states that the IEP must allow the child: significant learning and give meaningful benefit. Use this definition to determine if your child’s IEP is going to allow them significant learning and give meaningful benefit.

By understanding what Free Appropriate Public Education is and having knowledge of court cases you will be able to help your child receive a Free Appropriate Public Education.

Is Critical Thinking Overrated or Under-Utilized in Higher Education?

Critical thinking is listed as a desired skill or preferred outcome within many higher education courses. It is something that students are expected to demonstrate through their involvement in the class and learning activities. It may be listed in a rubric and/or stated in the course syllabus, depending upon the requirements of the program or the school itself. There may be varying degrees as to how it is demonstrated and then evaluated, ranging from occasionally to always within a rubric description. It is a common practice to provide students with the course rubrics at the start of class; however, the question becomes: Do students usually know what critical thinking means? Do instructors or schools provide a standard definition?

Additional questions that arise include: Do instructors understand the meaning of critical thinking and are they provided with an explanation by the school? These are questions that I sought to answer and I spent over two years talking to instructors and students about this topic. There is information that is readily available, such as websites devoted to critical thinking and a few books about this topic, and there are classes that spend an entire term examining it; however, what does the average student and instructor know about this topic? How is it utilized in classes if it is stated in a rubric? What I wanted to learn is whether or not critical thinking is overrated (which means it is not actively utilized in classes and is only a catchphrase) or is it underutilized (which means it holds greater potential than is recognized now) in higher education classes.

Instructor Perspective

My perspective is primarily based on my work in the field of distance-learning as an online educator and faculty development specialist, which has included the role of online faculty peer reviewer. I have reviewed hundreds of online classes and discussed critical thinking with hundreds of online faculty. What I’ve learned is that the average instructor may have a general knowledge about critical thinking and what it means; however, faculty generally do not provide an explanation for students beyond what is stated in the course rubric. I did not observe it as an active discussion or explained through additional instructional posts or supplemental information, and I also didn’t observe detailed notes about it within the feedback provided.

What do instructors generally know about critical thinking? For those who have conducted some research they will find definitions that are related to logic and reasoning. However, the usual go-to definition or explanation is Bloom’s taxonomy and this provides levels of cognition that can help instructors recognize when a state of critical thinking has been attained. What is unclear is whether or not a one-time occurrence indicates that students know how to use the skill on a regular basis. What are instructors taught by the schools? They are usually told to use questioning techniques and specifically Socratic questioning by a few schools. What I’ve observed is that even when questions are used that doesn’t necessarily mean a follow-up reply by students will demonstrate use of this skill.

Student Perspective

When students were asked to define what critical thinking means, the following is a list of the most common answers:

Thinking outside of the box
Thinking harder about the topic
Problem-solving
An ability to think independently
Weighing options, the pros and cons
Being rational and avoiding emotions
Making decisions, such as going to the grocery store and deciding on meal options
Becoming curious, creative, and open-minded
Learning through trial and error
Knowing what to do in life threatening situations
Making intelligent decisions
Collaborating with others to reach a consensus

This is only a partial list of the responses from students, and these were undergraduate and graduate students. After reviewing this list becomes clear that without a standard definition of critical thinking, students may not fully understand what is expected when they see it listed in a course rubric. It can also explain why it is difficult to evaluate this as a skill for an instructor and why students may come up short in their evaluation. What I’ve found is that students rarely conducted their own research about this subject and if they did they still weren’t sure if their definition was matched to their instructor’s definition, how it applies to their class and learning activities, or how to meet the requirement as listed in the rubric.

Logical Perspective

I’ve reviewed many of the available online resources to ascertain what instructors and students might read about critical thinking and it was often related to the use of logic and reasoning. The same is true for an online class I’ve taught that was six weeks in length and combined critical thinking with creative thinking. The logical perspective explained in the course materials involved looking for facts instead of opinions, evaluating arguments, examining premises, developing a logical or rational conclusion, and learning about potential fallacies. What this did was to take a subject that students were already unclear about and make it even more complex and challenging to apply directly to their classwork. Students generally struggled throughout the entire course and by the time it concluded there was little improvement in their ability to demonstrate the use of this skill.

Cognitive Perspective

Bloom’s taxonomy is referenced frequently by faculty and this taxonomy provides a range of cognitive or mental functions that begin with lower order thinking and progress to higher order thinking. On the lower end is the ability to recall information, which is usually held in short term memory and quickly discarded. As higher cognitive functions are engaged a student may be able to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. There are action verbs that are generally associated with each level and this is helpful for the development of course objectives. The challenge for instructors is making a determination of how to explain cognitive functions to students so that they understand what it means to demonstrate critical thinking. For example, how does a student know when to analyze or synthesize information in a discussion post or written assignment? Do they know when they have achieved development of this skill? Does answering an instructor’s question ensure they have reached a higher cognitive state? How many times do they need to demonstrate use of this skill to believe they have mastered its use? This is the challenge for educators; the uncertainty of the use of this skill and how to accurately assess it.

A New Perspective

What I propose is the use of a simpler model that explains how the mind functions or operates, which can provide a uniform description for instructors and students. As a starting point, the mind is always active and thinking is a natural process. A helpful way to understand how the mind performs is to separate thinking into three specific types, which will explain why critical thinking requires practice to learn before it can be actively used as a skill. The most basic type is simply called thinking or the automatic thought processes. This occurs naturally and includes thoughts about the current environment, along with thoughts that are based upon physical needs, emotions, or external stimuli. It also consists of self-talk, internalized dialogue, superficial thoughts, established thought patterns, habits of thinking, and existing mental structures. Automatic thinking also occurs as data is acquired through the five senses, when the mind relies upon perceptual filters to interpret the information received.

The next type is active thinking and this occurs when a person become consciously aware of their thought processes or while the mind is intentionally processing information. As an example, consider advertising messages. If an advertisement is noticed the mind would transition from automatic thinking to active or conscious thinking and awareness. Active thinking also includes reading, writing, speaking, stating opinions, and problem solving through the use of informal logic. For example, if a financial analysis is needed it would require taking numbers and putting them into a format or equation to be calculated, categorized, manipulated, or any other form of computation. Active thinking is often what students believe critical thinking consists of when they state it is a matter of “thinking hard” about a topic or subject. They are consciously aware of the topic and recalling the knowledge they currently possess about it.

The third type of thinking is critical thinking, which is not automatic and must be activated. It can be activated for a specific purpose and learned to be utilized as a skill. Students can trigger it when they need to work with more than their existing knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. It can also be activated through something unexpected, unknown, or unique. More importantly, critical thinking is done with a purpose. For example, when a student needs to research a topic and the subject is presently unknown to them. Instead of filling their paper with direct quotes they can question the information received in an attempt to find answers. It can also enhance problem-solving when a student needs an answer they cannot arrive at on their own. When students write papers they can provide more of their analysis and less from their sources because they have examined evidence and re-examined their beliefs or assumptions.

Transformative Perspective

Critical thinking has the potential to transform every aspects of a student’s performance, from discussion question responses to written assignments. Students first learn to work with their accumulated knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. That is how they develop an initial response and for many students that also becomes their final answer. But educators want students to move beyond this active form of thinking and demonstrate that learning has occurred. It is easy to ask students to demonstrate critical thinking but even more challenging to develop a mental model for them to follow and that means it must be prompted so that students watch it in action and can then emulate the process. Thinking becomes critical when students provide more than a superficial or cursory response, and in place of opinions they develop well-documented and well-research position statements and analyses.

Critical thinking is not a natural process although there are times when it is possible for adults to have a period of reflection when they are prompted by unplanned or unexpected changes. Thinking also becomes critical when students no longer rely upon perceptual filters to determine what is accepted as true and correct, with a willingness to evaluate beliefs and change when they find compelling evidence. Critical thinking can be most effectively taught through the use of a detailed explanation, time to practice what is being learned, and direct application of the skill to issues and problems, which means that any time this skill is listed as a requirement for a course, students need a standard definition and an opportunity to practice it. I do not believe that critical thinking is overrated as it is transformative in nature; however, what I’ve observed in the field of distance learning is that it is under-utilized because of a lack of a uniform method of explaining it and this results in a missed opportunity for learning in higher education classes.

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson is an innovative educator with experience in higher education as an online instructor and college professor, along with work as a corporate trainer and manager of a corporate training development.

Dr. J has developed expertise in his career with adult education, distance learning, online teaching, faculty development, organizational learning, and instructional design.

The Difference Between Being Smart, Educated, and Intelligent

I’ve always been intrigued by the subject of intelligence. As a child my mother would refer to me as “smart,” but I quickly noticed that all parents refer to their children as smart. In time I would discover that all children are not smart, just as all babies are not cute. If that were the case, we’d have a world full of beautiful, smart people – which we don’t.

Some of us are smart; but not as smart as we think, and others are smarter than they seem, which makes me wonder, how do we define smart? What makes one person smarter than another? When do “street smarts” matter more than “book smarts”? Can you be both smart and stupid? Is being smart more of a direct influence of genetics, or one’s environment?

Then there are the issues of education, intelligence and wisdom.

What does it mean to be highly educated? What’s the difference between being highly educated and highly intelligent? Does being highly educated automatically make you highly intelligent? Can one be highly intelligent without being highly educated? Do IQs really mean anything? What makes a person wise? Why is wisdom typically associated with old age?

My desire to seek answers to these questions inspired many hours of intense research which included the reading of 6 books, hundreds of research documents, and countless hours on the Internet; which pales in comparison to the lifetime of studies and research that pioneers in the fields of intelligence and education like Howard Gardner, Richard Sternberg, Linda S. Gottfredson, Thomas Sowell, Alfie Kohn, and Diane F. Halpern whose work is cited in this article.

My goal was simple: Amass, synthesize, and present data on what it means to be smart, educated and intelligent so that it can be understood and used by anyone for their benefit.

PRENATAL CARE

With this in mind, there was not a better (or more appropriate) place to start than at the very beginning of our existence: as a fetus in the womb.

There is mounting evidence that the consumption of food that’s high in iron both before and during pregnancy is critical to building the prenatal brain. Researchers have found a strong association between low iron levels during pregnancy and diminished IQ. Foods rich in iron include lima beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, seafoods, nuts, dried fruits, oatmeal, and fortified cereals.

Children with low iron status in utero (in the uterus) scored lower on every test and had significantly lower language ability, fine-motor skills, and tractability than children with higher prenatal iron levels. In essence, proper prenatal care is critical to the development of cognitive skills.

COGNITIVE SKILLS

Cognitive skills are the basic mental abilities we use to think, study, and learn. They include a wide variety of mental processes used to analyze sounds and images, recall information from memory, make associations between different pieces of information, and maintain concentration on particular tasks. They can be individually identified and measured. Cognitive skill strength and efficiency correlates directly with students’ ease of learning.

DRINKING, PREGNANCY, AND ITS INTELLECTUAL IMPACT

Drinking while pregnant is not smart. In fact, it’s downright stupid.

A study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that even light to moderate drinking – especially during the second trimester – is associated with lower IQs in offspring at 10 years of age. This result was especially pronounced among African-American rather than Caucasian offspring.

“IQ is a measure of the child’s ability to learn and to survive in his or her environment. It predicts the potential for success in school and in everyday life. Although a small but significant percentage of children are diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) each year, many more children are exposed to alcohol during pregnancy who do not meet criteria for FAS yet experience deficits in growth and cognitive function,” said Jennifer A. Willford, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Paul D. Connor, clinical director of the Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington has this to say about the subject:

“There are a number of domains of cognitive functioning that can be impaired even in the face of a relatively normal IQ, including academic achievement (especially arithmetic), adaptive functioning, and executive functions (the ability to problem solve and learn from experiences). Deficits in intellectual, achievement, adaptive, and executive functioning could make it difficult to appropriately manage finances, function independently without assistance, and understand the consequences of – or react appropriately to – mistakes.”

This is a key finding which speaks directly to the (psychological) definition of intelligence which is addressed later in this article.

ULTRA SOUNDS

Studies have shown that the frequent exposure of the human fetus to ultrasound waves is associated with a decrease in newborn body weight, an increase in the frequency of left-handedness, and delayed speech.

Because ultrasound energy is a high-frequency mechanical vibration, researchers hypothesized that it might influence the migration of neurons in a developing fetus. Neurons in mammals multiply early in fetal development and then migrate to their final destinations. Any interference or disruption in the process could result in abnormal brain function.

Commercial companies (which do ultrasounds for “keepsake” purposes) are now creating more powerful ultrasound machines capable of providing popular 3D and 4D images. The procedure, however, lasts longer as they try to make 30-minute videos of the fetus in the uterus.

The main stream magazine New Scientist reported the following: Ultrasound scans can stop cells from dividing and make them commit suicide. Routine scans, which have let doctors peek at fetuses and internal organs for the past 40 years, affect the normal cell cycle.

On the FDA website this information is posted about ultrasounds:

While ultrasound has been around for many years, expectant women and their families need to know that the long-term effects of repeated ultrasound exposures on the fetus are not fully known. In light of all that remains unknown, having a prenatal ultrasound for non-medical reasons is not a good idea.

NATURE VERSUS NURTURE…THE DEBATE CONTINUES

Now that you are aware of some of the known factors which determine, improve, and impact the intellectual development of a fetus, it’s time for conception. Once that baby is born, which will be more crucial in the development of its intellect: nature (genetics) or nurture (the environment)?

Apparently for centuries, scientists and psychologists have gone back and forth on this. I read many comprehensive studies and reports on this subject during the research phase of this article, and I believe that it’s time to put this debate to rest. Both nature and nurture are equally as important and must be fully observed in the intellectual development of all children. This shouldn’t be an either/or proposition.

A recent study shows that early intervention in the home and in the classroom can make a big difference for a child born into extreme poverty, according to Eric Turkheimer, a psychologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The study concludes that while genetic makeup explains most of the differences in IQ for children in wealthier families, environment – and not genes – makes a bigger difference for minority children in low-income homes.

Specifically, what researchers call “heritability”- the degree to which genes influence IQ – was significantly lower for poor families. “Once you’re put into an adequate environment, your genes start to take over,” Mr. Turkheimer said, “but in poor environments genes don’t have that ability.”

But there are reports that contradict these findings…sort of.

Linda S. Gottfredson, a professor of educational studies at the University of Delaware, wrote in her article, The General Intelligence Factor that environments shared by siblings have little to do with IQ. Many people still mistakenly believe that social, psychological and economic differences among families create lasting and marked differences in IQ.

She found that behavioral geneticists refer to such environmental effects as “shared” because they are common to siblings who grow up together. Her reports states that the heritability of IQ rises with age; that is to say, the extent to which genetics accounts for differences in IQ among individuals increases as people get older.

In her article she also refers to studies comparing identical and fraternal twins, published in the past decade by a group led by Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr., of the University of Minnesota and other scholars, show that about 40 percent of IQ differences among preschoolers stems from genetic differences, but that heritability rises to 60 percent by adolescence and to 80 percent by late adulthood.

And this is perhaps the most interesting bit of information, and relevant to this section of my article:

With age, differences among individuals in their developed intelligence come to mirror more closely their genetic differences. It appears that the effects of environment on intelligence fade rather than grow with time.

Bouchard concludes that young children have the circumstances of their lives imposed on them by parents, schools and other agents of society, but as people get older they become more independent and tend to seek out the life niches that are most congenial to their genetic proclivities.

4 Definitions in NCLB About Reading That You Can Use to Help Your Special Education Child!

Do you have a child with autism or a learning disability, who is receiving special education services, but is still struggling to learn to read? Would you like to learn a few definitions of reading from NCLB that you could use to advocate for your child? No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed January 8, 2002 and focuses on educational instruction and methods that have been proven to work to teach children. This is important because the curriculum used by many school districts are ineffective and outdated. This article will discuss 4 definitions that will help you in your advocacy for your child.

Definition 1: Reading: Reading means a complex system of getting meaning from print that requires all of the following. These are: skills and knowledge to understand phonemes, or speech sounds that are connected to print; the ability to decode unfamiliar words (break the words down to their parts); the ability to read fluently; sufficient vocabulary to allow for good reading comprehension; maintenance of a motivation to read.

This definition is important, because it describes the necessary skills that are needed for a child to learn to read. As a parent you can be involved with your child’s education and make sure that they are learning these skills, at an early age.

Definition 2: 5 Essential components of reading instruction that are shown to bring about early reading success! Phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and identify sounds in spoken words). Phonics (the relationship between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language). Fluency (the capacity to read accurately and quickly). Vocabulary: (the words students must know to communicate in an effective manner). Comprehension (the ability to understand and give meaning from what has been read).

You need to make sure that any curriculum used to teach your child to read, has these 5 necessary components. Ask school personnel to show you in writing, that these 5 components are included in your child’s curriculum.

Definition 3: Scientifically Based Research means that there is reliable evidence that the program, curriculum, or practice works. This means that any program that school districts use must have research, backing the fact that it works to help children learn. Also, for any curriculum to be scientifically research based, it must have been accepted by a peer reviewed journal, or approved by independent experts through a rigorous, objective, and scientific review.

Ask your special education personnel to please show you in writing that your child’s reading (and other academics) curriculum is scientifically research based, and also that it has been accepted by a peer reviewed journal. Ask for the research in writing so that you can see for yourself if the curriculum is proven to work.

Definition 4: Diagnostic Reading Assessment: The term means an assessment (test) that is valid, reliable and based on scientifically based reading research. The assessment must identify the child’s specific strengths and weaknesses, so that the child can learn to read by the end of the third grade, determine the difficulties the child has in learning to read, and helping to determine possible reading intervention strategies and related special education needs.

An appropriate assessment is critical to determine what skills your child still needs to learn to help them read, and also what curriculum would be appropriate to help them learn.

Use these 4 definitions to advocate for your child in the area of Reading! If a child does not learn to read early it will be very difficult to catch up skills that they missed. Keeping this in mind use these 4 definitions to advocate for your child in the area of Reading!

Educating Yourself to Succeed

The Question

Education is held by our society to be one of the keys to success. Certainly, there are certain professions in which formal academic education is a prerequisite not to success itself, but rather just to get into the front door of the profession.

The question we need to ask is whether or not formal academic education as offered in the current structure of our society is in fact a prerequisite, or even a significant help in achieving success in general (as opposed to within a specific profession) and what are the underlying reasons for this.

What is Success?

Before we can do this we need to decide exactly what we mean by success. It has been defined by some as ‘the progressive realisation of a worthwhile dream, goal or ideal’, and this is a good definition, but lacks some of the specificity we need to truly determine the role of education in achieving it.

For the purposes of this article I am going to define success as the following.

Achieving a progressively improving state of making a meaningful contribution with integrity, good health, good relationships, material abundance, and self determination.

To further explore what this actually means, what I am saying is that;

To be successful is to be making a positive difference in some way, whilst acting in good faith, looking after your health, enjoying and building strong meaningful relationships, being able to do all of this without concern caused by lack of resources, but rather based on what is good and right, and finally, to be in control of your own life and not reduced to unwilling servitude by slavery, ignorance or an oversized mortgage.

Does Formal Academic Education Teach Us to Do This?

If we judge by the results in our western societies, where nearly everyone has had some education, the majority have finished High School, and a great many have gone on to college. We have to seriously question the true value of formal education to the success of the individual.

By the rates of suicide, drug use, depression, and hopelessness in our society, we can infer that there are some deficiencies in our education system in so far as teaching people to make a contribution they see as meaningful.

By both the increasing obesity, diabetes levels and drug problems in our society we can judge that the education system is ineffective in teaching people to be healthy.

By the divorce rates and level of violence we can make an indicative judgement as to the effectiveness of our education system in teaching people to get along and build strong relationships.

By the level of dependence on welfare, the levels of homelessness and the levels of relative poverty in the richest nations in the world, we can take a good guess as to effectiveness of our education system in teaching people to create material abundance in their own lives.

By the by the mere existence of Blue Monday and TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday), we know there are enough people who are forced to do something at least 5 days a week that they would rather not have to do, so we can gauge the effectiveness of our education system to teach people self determination.

I hope this is not too harsh for you, but it is the way it seems from where I sit.

Why is Our Formal Education System so Ineffective?

What nobody tells us is that our existing formal education system is either unable to teach us how to be successful, nor designed to teach us to become successful.

The education system as it currently exists, is based on the needs of an industrial aged society. In the industrial age our own personal interests were in conflict with those of the larger society and of those in power.

Let’s look at Relationships

During the early industrial age, when the current system of education took its early froms, we lived in a predominantly patriarchal society in which very few women ever dared to leave their husbands, and husbands therefore didn’t actually need to know how to keep their wives happy, similarly, wives just had to be submissive and obedient and that was enough, the marriage lasted for life.

Nowadays, when we have so much freedom to enter and leave relationships without for the most part significant repercussions, we actually need to know how to keep the other person happy. Yet we as a society still don’t have a structured means of educating everyone to have functional, long term, meaningful relationships.

What about Material Abundance and Self Determination?

What our industrial age government and society needed was producing tax payers. Society needed some entrepreneurs and business people to assume the risks, acquire the skills, employ these workers and provide capital, but there was still a need for the majority of people to be part of the working underclass.

To keep people going to work to produce for the country and pay taxes to the government, it was necessary to NOT teach them how to create financial independence, in fact it was necessary to actively teach them to be lifelong employees and live from paycheck to paycheck.

One of the effects of encouraging people to manage their long term financial position poorly, is the rise of the attitudes necessary for today’s consumerism, buy it now pay for it later, keep up with the Jones’s , my identity is created by what I own, and I want it all for me!

This mentality is great for keeping people in debt, keeping people locked into jobs, stimulating the economy, and, you guessed it, raising more taxes. It does not serve the individual in terms of creating long term financial independence, truly sustainable material abundance or achieving the self determination that comes with not being up to your eyeballs in debt.

How about Health?

I don’t really understand how our society can be so poorly educated about health as to be so unhealthy, I guess our addiction to (among other things) high fat, low nutrition fast food is tied in with our consumeristic, I want it yesterday lifestyle and attitude.

Whatever the cause, there is obviously money in unhealthy food and where there is money there is power to influence society, which of course means there is yet more money in unhealthy food, and in turn more power to influence.

A bit of a vicious circle, but one that at this point can only be broken by educating our children from a young age to exercise and eat healthy food, something that is obviously not being done in the current system, as evidenced by the growing problems with childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.

just based on this simple set of observations we can begin to see that a formal education is simply not teaching people to be successful.

The Point

The purpose of this article is not to whine about the formal education system, I only go down that path to make you aware of the need to take matters into your own hands, success education is one of the few areas of life where ‘vigilante’ action is a good thing.

The point of all of this is that if you are going to learn the skills, attitudes and knowledge you need to be truly successful you are going to have to seek that information out for yourself!

The information is out there, you just need to look for it, in biographies of successful people, in the countless books and audio programs on the market by the many experts in the world.

How do I Educate Myself to Succeed?

Reading

Reading books (both traditional hard copy and now days electronic) is the most powerful way to educate yourself.

Learning from the experiences of others who have gone before you can help you avoid making many of the same mistakes these pioneers have already made, it can stimulate your own thinking and help you find creative solutiosn to your own problems, and it can certainly broaden your thinking and your mind.

So start reading! Read a good mix of ‘How to’ books in your chosen field, biographies of great people, motivation books, books about success principles, philosophical books and make sure you read some of the classic self help books too (they may be old books but the principles they teach are timeless)

Listening

Whilst reading is vital, the problem with reading is that it takes dedicated, focused time, and in our busy world, listening to audio books, seminars, and other audio programs offers a great way to educate yourself in time that would otherwise be largely wasted.

If you have to sit in traffic twice a day, don’t just let that time be wasted time, stick a tape/CD/MP3 program on and use the time to teach and motivate yourself. Zig Ziglar calls this enrolling in ‘automobile university’. In my time in the military we used a principle called concurrent activity, which essentially means deliberately accomplishing multiple outcomes simultaneously, or “killing two birds with one stone” as the old cliche goes.

You can use this same principle by enrolling in Zigs University and making double use of your travel time.

Association

One of the greatest powers for human change is that of association. basically we have a strong tendency to become like, assume the attitudes of, and start to think and act like those we hang around.

This is why parents instinctively want to keep their children away from ‘the bad crowd’, however we can use the exact same principle to our advantage by deliberately hanging around the ‘good crowd’.

If we want to be healthy, we are better to hang around ‘health conscious’ people at a gym than ‘anesthetised unconscious’ people in a bar.

If we want to be wealthy, we need to make a deliberate effort to associate with wealthy people, not because we want them to give us anything, but because the way they think has led them to be wealthy, and we want to learn to think like them so we too can make ourselves wealthy.

Any group of people with the values and results you want to foster are candidates for association, however one of the best sources around are seminars and workshops on subjects relevant to what you are trying to accomplish.

Mentoring & Coaching

Having someone to whom you are held accountable for your performance or non performance is a great help in disciplining yourself to do what you need to do to get the results you want.

Coaching however is much more than that, a good coach will be able to give you ideas, encouragement and when you need it support to get you through the journey you are on. They can give you feedback from a more detached third party perspective, helping us see past our sometimes overwhelmingly personal involvement in a situation.

Getting yourself a good coach or mentor can definitely be a big help in educating yourself to succeed.

Go for it (and don’t quit)

These four things, reading, listening, association and coaching will give you the necessary resources to educate yourself to succeed.

Keep in mind that your current ‘education’ has taken you many many years to acquire, so you can’t expect change to be either instant or easy.

It is however very possible, and with your persistent determined effort definitely achievable, and when you start to see the results of your self administered success education, it is unquestionably worth the effort!

10 Challenges within the Educational System

1. There’s always one answer to a question

Throughout the process of partaking in systematized educational institutions, there’s always a criterion that applies to all the taught knowledge – That there’s an answer and it is absolute. Math shares the strongest characteristic of ability to freely choose how one goes about to arrive at the answer. Grammar rules have exceptions, but exceptions are also a form of indisputable truth. This does not mean that the questions, answers and methodologies change. They change to new answers that once again follow the criterion. Granted, they also change at a futilely slow rate.

More importantly, the education would contain questions that are without definite, objectively true answers, but several different ones that make sense depending on the student’s subjective perspective. Why is this of importance? The students get programmed that these questions are irrelevant since they are not spoken of. Accordingly, they have trouble living a life guided by personal values, ethics and patterns that correlate with each person’s own, innate orientation. The challenge is simply to allow and present more answers to young aspirants of life so that they know of more answers to choose from, that they previously did not know existed. Therefore, it may sometimes be far more important to question where an answer derives from, instead of how to reach it.

2. The search for proof

Strongly linked to the previous challenge, scholastic education is in search of a proof, which then presents its scholars the belief that the proof is fact. This may give rise to the notion that all personal growth pursuits in life should follow this same pattern. However, in some fields of personal advancement, one should acknowledge that a certain belief or faith is the starting point, thus resulting in an expected or unexpected form of proof. The proof will then shape its possessor’s perspective on the matter in a positive way either through subscribing to the new belief because it is useful and productive, or discarding it with the personal upgrade of understanding, that it amounts to less or no value in life. By narrowing a person down to only accepting the condition of “Show me the proof, and then I believe.”, the individual is limiting oneself from higher understanding on the realms of spirituality, theism, metaphysics, intuition, varying levels of consciousness within and beyond the ego, and the function, progression and meaning of life and death.

3. You should not cooperate in order to learn

This is a challenge that arises from how tests are conducted. I’m not saying it to be wrong for students to learn a sense of independence and responsibility from building a self referential database of knowledge. But ask any successful individual from any field of knowledge and they will state that especially in situations requiring crucial decisions, it is better to consult a mastermind council than to trust that the individual mind knows better or best. This goes for individuals who are aware of the power of mastermind councils that calibrate at an equal to higher level of consciousness, understanding and experience.

4. Group think and conformity

When all think alike, there’s not really any thinking going on. There’s an advantage behind everyone using the same grammar rules, scientific definitions and numeral base system. But that does not mean that the current grammar, definitions and decimal system are the most optimal ones to use. Additionally, this is a question not linked to the educational arena, but to the social one, creating an unhealthy norm of conformity regarding behaviour, looks, fashion, materialism and mind-sets. The educational setting should form a plaza with positive radiation where equality does not exclude diversity.

5. Being afraid or embarrassed to ask questions

This is a symptom of the previous challenge. Asking questions is a skill. The more you do it, the better questions you’re able to ask, producing knowledge of improved quality. The continuous loop of understanding and knowledge that is transferred in between people is the key foundation of future growth as a humanitarian, scientific, spiritual, wealthy and healthy society. Therefore, the courage and will to ask questions is an essential variable in this equation. That 13-year old, bullied girl with low self-esteem may not grasp this revelation because her understanding of herself is that she is mentally and intellectually defect compared to others and is supposed to adapt instead of break free from her internal chains of anxiety.

6. The lack of financial education

The processes of generating and allocating money may sound trifling and inessential, but this view is shared mostly by those not grasping the opposite, that it is a very prevalent and ubiquitous ability producing lifetime impacts. Educating the very basics of sound money management like leverage, delayed and instant gratification, assets and liabilities, good debt and bad debt, good income and bad income, good expenses and bad expenses, positive and negative compounding, cash flow and capital gains, the three vehicles of investments and how to measure wealth, to name a few, would foster productive results and a healthier perspective on money. It is the medium of exchange that has yet to see a better substitute, is the realization of provided value and by itself is inherently neither good nor bad. Simply put, what money is used for reveals each person’s appraised value of themselves. Only education has the power to shift financial ignorance into financial intelligence – whether done proactively or through painful lessons, which unfortunately may still keep the solutions obscured.

7. The lack of consciousness and self-help education

Closely related to the first two topics, personal growth is not a one-solution-fits-all form of science or branch of investigation. But simply discussing the numerous variations and alternatives of how to improve ones self-acting, -assertion, -command, -confidence, -consciousness, -control, -criticism, -dependence, -determination, -esteem, -examination, -knowledge, -possession, -praise, -respect, -restraint, -sufficiency, -support, and -will has an impact, if not for the conscious mind of a young student, then in the subconscious mind waiting to flourish once reality starts to present itself as shades of gray instead of definite answers of black or white. This in turn raises the question of balance between service to self and service to others. People cannot serve others with a greater magnitude and understanding than they are aware and capable of serving themselves. This is why the size of self-growth is the bar for how well a person can serve society and humanity, and is the primary in this causality (if you think in terms of causality). What the raise of personal and universal consciousness does, is raise the whole underlying balance of service into higher levels of influential power.

8. How not to diminish creativity

As it is now, the educational system favours left-brain measuring and analyzing over right-brain creativity and visualization. However, order and chaos in the mind ought to synergistically feed each other for improved input and output. As Bohm theorized there to be two universes, one hidden from our five sense and one distinguishable and definable by them, so does the right side of the brain use vision and creativity to imagine great architectural, musical, artistic, literary and cinematographic feats while the left brain uses the technicality, science, patterns and measures to materialize them into the tangible world. While one does not have to be completely ambidextrous in the mind, understanding of the interdependency of both sides of creation is of basic meaning. Thus, the current strong polarization of brain activity in schools is sub-optimal.

9. The 9 to 5 mentality

While the majority of people are naturally inclined to do things right, as they are told and when they are told, the educational system nourishes this behaviour to everyone attending. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this mentality. But as there are people strongly characterized by doing the right things, on their own accord, in level with their internal advancement, their orientation and meaning are clouded until the restraints of inefficient systematization are perceived as relatively weak enough to break free from – in order to create something new and improved. Again, equality and diversion can and are supposed to exist simultaneously and no human is worth more or less regardless of the point of observation.

10. The will to learn

The greatest challenge of them all is, how does one increase the youth’s interest and will to learn? The improvement of results in this category influences the other nine topics more than the nine separately influence the others. The ability for teachers to inspire a student to become a lifelong learner has long been failing. Just measure the amount of knowledge that is still remembered after a month has passed from the point of learning. Even students themselves may come to the conclusions that in order to input knowledge, another portion of knowledge is automatically discarded. Or that at a given age, the intellectual capacity has reached a boundary, futile to try to expand.

Conclusively, one cannot discuss the matter of education without bringing parenting into the equation. Therefore, I want to pinpoint the irony of parents fighting against a school system that would address greater effort in improving the 10 challenges discussed in this article, and yet not focus on delivering and discussing these issues of greater wisdom to and with the child themselves. This is why I wanted to write this article – to acknowledge the need that at least one of the sources of knowledge and understanding takes the responsibility of bringing forth the uniqueness and greatness that lies within every child that exists. There is no greater way for a child to express their gratitude towards both knowledge and their parents than to say out loud that they genuinely appreciate that at least one of these sources are and were present in partially creating and supporting their worldview and reality.

Education for the Advancement of Women and the Social Development of the Planet

Not often does it fall to individuals to be a part of history in the making. For the few who are given that privilege, its true value can only be estimated only in hindsight. More than 150 years ago in a garden at Badasht, Tahireh – Iranian poet and revolutionary – renounced her veil and before the stunned participants announced through the power of this deed a new age in the cause of women. Four years later, at the moment of her execution, she cried “You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women”.

One and a half centuries later, and a decade into a new millennium, I pause to remember Tahireh, and all those men and women since, who have kept the flame of her cause burning brightly down all the years and passed this torch on to our generation here today; another people, another land, another century. In my mind they remain with us, and will continue to inspire and guide us just as we too must inspire and guide the generations still to come.

The Connection Between Education and Emancipation
In the globally disseminated statement “The Promise of World Peace” the Universal House of Justice describes the important connection between education and discrimination, stating “…ignorance is indisputably the principal reason…for the perpetuation of prejudice.”

More and more we realise that if we are to change the cruel, destructive ways in which human beings treat one another, we must first change the way they think, and the things they value. Highlighting the supreme urgency of re-educating the souls and minds of humanity, H. G. Wells said “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

A crucial aspect of this education which is necessary if we are to avert catastrophe and bring balance to the present state of disequilibrium, and which will eventually contribute to a new definition of humanity, is the process which some have called the ‘feminisation’ of the planet.

‘Abdu’l Baha, son of Baha’u’llah, Prophet Founder of the Baha’i Faith, described this process;

“The world in the past has been ruled by force and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the scales are already shifting, force is losing its weight, and mental alertness, intuition and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilisation will be more properly balanced.”

The first entry in Collins Dictionary defining the word education is ” the act or process of acquiring knowledge…”. This broad definition vastly extends the sphere of education beyond that limited and formalised type of education provided by the state school system. Clearly ‘the act or process by which we acquire knowledge’ takes place on many levels. One purpose of this paper is to identify some of the primary ways in which we have acquired our present beliefs about the role and value of the sexes, and to suggest positive directions for future educational change.

True Education Creates Enduring Change
The real value of education lies in how it permanently changes our behaviour and our thoughts. Professor B. F. Skinner offers this definition; “Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten.” People can learn to behave in outwardly politically correct ways, but the real challenge is to so internalise new values that they become an inseparable part of the individual. This is what Baha’u’llah asks of us when He calls for us to become “a new race of men.” Steven Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” says “What we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.” How you behave in your day-to-day life is a truer indication of your inner beliefs than are the words you speak. For this reason we need to focus upon our deeds rather than our words. Baha’u’llah says “The reality of man is his thought, not his material body”. In seeking to promote the advancement of women, we need to retrain thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and values. We need to do this for ourselves as individuals, but we also seek to influence others at every level of our personal and collective lives.

A popular catch cry of feminism has been the statement that “The personal is political”. “The Promise of World Peace” describes how personal attitudes do indeed have political and international consequences, stating that denial of equality “promotes…harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations.”

In the article ‘Training for the Year 2000’, James Aggrey maintains that the education of girls is of the greater importance because “To educate a man is to educate a single individual, but to educate a woman is to educate an entire nation.” The words of William Ross Wallace that ‘The hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world’ have become legendary.

An earlier quotation from ‘The Promise’ described how inequality promotes harmful attitudes and habits which men carry with them into all spheres of life. It continues by saying “Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavour will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge” and in the subsequent paragraph states “…it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society.”

Here then are two key factors in the education and feminisation of our society;
* the education of women which will enable them to participate equally in all fields of human endeavour and in doing so become in themselves a source of education; a ‘feminising influence’ to others
* the crucial role played by women in the education of the coming generation

The Education of Men is Crucial to True Equality
It is impossible to consider the issue of the advancement of women as belonging to women alone. In fact the Universal House of Justice states it is an issue that men too must own;
“It is important to acknowledge that the wellbeing and advancement of men is impossible as long as women remain disadvantaged. Men can not be happy whilst women are oppressed, and neither can they hope to remain unaffected by the changes women are making for themselves. The growth and development of women needs to be balanced by complementary growth and development on the part of men.”

Poet and pacifist Robert Bly stated:

“Contemporary man is lost… damaged by a childhood lack of contact with a strong male figure to initiate him into manhood. He has become a “soft’ or naive’ male, who, by rejecting the aggressive and obnoxious male traits that he has been taught women dislike, has also abandoned the forceful and heroic aspects of masculinity, to the detriment of society.”

Androgyny in Sexuality Education

I was one of the pioneer batches in Singapore trained for Sexuality Education, and I think it was quite amazing that I’ve steered clear of this subject thus far. I think it is important, though, for all children to learn and accept themselves as they are, and so I come up with this article to help parents and educators on this aspect of a person’s sexuality.

For those who are thinking of trashy stuff, sorry to disappoint you – Sexuality Education is not Sex Education. Sex Education teaches about the physical and perhaps emotional aspects of coitus, and touches on topics like contraception and so on. Sexuality Education includes Sex Education, but that’s not the focus – the focus is on the person’s values and his ability to relate to himself and others in the chosen sexual orientation.

Singapore, unlike western countries, treaded cautiously on this subject. Plenty of religious and community leaders were consulted before the Ministry of Education finally decided we will do Sexuality Education rather than Sex Education. With values being such an important part of Sexuality Education, ideas like abstinence and protecting our bodies took a stronger centre stage rather that telling the kids how to use condoms to make sure they don’t get pregnant, since (not if!) they want to have sex at that age.

The issue of androgyny is an interesting one nowadays. With the rise of the Sensitive New Age Man (SNAG) in the magazines, and the prevalence of manga and anime from Japan (where the lead characters tend towards androgyny as well), such a man or woman has become more and more accepted in society.

Androgyny is a state where a man displays certain traits (physical or emotional) that society attributes towards women, or where a woman displays certain traits (physical or emotional) that society atttributes towards men. It comes from a combination of the Greek andros (man) and gyne (woman).

I am an example of an androgynous man. I’m most definitely a man (and not only because of my sexual organs!) but I display openly many behaviours that society attributes towards women. I am quite emotional, tears quite easily and speaks gently in a measured tone (one of the contractors I used to work with when I was in the Navy said that I’ve a “sweet voice”…now that’s scary when you hear it from a man!).

Not only that, but in looks and appearance, I’m rather like Legolas (the elf in the Lord of the Rings, as portrayed by Orlando Bloom) – slim and fair, with little body hair. This is so unlike Aragorn (portrayed by Viggio Mortensen), a dark bushy man with rippling muscles. And since I’m very sure I’m full of testerone (I’m hyperactive…and my wife can also testify to another reason why I’m definitely full of testerone), I must possibly have a stronger dose of estrogen in me than most man. Hmm…that perhaps explains the mood swings as well…

My wife, on the other hand, is considered a “hairy” woman (for a woman – she’s obviously less hairy than any man!). For her case though, I can’t tell if it’s because she has weaker estrogen levels for a woman, or she has stronger testerone levels for a woman. But her sexuality is definitely oriented towards that of a woman, while mine is most definitely towards that of a man, no question about it.

By now, astute readers should be aware that our bodily features assigned to masculinity and femininity is due to the balance of male hormones testerone and female hormones estrogen. Most men have very weak estrogen levels, while most women have very weak testerone levels.

Men with very strong estrogen levels may develop what the Chinese termed 脂粉味 (literally “smelling of perfume”). They look very, very feminine and may even develop breasts, for some extreme cases. Historically, such men have been looked down upon and have even created disasters, like Dong Xian, the “concubine” of a certain Han emperor.

Women with very strong testerone levels tend to be of strong build and large sizes. I suspect the Mu Yecha from the Chinese classic Outlaws of the Marsh would be such a character. Again, society tends not to be very accepting of such persons, labelling them “butches” and so on (more so if they from the military).

With the progress of thinking, a more cosmospolitan-outlook and the building of tolerance levels in the world today, we are getting more and more accepting of the androgynous look. The media has built in today’s woman a liking for the Sensitive New Age Man – a man who is a prince charming but yet not outwardly macho. Women like Grace Jones, Ella (from Chinese pop sensation S.H.E) and the winners of SuperGirls (in China) Li Yuchun (2005) have become stars in their own right, with millions of fans.

It’s a good sign. While God has made us man and woman, different and yet complimentary to each other, we should be allowed to express ourselves fully the entire range of human emotions and feelings, and to experience fully the many interactions with our environment. As long as the students understand that it takes more than being macho to be a man, or that a woman can be an engineer as well, I believe I’d have done my part as an educator.

Michael Chan used to be a teacher, before he left to run a managed fund. When his business failed, he returned to teaching, and is currently a Department Head at the Shanghai Singapore International School.

Challenges in Introducing Value Education at Higher Education in India

Value Education is the much debated and discussed subject in the plethora of education in India. Of course it is true that the main purpose of any education will go with Value orientation. More concentration on Value education has been given at the primary and secondary level of school education than in higher education in India. Values could be effectively imparted to the young minds rather than to the matured ones. It may be the important reason for this prime importance given at the school level. There are so many modules designed with the help of agencies like NCERT and others for effectively imparting the value education to the school students. In this context, many innovative educational practices are being identified by the experts. Good number of experiments and studies are being conducted in the recent days on the effectiveness of teaching value education at school level. Some schools have very innovative and radical course designs to impart the values.

Effective teaching practices in imparting value education ranges from story telling, exhibitions, skits, one act play and group discussions to various other formats. New methods have been evolved by educationists to create an effective learning sphere. The usage of electronic gadgets also gains importance in the teaching-learning practices of value education. But at the higher education level, due to various reasons, the importance given to value education is not as much as it is given at the school level. The curriculum and the teaching methods also could be subjected to scrutiny. It is true that colleges are meant for a kind of specialization in some field of education. But in the Indian social context, the youth require direction and counseling at this stage. They have been exposed to various challenges at this stage which demands the intervention of educationists for his/her betterment. His/her character building also strengthens at this juncture. Students’ perception on various life factors and events are getting shaped at this stage. On the whole they evolve their own philosophy of life. Their sensitivity and knowledge are getting direction at this stage. Hence, an effective value orientation becomes inevitable to the students of colleges. Keeping this requirement in mind, States like Tamilnadu introduced a compulsory paper/course on value education to undergraduate students of all colleges in the State under the choice based credit system. Though this kind of effort is made with the good intention of imparting values to the youth, many limitations in bringing out the expected outcome could be identified.

The problem mainly begins with the definition of values. Defining the term ‘value’ poses a challenge to all scholars. The term value is loaded with varieties of meaning. Each meaning reflects its own philosophical position. Generally the term value is spontaneously associated with religious values. It is believed by many Indians that values are nothing but the religious and spiritual guiding principles of life. Hence, it is supposed that the path is already been laid for the life journey. But in the context of modernity and modernism there rises a fundamental question of whether value education is required at all in a modern state. There are those who argue that modern life is based on science and technology, and both are value neutral. They view that the values are bugbear held out by people living in the past, glued to outdated religious principles that have no relevance to the 21st century. At this point, there is also another group of modernist who propagate the necessity of value education at learning centres in order to safe guard the democratic state and its values. The values they wish to cultivate are modern secular values such as honesty, respect to other, equality, collectivity, democracy, respecting the human rights, sharing equal space in the public sphere and so on. These values are considered as the products of enlightenment period. Hence, four positions could be arrived at on the basis of the above understanding. The are:
1. There are religious values which are very much essential for every one and must be included in the curriculum.
2. The religious values should not find place in the educational system. They may operate at the private sphere.
3. There are non-religious secular values and they must find space in the education.
4. There is no need for teaching value education in the academics because they cannot be cultivated through formal learning and such value cultivation will make the individual biased.

In consequence to these positions, following questions arouse.
1. Whether value education should find place in the educational system?
2. If it is required, then what sort of values should be given preference in the curriculum?
3. What is the importance to be given to the religious values which are primarily developed on the basis of scriptures?
4. Can modern values alone are sufficient enough or is there any possibility of blending the values of modernity with religious values?
5. If religious values are to be given importance in the curriculum, which religion will find prime place? If there are contradictory propagation on a single virtue by two religions, then how are they to be handled?
6. Similarly religions differ on the practices also. Right from eating patterns, dress mode, marriage systems, war tactics, killing, punishments to various other aspects, religions differ on their outlook. In this situation, what sort of perceptions need to be taught?

Besides these questions, another billion dollar question would be raised on the methodology of effectively imparting those values. Then again as it is mentioned earlier, the school education can very well include this education easily because the system itself is advantageous for it to accommodate. But at the college level, the system finds it very difficult to work out. So this study could analyse the theoretical problems relating to the identification of values to be included in the curriculum at the one side and the problem of effective designing of the curriculum and imparting those values on the other side.

II

The necessity for imparting values to the students of all levels has been felt by everyone. The world today is facing unprecedented socio-political and economic challenges. Problems of life are becoming increasingly intense and complex. Traditional values are decentered. ‘An environment of strife pervades all countries and broken homes have become common. An insatiable hunger for money and power, leads most of people to tension and absence of peace of mind and all kinds of physical and mental ailments have become common place” 1. In the present day context of frequent and often violent social upheavals, we have to look at the problem of restlessness of the youth, their frustration born out of futility of their search for meaning of life and the purpose for which they are living, often leading to evil and wickedness. This calls for a new approach to, and a new vision of education. It is obviously felt that the present educational system promotes rat race and keep the student community in a sense of insecurity. Educational institutions have become the pressure cookers building pressures in the minds of youth. Also a loft sided educational pattern which insists on instrumental and technical rationality for the successful life in terms of gaining money and power has invaded the educational system of India. The person who is deemed to be unfit for this survival race becomes disqualified and ineligible to live in this market economy based life. The spate of industrialization and economic growth in developed nations has brought about a perceptible change in this scenario. And developing countries including India are feeling the ripple effects of this development. Values earlier considered essential by all societies have been eroded and have given way to unethical practices around the globe. Where honesty and integrity were loved and appreciated, greed, corruption and red tapism have come in, bringing in their wake, unethical responses which have pervaded all walks of life and are thwarting efforts of a few enlightened individuals to promote value based society.2 Hence, implementation of well structured education is the only solution available with all states. With growing divisive forces, narrow parochialism, separatist tendencies on the one hand and considerable fall in moral, social, ethical and national values both in personal and public life on the other, the need for promoting effective programmes of value orientation in education has assumed great urgency. Development of human values through education is now routinely seen as a task of national importance. Value education though supposes to be the part and parcel of the regular education, due to the market influences, it could not be so. Hence, it has become an inevitable need to include an exclusive curriculum for value education at all levels.

Now the next question would be about the nature of value education. What sort of values should be given preference in the curriculum is the prime problem in the introduction of value education. This problem surfaces because we can find varieties of values prescribed on the basis of various scriptures and theories. Sometimes they are contradictory to each other. This issue has been thoroughly discussed earlier. But the solution to the problem of the nature of value education is primarily dependent on the social conditions that prevail in the state. There need not be an imported value educational pattern to be prescribed in India. The burning social issues would demand the required value education. Though India is considered to be the land of divinity and wisdom, the modern value system throws challenges to the ancient value pattern. Right from the Gurkula pattern to the varna ashrama values, all values are under scrutiny by modern rationality. Hence, the relevance of the golden values prescribed by the then society is questionable in the present situation. On the other hand, the so called modern values which have been listed earlier also subjected to criticism by philosophers like post modernists. They question the very nature of the rationality of the enlightenment period. Because critics of modernity strongly declare that the modern rationality is the reason for the deterioration of human concern in the world and they paved the way for inhuman killing and escalation of values. The reason of the modernism is considered as the root of power politics which leads to inhuman behaviour of the power system, according to them. Hence the modern values like democracy, civil rights, environmental ethics, professional ethics, discipline and all such values are found useless in bringing harmony in the society. The values like discipline, tolerance, peace bears the negative connotation in this context. Hence, what sort of modern values are to be included in the curriculum is a challenge thrown towards the educationists. At one side the fanatic and fundamentalist features of religious values and on the other side the modern values based on the market economy and other factors are to be excluded and a well balanced curriculum with genuine worthy values suitable to the society has to be identified and included in the educational system. In this context, it becomes obvious that there cannot be any universal pattern of values to be prescribed in the system. When a suitable blend of religious and modern values is to be done, the designing of such course demands an unbiased, scrupulous, intelligent approach on the part of the academician who designs such course. Thus the spiritual values of sensitizing the youth for happy world and rational values for a just world are very much required. Religious values can be taken but not with the label of any particular religion, democratic values are to be included but not with its dogmatic inhuman approach. Thus there need a perfect blend of both. This is the real challenge thrown to the Indian academicians.