All posts by makha09

to learn or not to learn?

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Photo credits to: http://keypathedu.com/blog/inquiry-enrollment-need-speed

Learning and teaching foreign languages are the key components of the language policy of a country which set a course towards the development of bi/multilingual generation. However, there are still some controversial disputes on the true need for learning languages. In this regard, the episode of the radio podcast “Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?” mainly discusses the psychological and economical ROI (Return on Investment), which in a plain language means the word “benefit”, of the foreign language learning by providing quite interesting arguments with no less interesting reasons and evidences to support them.

Interestingly, from a psychological perspective, learning foreign languages changes the way the human brain works.  According to psychology professor, Boaz Keysar, the more languages you know, the more likely you will act differently. In this sense, he states that a foreign language directly impacts your decision-making process. For instance, the findings of his research show that when people think in a foreign language, they become more willing to take risks, more reflective and less emotional on their choices. Personally, I am quite skeptical on this issue, since I do not believe that there is a “magic” link between foreign languages and the human brain. It sounds to me as inane as the “Critical Period” theory, according to which a child cannot get a full command of a language unless he/she starts to learn it until a particular period, because after that his/her brain allegedly loses its flexibility.

As for the economical prospect, the ROI varies from country to country primarily depending on their L1. For example, the research conducted by MIT economist, Albert Saiz, found out that the learning foreign languages in the US is not so financially attractive as it is in non-English speaking countries: approximately 2% and 10% premium per year, respectively. Hence, Bryan Caplan, economist at George Mason University, claims that learning a foreign language is not reasonable and worthy unless people can benefit from it. Besides these economists, the responses of children on the need for learning foreign languages mainly reflect the same idea: financial benefits. Thus, the link between economics and learning foreign languages seems more realistic and worthy than the psychological one. Are you of the same view?

 

 

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punish or encourage?

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Photo credits to: http://startuphr.co/2016/11/07/mistakes-happen/

Making mistakes is an indispensable part of the learning process. No matter who you are, how old you are or what your gender is, everyone sometimes tends to slip up. In this sense, there is a strong view that mistakes are bad and unacceptable. Specifically, it is needless to say that impeccability and perfection are too highly valued in our education system, since one of the main crucial requirements for children is to avoid making mistakes.

In fact, according to our education system, a student must follow a clear algorithm and even avoid making some self-corrections whether in dictation or test in math, otherwise he/she may lose some points. In other words, the “5” mark is given not to the one who offered several solutions to the problem, but to the one who gave the exact answer. Such kinds of punishments for failures leave no room for experimentation and creativity. And if at school it only concerns grammatical and arithmetical flaws, then in adult life it may negatively affect some serious life situations, as this approach may make children frightened to take risks and non-confident for their actions.

On the ground of these consequences, many people remain on uninteresting work and mostly they are engaged in the things that they do not like. All this is a result of the fact that a person is afraid of making a mistake again because of the strict standards of education. Thus, one should be able to accept a failure as a valuable experience, which is a kind of way to go against the mainstream of people who think stereotypically. In this regard, teachers need to encourage students to think outside the framework set by the education system, rather than punishing for making mistakes.

This is just my humble opinion on this issue 🙂 , but what about yours? Should we punish children to make them to avoid making mistakes or should we encourage them to take risks and to learn from their mistakes?

Wade Davis: Cultures at the far edge of the world (deconstruction)

Within the framework of the Ted Talks program anthropologist and journalist of National Geographic Wade Davis explains what “ethnosphere” is, tells about disappearing cultures and languages ​​and demystifies why this process is a disaster for all mankind.

According to scientists, humanity exists about 200,000 years, while the familiar industrial world was created only 300 years ago. Undoubtedly, the real progress in the history of mankind is connected with these last three centuries: significant scientific achievements, advancement of high technology and virtual reality. In this sense, it seems obvious that the Western culture is superior to all others, and the assimilation of other cultures is an undeniable fact and reality. However, according to Wade Davis our epoch will go down in the history of mankind not with its scientific and technological breakthroughs, but with the biological and cultural diversity of the planet – the ethnosphere. He states that the ethnosphere is the richness of humankind, which teaches us that it is possible to exist differently, to think differently and to orientate differently on the Earth.

To focus on the problems of the ethnosphere, Davis provided some statistics that over the past few decades the number of languages ​​in the world has decreased by half. In this regard, he defines language as the cultural heritage of every nation. In addition to this, talking about the diversity of cultures and the changes that are taking place today in the world, he offers his listeners to go on a journey through the ethnosphere – to make a short excursion into ethnography to understand how great the loss is due to the constant disappearance of ancient cultures. He provides dozens of examples that make us think that perhaps the western myth of prosperity and progress is not the greatest achievement for those who live on our planet. For instance, he claims that when the population of a large panda or Amur tiger is threatened with extinction, people begin to support all campaigns to conserve these species, since it affects population diversity and, consequently, successful evolution of the biosphere. However, despite the fact that the reduction of cultures is no less a tragedy, it does not cause us such feelings and impulses. Meanwhile, he states that the civilization is the sum of the cultures existing on Earth: kogi cultivars, voodoo rituals and European traditions are equally important. Accordingly, the extinction of cultures leads to the loss of diversity. 

Overall, the speech of Wade Davis on the importance of cultural diversity is a window to another world, the world of the etnosphere, which is, unfortunately, being neglected. Personally, I totally support his views on the significance and challenges of the ethnosphere, however, I am against on the idea of placing prioritization on the ethnosphere towards the biosphere. In my point of view, both of the issues need equal attention.

Why do we procrastinate?

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Procrastination, or a simple propensity to postpone important things is now also known as “the illness of the century”. Nowadays, this problem has reached an enormous peak. Around 25% of adults are serious procrastinators.

We all put off the tasks that we should have done days ago, but we rarely realize what the reasons are. So, why do we procrastinate? While googling for an answer for this question I have come up with several popular explanations, as: fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism and, interestingly, the human brain. The latter one caught my attention, and I decided to share with it on my blog.

According to neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean, to better understand procrastination and what causes it, you have to have a better understanding of how our brain works. In this sense, he developed the Triune brain theory.

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According to this expert, humans have three brains, not one, that coexist and cooperate together.

The reptilian brain

The oldest of the three controls the body’s vital functions – heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. It’s also responsible for our survival and drive to reproduce.

The limbic brain (also called the emotional brain)

Responsible for our feelings and emotions. It records past positive and negative experiences that affect our current behavior.

The neocortex, or our so-called logical brain

This is our consciousness and thinking process.

MacLean states that in some cases, these three brains can also conflict with each other. We might want to do something logically, but we might not be able to do it because the other two brains are not letting us. For example, we understand logically that procrastination is bad, but there is nothing we can do about it. It turns out the reptilian brain has the largest influence on us – because it is aimed at ensuring our survival and reproduction. It wants to keep us safe and keep us away from any danger. The emotional brain, on other hand, dictates our behavior based on habits we have developed, past experiences and the emotions we’re feeling at the present moment. Consequently, in the end, we’re left with very little control. Thus, most of the time, when we think we have made a decision about something logically, we’re just rationalizing the choice made by the reptilian and emotional brains.

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So, according to Maclean, procrastination is not preventable; since it’s out of our control and the decision has already been made.

The Tribune brain theory is my excuse for my procrastination 🙂 , and what about you? Do you struggle with procrastination?

Minority vs. Majority

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Today it is difficult to imagine a civilized country whose people speak only one language. On account of that, the introduction of plurilingualism as a key policy is the demand of a global society, since the normal functioning of any multinational state significantly depends on the language policy.

In this sense, language policy can be considered as a tool for keeping the balance and sustaining the strong relationship between majority and minority languages. According to the Council of Europe (COE), while setting language policy education authorities should consider not only human rights (learning and teaching minority languages), but also economic competitiveness, social inclusion and integration, since it directly affects the national cohesion (COE, 2009). Similarly in the Kazakhstani case, although after getting the independence, the development of the native language were recognized as one of the top priorities, the language policy of a country also takes into account the rights of the minority groups: Russian as a language of interethnic communication, provision of education in minority languages where they are densely populated and protection from linguistic discrimination by the Law On Languages. All these actions were done to prevent the misconceptions between majority and minority groups on their linguistic interests.

In addition to this, the importance of plurilingual approach in a teaching process is very crucial. According to the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML) linguistic and cultural competences of an individual are valuable background (Despagne, 2012). Nevertheless, Igoudin states that in most cases teachers prefer monolingual approach: teaching through dominant language and ignoring the minority one (Despagne, 2012). The most common explanation for this is that teachers are categorically not interested in plurilingual paradigm, since they associate it as an additional amount of work which implies great responsibility. Therefore, the plurilingual approach mostly needs the support of teachers, which implies the bottom-up approach to foster plurilingualism in a schooling system.

To conclude, the plurilingualism in a schooling system and the social diversity of a country are one of the toughest issues to be dealt with while setting the language policy.

 

References

COE, (2009). Regional, minority and migration languages.

Despagne, C. (2012). [Review of the book  Promoting plurilingualism: Majority language in multilingual settings, by Boeckmann, K., Aalto, E., Abel, A., Atanasoska, T., & Lamb, T.]. TESOL Quarterly, 47(3), 654-657.

 

 

 

 

Food education: the case of Japan

base_d936f96f2bIn Japan, since the middle of the last century the nutrition of schoolchildren was under the watchful eye of the state. Initially, this was done to save children from hunger after World War II. Nevertheless, since then the control over the diets of the schoolchildren was powered constantly, but the ubiquitous fast food had forced the government to more serious measures. In this sense, in 2004, the Japanese government adopted a mandatory school program called as “Shokuiku“, which means “Food education”.

The most integral part of the program is considered to be a school lunch, so called “Gakko-kuyshoku”. Within the framework of this program children starting from the first grade:

  • Get lunches with a specific set of dishes prepared with fresh ingredients produced in the area where the school is located;
  • Learn to cook, and set the tables in turn;
  • Eat together with classmates and teachers;
  • Help to clear the dishes.

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By the way the school lunch program teaches children to love nature and to gratefully respect those people, who grow and prepare food. In this sense,  the Japanese schools often invite farmers and nutritionists to speak with children on some topics related to food education, such as: Do not buy semi-finished products, Natural food is better than fast food, Go to bed early, get up early and do not skip the breakfast. Moreover, they teach children how to take fish, how to grow vegetables and fruits, and how other edible products are produced. In addition to this, the Japanese schools mostly plant their own vegetable gardens, where pupils learn to grow some vegetables and fruits by themselves.

Thus, it’s obvious that school lunches are not just a break between classes, but a part of the learning process of the Japanese schools. So, how do you think is there a need for a such kind of program in Kazakhstani context? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Must or should?

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Nowadays Kazakhstan is on the way of developing and integrating the multilingual society through the implementation of the cultural project “Trinity of languages” proposed by the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Despite all the benefits and advantages, this kind of initiative triggered some hotly debated issues in our society, particularly it concerns the role and the status of the Kazakh language. In this sense, some people believe that the development of the Kazakh language can only be achieved by an assertive way, while others think that it should be done carefully and gradually. On account of this issue, I decided to make the discourse analysis of the interviews given by the main government officials, such as: the President, Vice-prime minister and Vice-minister of Education and Science of Kazakhstan.

First and foremost, Kazakhstan is a socially diverse country with a wisely thought-out language policy, which promotes multilingualism. However, unfortunately, this kind of “promotion” does not always consider the civic rights of an individual. For instance, the interview given by the Vice-prime minister of Kazakhstan, Karim Massimov, in 2011, depicts the whole picture of Kazakhstani language policy:

“Regardless of nationality, young people must learn the Kazakh language, this is natural,” PM said. “There are enough methods (for learning Kazakh). It is possible to at least to learn the spoken language. Who wants to learn will learn it.”

From this excerpt Massimov makes the point that the learning of the Kazakh language should be done in an assertive way (must learn). Additionally, his phrases, as:  learning methods, at least the spoken language and who wants to learn will learn implies that there could not be an excuse for the poor proficiency of the Kazakh language of every Kazakhstani citizen, regardless of nationality.

Secondly, in addition to the point of Massimov, the Vice-minister of Education and Science, Makhmetgali Sarybekov, highlights the importance of fluency in the Kazakh language setting an “optimistic” goal for school graduates:

“100 percent of Kazakhstani school graduates should speak the Kazakh language by 2020, this is a strategic goal. This is the key leverage to solving the language issue and a responsible task for the education sector”

According to Sarybekov, the 100 percent fluency of school graduates in the Kazakh language, is the main (key leverage) solution for the language issues of Kazakhstan, and at the same time crucial aspect for the field of education (responsible task for the education sector). Then he also notes the importance of development of other languages:

“Russian, English and languages of other Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups will be developed as well”

Nevertheless, the tone of the sentence gives an expression that Sarybekov puts the other languages on a secondary plan (will be developed as well), implying more priority to the Kazakh language.

Thirdly, the speech of the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, given in 2013, is like a negative counter-response for the above mentioned government officials who specifically give a priority only for the Kazakh language. He claims;

“… let them speak Russian freely and arrange synchronized translation. Printed media should also provide translations. People shouldn’t be discriminated against in terms of language”

From this speech, it is clear that Nazarbayev defines the civic rights (let them speak more freely, provide translations) more importantly rather than the social and linguistic background (not to discriminate in terms of language). Moreover, he highlights more acceptable ways of development the Kazakh language, than the ones which were proposed by the above mentioned officials:

“Development and spread of the Kazakh language should be gradual. The task is to arrange language courses so that people could master the everyday language”

To conclude, the balance between the languages within the multinational state as Kazakhstan is very important for sustaining the well-functioning position of a country. Therefore, I believe that the government officials should avoid defining the hierarchy of languages while setting the language policy.

Reference:

[Online image]. Retrieved  from http://combiboilersleeds.com/keywords/confusion-1.html

Angel of death, or why teenagers commit a suicide because of the UNT?

 

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UNT is one of the most widescale and onerous events in Kazakhstani society. Fear covers everyone. Students are afraid to fail and to become a burden to their family; teachers dread to spoil the performance of their school; parents simply fear for their children, and reasonably so. The more closer is June, the more we begin to hear the scary stories about teenagers who have decided to commit a suicide because of the UNT. But why? Is the UNT so important, or is it so burdensome worth committing a suicide?

First of all, the UNT itself is a phenomenon with lots of shortcomings. But the worst of it is the psychological violence. It is not a secret that the school administrators and teachers taken one with another beg some students with a poor performance not to take the test, in order to avoid lowering the rankings of a school. This certainly puts the pressure on the psyche of all participants. Consequently, they start to perceive the UNT as the most important ordeal predetermining their future, whereas the failure as an ultimate verdict.

Secondly, teenagers commit a suicide due to inaccurate goals set by the environment. In most cases, a student from an early school-years is persuaded that the meaning of life is the successful completion of the UNT, and the admission to university for a grant. Moreover, there are some “pithy” expressions, as: “if you fail the UNT, you will become a janitor”, or “you will never find a job, if you not succeed in the UNT”. This kind of sayings put an additional psychological pressure on teenagers. In this sense, when they understand that the goal is not achievable, he\she loses the meaning of life. Consequently, they think that the only solution is the suicide.

Indeed, it is very scary when someone wants to end his\her life. Therefore, despite of the importance, the role of the UNT should not be exaggerated. So, I wholeheartedly hope that the new format of the UNT will somehow relieve the pressure from teenagers.

Reference

Photo credit to http://lifehacker.com/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-death-1517421198

Is the government only stakeholder interested in financial autonomy of schools?

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Within a short period of independent development, our country is recognized as a modern and competitive state trying to carry out major reforms in various areas of society, particularly in the field of education. The government is step by step consistently expanding the autonomy of secondary educational institutions in order to raise the level of competitiveness and the quality of Kazakhstani schools within the world educational space. In this sense, to compensate the huge gap in budget allocation compared to developed countries, and at the same time to raise the effectiveness of state spending on education, Kazakhstan set the provision of financial autonomy as one of the top priorities of secondary education system (MES strategic plan for 2014-2018).

Nevertheless, the issue of financial autonomy in Kazakhstani context is the controversial subject of extensive discussions not only at the state level, but also in the field of educational policy experts and in society as a whole. Even if the overall process of overhauling is going well, it is still preceded by great difficulties in financing system of education, which by the way raise the several vague questions. Did the government take into consideration the perceptions of other stakeholders (school principals, teachers and parents), do they need and are they ready to implement?

First of all, it is obvious that improving the quality of education is a strategic goal of not only Kazakhstan, but also in the educational policy of many countries. However, in my humble opinion, in Kazakhstani case the government’s expectations, as a major stakeholder, are too high.   Consequently, according to empirical study held in Kazakhstani schools, host of Head of schools stated that they are categorically not interested in the financial management (Omarbekova, 2014). The most common explanation for this choice is based on two important reasons. Firstly, according to Omarbekova (2014), school principals are not yet ready to an additional amount of work on public procurement as a compulsory part of the reform, and secondly, they associate the financial autonomy with an increase in reporting obligations to the government. Thus, due to too high expectations which imply great responsibility, the financial autonomy becomes a challenge for the school principals.

Secondly, the lack of understanding about the initiative still remains a problem. On the account of the survey conducted by Sharipbayeva and Bantugelova (2013) in 2011, the clarification was indicated as a main issue. They claim that the Head of schools in most cases did not have a clear understanding of the financial autonomy, let alone the rural schools, which had never heard of such a procedure. So, it is unclear for me, how did the government want to smoothly implement the reform, if their basic stakeholder does not know the issue well?! Therefore, I think that such a radical reform does need not only top-down instructions, but also bottom-up clarifications from the policy-makers.

In general, the realization of this reform under the strict control and a high degree of responsibility of officials can optimize not only the budgetary costs, but also may give a new impetus to the development of education. However, such kind of radical change in secondary education system should be done carefully and gradually, taking into account the perceptions of all the stakeholders. Only then, I believe, the financial autonomy can be implemented smoothly and successfully in Kazakhstani context.

References

MES. (2014). Strategic plan for 2014-2018. Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.kz/

Omarbekova, A. (2015). Autonomy in secondary education: Independence and accountability of secondary general education schools in Kazakhstan. Educational studies, 2, 152-172.

Sharipbaeva A., & Bantugelova N. (2013). Podushevoe finansirovanie: za i protiv.[Per capita financing: pros and cons]. Astana, KZ: Publishing center Sandzh