Students and low self-esteem

In the Teacher Training class we have been talking about why some children misbehave. One idea that came up in discussion was it was kids with low self esteem who would kick off in class. Our tutor reinforced this idea in the discussion washup and I think it was something he wanted to steer us towards.

And later that day I was watching a reality TV programme – “Girls can code” and one of the girls said something like this:

“…I found it hard to learn like the other people did, teachers were going to fast, and it made me have low self-esteem… I did some research and people with low self-esteem struggle generally with academic performance in class… like a continuous cycle…”

This comes in the programme between the 51 and 53 minute.

And there you have it. A girl admitting she had problems and finding the source of her problem was low self-esteem. She did not pinpoint why, did her poor performance in class generate her low self-esteem or were there external factors.  A bit chicken and egg. But interesting to know. But once started I can imagine how it would spiral.


Students, computers and learning – not such a good thing

The OECD report: Students, Computers and Learning Making the Connection (2015) caused some interesting headlines in the press Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD (BBC, 2015).

This OECD report is not as alarming as a journalist’s headline might wish to make out (BBC, 2015.)

The conclusion of the report is quite obvious: that learning is not enhanced by using ICT. This is not to say that using ICT in education is a bad thing. It’s just that it’s use in schools has to be tempered and analysed like any other educational tool. The report concludes that other skills should be “bolstered” – like literacy and numeracy and skills – so that the student can better navigate the digital world.

Of concern is the detrimental effect that over use of ICT is having on children. The evidence is compelling and I don’t disagree with this.

“Excessive use of the Internet has also been found to be related to various problems among  adolescents, including poor academic performance, family and interpersonal problems,  and even physical weakness (Park, Kang and Kim, 2014). While the causal direction is not  always established, excessive use of the Internet for leisure can harm academic achievement  and health, as it reduces the time available for sleep, study or physical activity. Conversely,  students who feel excluded from school-based socialisation may retreat to online activities.  In these cases, excessive use of the Internet is more a symptom than a cause of their problems.  Acknowledging emerging concerns over adolescents’ use of the Internet for online gaming, the  fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies  Internet Gaming Disorder as a condition warranting more clinical research…” (OECD, 2015: 43).

I would also not disagree with anybody who told me that doing any activity to an extreme and to the exclusion of other activities is not a healthy lifestyle. I would include watching too much TV, obsessing over Jason Beiber, spending lots of hours hanging out in the park with mates as being too much and detrimental. My point is that I don’t regard the act of gaming or social networking as inherently bad. It’s the obsessive over use that leads to a reduction of the time spent on a healthy mixture of other activities that is bad.

There are other issues I would like to look at in this report, but have not had the time to read all of it. In particular I need to read more about the report’s conclusions on “teaching” children better reading and navigating skills so that they navigate and read in digital texts better.


BBC (2015) Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD, BBC, 15 September 2015.

OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing.

Class sizes and teacher effectiveness

I was reading about teacher effectiveness and how it’s the most crucial factor in achieving good student outcomes.

It was alleged that the most important thing in the mix — the mix being all the possible factors that contribute to student performance — are excellent teachers. The example was that of the Californian experiment when the State decided to implement a policy of class size reduction (CSR) as a quick and magic fix for poor quality student outcomes, especially in poorer areas (Imazeki, 2003)

To quickly fill all these new classes, less qualified, and less experienced teachers were hired. The overall effect was that the results were either bad or good. I can find several papers in the academic literature that say it was worse as teacher quality was the greater factor and only one paper from a think tank that said CSR was more important. (, 2012)

So. There you are. My initial reaction is that there is a pressure group out there denying academic study. But I have not had time to read them in depth. What I am really doing is parking this subject here with some sources to come back to later if and when required. I will have to go through this more thoroughly.

Smaller isn’t always better

I did find this pithy summary of the effect of class sizes. It certainly made me sit up when it said that class sizes of less than 10 “lacks energy”. This was my experience with small class numbers in Spain.

“Teachers know that, when it comes to class size, certain thresholds matter. A class with fewer than 10 students lacks energy, and is hardly worth teaching. Seminars — where each student has a chance to participate, share their ideas and thoughts with the rest of the class — work well with up to 15 or 20 students. Above 20 students, it becomes necessary to lecture, but it is still possible to have some group work, and get to know each student individually. With more than 40 students, it is impossible to do anything but lecture.

In lecture-style classes, student numbers are relatively unimportant. A class of 60 is little different from a class of 120. Large classes — 300, 400, 1000 students — can be impersonal, and students tend to sit in the back and whisper. But given a choice between being one of 300 students listening to an engaging and entertaining speaker, or one of 100 students listening to a dull and pedantic one, most students will pick the good talker every time.

This has been known for centuries. Maimonides formulated a rule almost a thousand years ago: when a class has 40 students, it is necessary to hire a second teacher. (Universities today use a similar rule, hiring teaching assistants for classes with much more than 40 students.)” (Woolley, 2011)

Sources (2012) In California, class size reduction led to significant improvements in student achievement, parental involvement, and teacher retention.

Imazeki, Jennifer (2003) Class-size Reduction and Teacher Quality: Evidence from California. IN School Finance and Teacher Quality: Exploring the Connections

Woolley, Frances (2011) University class sizes: Smaller isn’t always better  The Globe and Mail. 4 Nov 2011

“Learning with art invites us to imagine how we might see and think differently”

A quotation I saw in Tate Britain.

I like the quote upto a point.

My question: but why only “with art”. Surely a decent education, some critical thinking skills, and some analytical skills will also prove see and think differently.

Which leads me to why I find the quote annoying. There is a certain kind of arrogance here that “only” art can lead one to think “out of the box” or with imagination. Only art gives us a chance to synthesise and blend our ideas to come up with new perspectives.

It mistakes the subject for the process. It’s not art that frees our imagination. It’s us who free our imagination. And we have to learn to exposure ourselves to new experiences and new ideas, and the ability to reflect, analyse and abstract those ideas to come up with new solutions, new processes, and innovate.

Continuing professional development

Some comments of continuing professional development (CPD) from one perspective – how to learn, re-skill and survive and from the other view, what is redundant and not worth learning.

“I spend almost all my time (when not working with clients) on professional development. I read, I attend conferences, I learn new skills. This is the kind of professional development that companies simply no longer offer anymore to their regular employees. My company exists not just to service my clients, but to keep me current and employable.”

How to thrive in the tech industry for decades

How To Thrive In The Tech Industry For Decades

The true power of programming languages is in their libraries

A few snippets taken from this insider’s view of what it is to be a coder in the industry.

“The true measure of a language isn’t how it uses semicolons; it’s the standard library of each language. A language is software for making software. The standard library is a set of pre-made software that you can reuse and reapply.  Take Python, which is “batteries included,” meaning that it comes with tons of preexisting code, organized into “modules,” that you can reuse. Its standard library has functions that let you copy Web pages or replace words in a document.  I am made of code, and I have a standard library of functions of my own. Sliders and buttons and timers can get wired up to anything on the page, because the page and every object on it is code, too.”

“What does that mean, to process text? Well, you might have a string of text (The Quick Brown Fox) and save it in a variable called my_string. So now you can call standard methods on that string. You can say my_string.lower(), and it will make all the words lowercase, producing “the quick brown fox.”  Truly understanding a language’s standard library is one of the ways one becomes proficient in that language. Typically you just visit Web pages or read a book.  But the standard library is only the beginning. For many languages—and Python is exemplary—there’s an enormous library of prewritten modules available for nearly instantaneous download, using “package manager” software. A module (or library, or package) is code that is intended to extend a language’s capabilities.”

“A coder needs to be able to quickly examine and identify which giant, complex library is the one that’s the most recently and actively updated and the best match for his or her current needs. A coder needs to be a good listener.”

Paul Ford (2015) What is code? Bloomberg.


The goal of education

I came across this quotation from John W Gardener

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his own education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.”

It made immediate sense to me. I even wrote it down in my little book of quotations.

I would modify it slightly.

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to engender the habit of learning and seeking to understand throughout the rest of the life of the student.”

For my perspective that is a central factor to my career and life. I have learnt many new things since leaving College. Some of them entirely new to me, some of them building on previous knowledge.

I know that I do not understand somethings when first encountered; but I also know that if I apply myself and seek to learn I will understand and be able to master new things. This could be a new central heating system, a new way of laying out and formatting text and images on a web page, or how to complete a form to apply for a job.

Learning how to study, research, and analyse to gain knowledge and new skills is very important in life. School and college are one of the main inputs that push students from spoon fed children to self-aware, learning adults.

Reskilling or deskilling: the advance of the robotic digital age

There has been a recent spate of articles in the press predicting that rise of the robots will take over from humans. This is of course the stuff of science fiction, but there have been other voices that are more considered and perhaps more concerning. These predict that many skills and jobs will be taken by computerisation and robots.

“The upcoming digital age may cause more upheaval than previous technological revolutions as it is happening faster than before and is fundamentally changing the way we live and work. Technology in the 21st century is enabling the automation of tasks once thought quintessentially human: cognitive tasks involving subtle and non-routine judgment. Through big data, the digitisation of industries, the Internet of Things and industrial and autonomous robots, the world around us is changing rapidly as is the nature of work across occupations, industries and countries. Although we can’t predict exactly which jobs will be affected, we do have a reasonably good idea about the type of tasks computers will be able to perform in the near future. Based on this, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne predict that 47% of the US workforce is at high risk of automation as a result of these trends and low-income and low-skill jobs are now, for the first time, most likely to be automated.”

I would suggest that you check your own career or skill set against the predictions in this report – Technology at Work: The Future of Innovation and Employment. It could be a sobering thought! For example at the top of the list as least likely to be replaced by computerisation are Recreational Therapists. At the bottom of the extensive list are Telemarketers.

An earlier report attempted to predict which professions will no longer require humans and what new types of skills will be required I have summarised this in Table 1 at the end of this post.

The skills that cannot easily be replaced – the so called computerisation bottleneck – will be skills in three main areas:

  1. Perception and Dexterity
    For example, gardeners working in small parks or gardens will not easily be replaced, though in agriculture large machines for ploughing, planting and harvesting will replace most human labour.
  2. Creative Intelligence
    It is predicted that in the legal profession the legal secretary will be increasingly replaced by automated filing, searching, retrieving suites of software, though the actual lawyer will still be required.
  3. Social Intelligence
    Computers will be able to simulate social intelligence but the human customer will continue to prefer interaction with other humans, or at least it is hoped. So hair dressers will still exist.

We will see the proliferation of computing devices in the Internet of Things, so that all walks of life will be networked, communicated with and controlled. This is now starting with the “Nest Learning Thermostat!” for home central heating systems.

It is predicted that the skills that will be in demand are those who can build, control, and maintain computers. Which is why teaching Computer Science at schools should be a very important step in the development of an individual’s career path and also contribute to the competitiveness of the country that educated them.

TABLE I – O*NET variables that serve as indicators of bottlenecks to computerisation

Computerisation bottleneck

O*NET Variable

O*NET Description

Perception and Manipulation

Finger Dexterity

The ability to make precisely coordinated movements of the fingers of one or both hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble very small objects.

Manual Dexterity

The ability to quickly move your hand, your hand together with your arm, or your two hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble objects.

Cramped Work Space, Awkward Positions

How often does this job require working in cramped work spaces that requires getting into awkward positions?

Creative Intelligence


The ability to come up with unusual or clever ideas about a given topic or situation, or to develop creative ways to solve a problem.

Fine Arts

Knowledge of theory and techniques required to compose, produce, and perform works of music, dance, visual arts, drama, and sculpture.

Social Intelligence

Social Perceptiveness

Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.


Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.


Persuading others to change their minds or behavior.

Assisting and Caring for Others

Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.

Transferable skills

Transferable skills seem to divide opinion quite strongly. On the one hand we have some educationalists who like the idea of teaching transferable skills like “critical thinking”, “resilience” etc. And there are others who regard skills as being inextricably interwoven with the knowledge of the subject and the exercise of the skill to achieve something.

As an example think about the selection and evaluation of primary sources in history:

  • The transferable skills group will see this as a way of instilling a healthy scepticism about reading newspapers and other modern sources of information.
  • The knowledge and skills are scrambled group will merely regard it as a teaching children how to select and evaluate primary historical sources.

Who is right?

I am beginning to position myself with the “scrambled egg” theory of knowledge and skills. There seems to be a lot of evidence from cognitive science that this is actually how the brain works. Though I would acknowledge that some macro-skills like use of language, numeracy etc. do cross subject domains and are thus transferable.

What put me in mind of this debate is the following quote from a website from the Michaela Community School

“ICT is taught through the other subjects but does not have its own discrete lesson. For instance, spreadsheets are learned in Maths lessons and the basics of coding will complement the learning of algebra. Digital photo software is used in Art lessons and films can be made using complex technology in Drama and English lessons. Four state-of-the-art computer suites are being built. At GCSE, we plan to offer Computing GCSE (as private schools do, instead of ICT GCSE).”

Interesting. This seems to be a very strong statement that they think all of ICT / CS skills are transferable. And perhaps they are correct. I would agree that my Word Processing skills are not stuck in the subject domain of English. Though I do wonder how they will teach the appreciation of computers in society, operating systems, hardware and other rather singular subjects.

Food for thought.