Scaling the Varsity Heights

Varsity Heights

This road sign, part of my daily jogging route, catches my eye every time I run past.

You have to wonder about the subliminal message it conveys – is tertiary education a dead-end street, or is a life in academia so fascinating and satisfying that you would never want to leave? In the case of New Zealand, tertiary education is clearly not considered a dead-end street – according to the publication ‘Profile and Trends 2011: New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Sector’, more than 450 000 students were enrolled in formal study programmes in 2011. The number of young people taking on higher-level tertiary qualifications is also increasing, as is the number of international students enrolling in tertiary education in New Zealand.

Given that the current population of New Zealand is just under 4.5 million, the above numbers suggest that about 10% of the population is currently enrolled in tertiary studies. That’s a pretty impressive statistic. Not surprisingly, then, that most ranking systems place the country in the top ten in the world in terms of educational performance, along with other high-performing countries like Finland, Denmark, Australia, Cuba, Korea, Japan, China, Singapore and Canada.

Varsity Heights, indeed. And surely no dead-end street!

ICTs and improving road safety

It’s 17 May 2013, and today we celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). The purpose of the day, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) website, is “to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.”

The date of 17 May was chosen because it marks the date of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865, and the creation of the ITU. Initially the day was only known as World Telecommunications Day (it was celebrated annually since 1969). In November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society called on the UN General Assembly to declare 17 May as World Information Society Day, “to focus on the importance of ICT and the wide range of issues related to the Information Society raised by WSIS.” In November 2006, at the ITU Conference in Turkey, it was decided to combine the above two events into a single World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Every year, WTISD promotes a specific theme, an area where telecommunications and ICT has a significant impact, or potential for significant impact, on society. For 2013, the theme is “ICTs and improving road safety.”

According to a report by the UN’s Road Safety Collaboration, 1.3 million people die annually in traffic-related accidents, with another 20-50 million injured. Considering the medical costs involved, as well as costs of work-loss etc, traffic accidents clearly have a huge impact on economies globally.

The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive. (© All Rights Reserved)
The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The impact of ICT and telecommunications on road safety can be viewed from two sides. On the positive side, improved connectivity has a positive impact in terms of placing road users in contact with emergency services and road side assistance. Ever-increasing accessibility of maps and navigation services through smartphones etc can also improve safety on the road. Increasingly sophisticated traffic management systems have the potential to positively impact on traffic safety, and at the high end of technology, intelligent driver assist systems is another domain where ICT in particular has a huge potential role to play.

On the downside, however, driver distraction and road-user behaviour, including texting and interfacing with navigation and other communications systems while driving, count among the leading contributors to traffic-related accidents. And it is not only distracted drivers that cause problems – texting pedestrians represent an equally big risk, putting themselves and other road users in danger. The challenge in addressing these dangers is, of course, more educational than technical – it is all about educating all road users about the dangers of being distracted by personal communication systems while using the road.

So while today is a day to celebrate the amazing technological contribution ICT has made to improved road safety, it is also a day to remind ourselves of the terrible tragedies that have followed from the injudicious and inconsiderate use of mobile phones, GPS systems, etc while engaged in road usage.

Be safe, everyone.

Promoting cultural identity on International Mother Language Day

It’s 21 February, International Mother Language Day – the day language diversity and variety is celebrated worldwide.

Mother language education helps a child appreciate his or her culture and heritage. This, in turn, contributes to a healthy and positive self esteem.(© All Rights Reserved)
Mother language education helps a child appreciate his or her culture and heritage. This, in turn, contributes to a healthy and positive self esteem.
(© All Rights Reserved)

We live in an age where people live increasingly mobile lives, moving around the globe, and calling multiple countries home at different times. Mother Language Day is an opportunity to encourage people around the globe not to lose their mother language knowledge. By retaining mother language competence, even those people who have emigrated to a new country can contribute to the continued survival of their language of birth.

Even as the world’s population becomes more mobile, mother language will always retain a special position in each individual’s life. It remains the language of his thoughts, the language of his dreams. To quote Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Maria Montessori and the promotion of education through discovery

On this day in 1907, Maria Montessori opened her first school in Rome, called the Casa dei Bambini, or ‘Children’s House’. Based on an educational system promoting and emphasising independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development, the Montessori approach has been adopted widely over the past century. It is currently practiced in approximately 20 thousand schools worldwide.

While the Montessori principles have been applied for children from birth to the age of 18, the most popular age group for this approach is the 3-6 year old category. This age, when children are at their most naturally inquisitive, and the world is one great place of wonder, learning and exploration, is particularly suited to the Montessori philosophy. Learning is not differentiated from playing, as this is an age where we very much learn through play.

Learning and playing - all part of the voyage of discovery according to Maria Montessori.(© All Rights Reserved)
Learning and playing – all part of the voyage of discovery according to Maria Montessori.
(© All Rights Reserved)

According to the American Montessori Society (AMS), the teaching approach holds numerous benefits. Quoting the AMS website, “Given the freedom and support to question, to probe deeply, and to make connections, Montessori students become confident, enthusiastic, self-directed learners. They are able to think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly—a skill set for the 21st century.”

Thinking about it, I wish more people retained this probing, enthusiastic and inquisitive mindset further into their adult lives, instead of becoming closed-minded and stuck in their ways as soon as they enter adult life.

Maria Montessori firmly believed that responsible education was the basis for peace, saying “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education” (1963). For her contribution to education and peaceful development, she has received no less than 6 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.