because education-for-all matters

To motivate, inspire and work smartly

This month, I have been coming home later than usual due to extra hours spent helping my students prepare for their international tests (IELTS – International English Language Testing System, TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language, CAE – Cambridge Advanced English and BULATS- Business Language Testing Service). These tests are designed to assess the language ability of individuals to study or work in a country where English is the language of communication. Last year, world-wide, IELTS alone had over 2 million takers who wanted to study in universities in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and tertiary institutions in several European cities, such as Paris and Amsterdam.

My international test preparation students are highly motivated, and this is because they have a goal (i.e. to obtain the required grade for university admission). Their motivation shines in their attitudes and behaviours during our lessons and in the quality of their assignment.

I believe that motivation is a major key factor of success: the more you have it, the quicker you reach your target. My students are motivated by high grades and acceptance into higher education, which can lead to a successful career that has implications on their personal and social lives.

Not so long ago, I received a compliment from our Director of Studies with these statements: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” (You can replace ‘teacher’ with parent or boss).

PIAAC Results for Japan

This blog is about the OECD's PIAAC results, focusing on Japan: best in literacy and numeracy, but poorly applying them at work.

応用力におとる日本人 *** 「OECD国際成人力調査」






Literature & Arts or Maths & Science?

I bumped recently into an acquaintance, who with an obvious sigh of relief on her face, announced that her high school daughter is doing Literature. We’re in France, hence I would like to talk first about the secondary schooling in this country.

Secondary education in France consists of Collège (junior high, 11 - 14 years old; 4 years of schooling) and Lycée (senior high, 15 - 18 years old; 3 years of schooling). Like in most high schools in developed countries, the core subjects in Collège are Math, Science, History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Physical Education and languages. At the Lycée students prepare for the Baccalauréat (known as ‘le bac’) which opens the door to a tertiary education or the workforce.

The Lycée is divided into general (for university studies), technology (for short-term studies) and professional (vocational qualification). During the first year at Lycée (known as Seconde), students choose a stream (série): S – Scientific, ES – Economic and Social, and L – Literature. The S is mainly high level mathematics, physics-chemistry and biology-geology. The L is heavily focused on French language & literature, foreign languages & literature and philosophy. ES covers economics and social sciences.

Global education on First-Third World divide

Last week when I was tidying up our computer room, I noticed that our son’s Year 7 (5ème in France) History and Geography textbook was opened on pages with articles on health and education in Mali and Finland. There were statistics on income, life expectancy and literacy rate (i.e. 15-24 years old in Mali it’s 36% for men and 23% for women whereas in Finland it’s 100% for both groups).

I thought it was an opportunity to expand the subject, but why question on the reasons for such differences was met with resistance expressed in these phrases: "We’ve not learnt that yet," "It’s not included in our lesson" and "Our test won’t be on that."

Formal education (school) should not only be about learning by heart facts and figures and passing exams, but applications and making connections. Three billion people, which is almost half of the world’s population of 7 billion, live on less than 2 Euros (US $2.55)/day and many of them don’t have adequate education, shelter, safe water for drinking, and access to health and social services. Since most of us in developed (First World) countries don’t belong to this group, why should we bother, especially that we also have our own problems? It’s because we live in a globalised Earth and are both part of the problems and solutions.

In one of my previous articles, I discussed poverty in developing and Third World nations and their high birth rate due to the necessity to have children who can help provide and care for families (children are social and welfare insurances, especially during old age); historical and political experiences (e.g. colonisation, wars and conflicts, natural disasters, poor governance and corruption); and global realities (e.g. unfair trading, policies and practices in rich First World countries. Thus, there’s no need to repeat it here.

Innovation and Luxembourg, Suffering a Brain Drain!?

Ten years ago, when I started going to the Bibliothèque Nationale de Luxembourg (BNL - the National Library of Luxembourg), the “poverty” of the library (e.g., infrastructure, resources, services, etc.) of the world's richest (if not mistaken) country shocked me. The BNL was so underdeveloped, when compared to many public and private libraries in the USA. More surprisingly, many libraries I had visited in Brussels, Paris, and other cities were not so nice, either.

(Just note that some BNL librarians appear to be cold and distant at first. But, when they get to know you, they can be friendly, very helpful, and even sweet.)

Over the last ten years, the BNL has improved dramatically, and has become one of the best/favorite libraries I know in the region so far. Although I still miss some aspects of American libraries – for example, specialized librarians (e.g., law librarians) and more conducive, competitive, extremely intense, and intellectually stimulating atmospheres for studying, I am OK with the BNL. Hope that it keeps improving in coming years.

However, talent management in Luxembourg concerns me/us greatly.

It is obvious that Luxembourg has an advantage in attracting people because of competitive salaries, benefits, etc. But, it may not be so good at retaining their top talents in some sectors (though, of course, there are really talented people in Luxembourg, but some of friends have been disenchanted. They have moved to other companies and countries with better opportunities).

There seems to be something dysfunctional: something does not ignite, but undermine the passion of people.

Awards and Prizes

Last Thursday, I was invited to the Warwick University (UK) Academic Excellence Award Ceremony. It was much smaller than the similar occasion at Sorbonne University I attended in 2011, but it was just as awesome observing the cream of the crop received their certificate of recognition, listening to the quartet while socialising and drinking, and watching gifted and talented young people interact with each other and wondering what they will become. With a population of about 13, 000 undergraduate students, only 61 from the Faculties of Arts, Science and Social Sciences were publicly congratulated during this annual occasion (about 0.5%). The figure is even less in other educational institutions, and not all gifted students are awarded considering that there are about 2% of them. Is it unfair to give awards to just a few? Should we celebrate students’ excellent achievements?

Though we are accustomed to giving awards and prizes from elementary (e.g. honours) to tertiary education (e.g. scholarships), not all educators agree to this practice, and there’s a growing number of them who think this is a form of elitism. One argument is that this promotes individual success as opposed to group accomplishment or teamwork. They question the impact of this practice to those who don’t get awards even when they work hard?

Tailor-made curriculum to address students' insecurity and distress

Tuition, quality of education, choice of school/university and institutional policies (e.g. funding/resources, pedagogy – online & blended instruction) are some of the education issues often discussed in most European countries as the school year starts in September. The beginning of the school year can be exciting or worrying depending on where you live and your individual situation: In Greece, for example, some university students have dropped out of their studies due to lack of adequate finance. In Spain, families who never passed on used school bags and supplies to other siblings have done it this year. In Germany, however, parents enthusiastically file at the checkouts with trolleys filled with school paraphernalia and items to help their children have a good academic year.

Anywhere in the world, the education playing field is not level and students are not homogenous. About 2% of the student population are gifted and talented, about 5% of them are from high-income families; and there are bipolar, autistic, slightly impaired and emotionally fragile among them. With our globalised world, it’s fairly common to find more than one religion, culture and language in every classroom. With the divorce rate of 40-50% and advent of other kinds of family arrangement (single parents, same-sex couples, restructured families), children face different challenges at school. There are many happy families but there are also those whose routine includes: couples disputing on subjects that range from money to infidelity, children experiencing abuse and intolerance, etc. As well, due to the financial crises and current volatile economic condition, many parents have lost their jobs, others may have the same fate soon, while some have been forced to move to other places and transferred their children to a new school. These circumstances impact on the children’s behaviour and their capacity to learn and perform at school.

Modeling human well-being and societal progress

For those who already read our article "Towards International and Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration for the Measurements of Quality of Life" in Social Indicators Research and have become interested in modeling, you may want to watch Tony Buzan's video on Mind Mapping. It may give you an idea of modeling as I think that modeling and his mapping are closely connected.

And, the book Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist (Second Edition - link to Morgan-Kaufmann Publishers) by Allemang and Hendler is very nice, very progressive and pedagogic to learn about modeling.

Education and Exams: Hidden Costs and Real Gains

Tutoring, coaching, visit to the psychologist, stress, anxiousness, tiredness, library, revision and study are among the frequently used words we’ve been hearing from our European students and their parents. Grades 4 & 5 (CM 1 & 2) pupils in France took the compulsory national evaluation in French and Maths early this week. High school graduating candidates in many European countries, e.g. Luxembourg, have started their end of the year exams. Likewise, university students in most EU countries are currently inundated with tests, exams and deadlines for essays and assignments.

Last year in France, a father lost his job for aiding his son cheat in the final senior high school Baccalaureate (le Bac)* math exam. The former French Education Minister Luc Chatel wanted prison sentences for those who leaked Bac math exam questions when in fact it’s the education system and examination process that should be reformed. What will the newly elected socialist government do about this?

*Bac is equivalent to A Levels in the UK and High School Diploma in most countries. In France, subjects are graded up to 20: a score of 16 and above is Highest Honour (in French "mention trés bien"); 14 – 15.99 High Honour ("mention bien"); 12 – 13.99 Honour ("mention assez bien"); Below 10 is failure - students either retake the exam or reorient their career to non-academic fields.

Letter from Ogura Noboru Hanshi

I am happy to know that many readers have read the blog (in English, Czech, French, and Japanese) on Ogura Noboru sensei. So, I told Ogura sensei about that and asked him to write a new article. Within a week or so, he replied and enclosed four articles which he contributed to a local newspaper.





APL: politique injuste et non-équitable?

A cette période de l'année, nombreuses sont les familles, même avec un revenu stable, qui ont du mal à joindre les deux bouts: impôts, frais de scolarité, factures impayées (et Noël approche)...

Les revenus stagnent, le coût de la vie augmente. les familles coupent dans leurs dépenses et tentent de trouver des revenus supplémentaires. Nos étudiants économisent sur la nourriture, les vêtements et le logement, et cherchent l'aide/subvention gouvernementale.

Je ne comprends pas pourquoi, en France, les étudiants dans l'enseignement supérieur peuvent recevoir une aide pour le loyer (incluant des citoyens non-français), alors que les citoyens français qui étudient à l'étranger n'y ont pas droit. Il est injuste que tous les étudiants français dont les parents vivent et paient les impôts en France ne soient pas à égalité.

Inequities in Government assistance to tertiary students

It's this time of the year when many people, even those with stable income, have difficulty making ends meet: taxes, school fees, mortgage and unpaid bills (as well, Christmas is coming). Because of these, in addition to stagnant income and rising cost of living, families try to cut their expenses and find extra revenue. Our students economise on food, clothes and accommodation, and seek Government assistance/subsidy.

Did you know that tertiary students in France (including non-French citizens) from low-income families are eligible for rent assistance; whereas, French citizens who study abroad regardless of their financial situation cannot avail of this needed help? Don't you find it unjust that French students whose parents live and pay taxes in France don't get the same benefit as other citizens? Are all overseas students in France receiving Government/taxpayers' assistance really from poor households? (They are not all meritorious scholars from developing nations).


My older friend told me an episode of her daughter (probably, it often happened in the late 1970s - early 80s in the USA). When her daughter was called "Chinese" in town, she yelled back each time saying "No, I am Japanese." As a child, she defended her identity. Now she works as an international lawyer supervisor in The Hague.

I still have similar experiences in Europe now (far more frequently than in the 20th century USA). Sometimes we need to fight to defend ourselves, and often it is not even worth dealing with these "péquenauds"(*) people! They even do not know that the odor of something (e.g., Japanese incense, French cheese) can be a very pleasant smell in one culture, and a horrible smell in another.

In my view, powerless people try to depreciate and lower others – believing in their own superiority without any doubt whatsoever – by misunderstanding/mixing up things, criticizing without serious scrutiny, making fun of them, speaking ill of them, making loud noises, being arrogant and rude, allying with other péquenauds, not acknowledging their wrongdoings, etc. These may come from their immaturity, inexperience, and parochialism. Indeed, these people can be very malicious and belligerent, but not so harmful, and they can be extremely gentle for those who are deemed superior. Self-confident people do not need to resort to such empty gestures.

Though, it seems to be difficult to open the blind eyes of these péquenauds who believe that they have seen the world!

Happy Halloween!


(*) a person considered to be provincial, with old-fashioned unfair ideas, beliefs, and attitudes.

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