Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Referendum 25th May #Repeal #Yes

Image source: The 8th Amendment.
So - the day has been set to hold a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution with the 36th Amendment. Back in 1983, when the 8th Amendment referendum was held, I was against it and voted "No". I even had the badge (much to my Mum's annoyance) to show it. I recall it was a very divisive referendum campaign which at times was reduced to whether you were a baby killer or not. It was put into the Constitution by narrow-minded (but well-meaning) people who expected it to be a guarantee forever that abortion would not be introduced into Ireland. Who knew then that it would only take 35 years to reverse it (as I fully expect the electorate to do so).

In September 1983 I was just 23 years old, and was a student in Trinity at the time. I felt it was cool to wear a badge (I had an anti-nuke one too). I have always been pro-choice, but I definitely had no understanding of the implications of the amendment at the time - nobody predicted events like the X case or the multiple referendums as a consequence since. I suppose nobody would have predicted at either that religion would become a minor, rather than major part of our lives. I certainly hope that this is the last time I will be asked to vote on abortion.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Learning from the Revolution

Cuba’s revolution in 1959 (the year I was born) brought about a republic and a society unlike many others. Free health care and education for all is to be found side-by-side with ration books and 60 year old cars. Every Cuban person we have met is very friendly, though many are very poor. The Museum of the Revolution is a lesson in how modern Cuba was created. Cubans are proud of the Castro brothers and their comrade Che Guevara. Much of the threats to Cuba in the early days were from the USA whose CIA caused crop failures and diseases. The quality of some of the exhibits is poor, but there are English translations on everything. Nothing is hidden, the Bay of Pigs disaster, the Missile Crisis, and Cuba’s costly (2,000 dead) intervention in Angola get ample space. Outside are some of the military equipment of the Revolution, and of course the Granma - the yacht used by Fidel in the 1950s to begin the war against the Batista regime. By the end of the Museum I was almost a committed socialist rebel - almost!

Some photos of the day:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

First day in Havana

Today was my first time in Havana and what a great experience it is. They say it is a step back in time and I guess this is partly right. The cars! The cars! The cars! We had a tour planned for the morning and the first part was in a open top 1948 American classic with a noisy Russian Volga engine. It rattled around the streets of Havana and we loved every minute of it. Our destination was Revolution Square a big wide expanse with a monument to Jose Marti, a pre-revolution Cuban hero. Our guide brought us around on foot through several squares and lots of narrow streets. I brought cigars in a government run shop that sold just rum and cigars. I’ll get rum another day.

News of snow at home has reached us, but it is 29C here - I went to a pool for the afternoon for some beer and the Irish Times crossword. WiFi is very limited (as are many things in Cuba) - only available in the hotel lobby. There are two worlds here - one populated by the Cuban people, and the other by tourists. Amidst the run down buildings there are beautiful hotels - it is easy to feel wealthy and privleged here. A few photos from the day taken with my Windows phone...

Friday, March 16, 2018

Baby Boomers and their Technology

A recent study of older Americans by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) showed "that over 90% of adults over 50 own a computer or laptop, 70% have a smartphone, and over 40% own a tablet". In an article: Getting Connected: Older Americans Embrace Technology to Enhance Their Lives by G. Oscar Anderson, we are told that "older adults are using a variety of devices to stay informed, shop and connect with others" - the data are nicely summarized by Statista below:
Infographic: Baby Boomers Embrace Technology | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

There are no real surprises in this, other than wondering what type of phones are the 22% of 50-59 year olds that don't have a smartphone are using. The Baby Boomer generation people (like me) born between 1945 and 1960, are now reaching retirement age. We grew up without WiFi, smartphones, computers, and Facebook. I guess like many Boomers, I wonder what our lives would have been like had we had the technology of today to grow up with. Many of us will feel that we will have missed out on the technology that the digital natives of today take for granted. 

Baby Boomers are not old (yet), and we love our technology. Our lives are different, and possibly better, because of technology. I think the above chart will look a lot different in another 10 years - there will definitely be more wearable technology as more and more devices for health services will be necessary for older people. Home Assistants will also be become as ubiquitous as the smartphone, with lots of services like health checks and security being standard on such assistants. 

Embracing technology? Bring it on!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Teaching as a Career?

Image source: Clipartion.
It is reported by Kevin Doyle in the Irish Independent today: "Almost 400 new college spots created amid demand for teaching courses". This is an announcement to encourage more students to enrol in primary and second level teaching courses - particularly for STEM subjects. This is partly to address "severe shortages of teachers in some subjects", but also in response to the "number of students starting secondary schools is increasing". Good planning I think you'll agree, though the extra places will bring the "number of places to more than 1,000" - I hope this is enough!

Why does anyone want to be a teacher? For those intending to go into primary level, they mostly have to make the choice as an 18 year old in sixth class in school. For second level, you have to get a degree first and then go into teacher training. For third level, there is no training - but it will take at least 6 to 7 years to get a PhD before you can become a lecturer. In the past I have heard people say that teaching was a "vocation" - I don't know anybody who believes this. Some people will have always wanted to be a teacher, while others (like me) will end up doing it in a roundabout route. Like every profession - you have to want to do it.

My advice to students thinking of a career in education is that it is well worth the effort. The personal rewards are great - though you won't get rich. When you see a student graduating and you can say to yourself "I had a part to play in this" - there is a great deal of satisfaction. All of the time - you are helping others, at times you need to have a lot patience and passion to succeed. Yes - there are frustrations (mostly to do with administration work and student behaviour), but you will develop your own strategies for how you will best deal with any frustration. The positives greatly out way the negatives. I would also advise students not to go into teaching straight away after leaving school or college. Get out into the world so that you can share these real-life experiences later with your students. If you want to be a French teacher, go to live and work in France, West Africa, or Canada. If you want to be a science teacher, why not try to work in industry first? If you want to be a history or geography teacher - travel and experience the rich culture of other countries. All this need not cost a huge amount, but I think it preferable to going into teacher training first.

Teaching is a wonderful career - but is not for everyone. One of the most common reasons to become a teacher is to make a difference in the lives of as many students as you can - so says Michelle Manno in a teaching blog post: "Reasons for Becoming a Teacher". She also tells us that as a teacher "you are more than just an educator: you are a mentor, a confidant and a friend". Teaching is truly a means to Change Lives Through Education.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Is Third-Level Education worth it? Maybe not - says David McWilliams

Albert Einstein (c1947).
Image source: US Library of Congress.
It won't come as any surprise to readers of this blog that I would not be in full agreement with David McWilliams who wrote in Saturday's Irish Times that "Third-level education is yesterday’s idea". This "idea" is perhaps surprising coming from an Adjunct Professor in Trinity College, the article seems to be a bit of rant against "credentialism"  (and having to go to the bother of filling out CAO forms in his family). McWilliams does not propose abolishing Third-level education or anything like that. The gist of his article is that the "value of stock of knowledge is falling because anyone can access it online", and that "it matters less whether an institution blesses you or not". Perhaps McWilliams is simply following the advice of the great Albert Einstein: "Never memorize something that you can look up"?

I think McWilliams here is a little bit guilty of regducing third-level education to simply being an exercise in garnering a blessing from a university or college in the guise of a credential on a piece of parchment. Of course we all (including McWilliams) know that it is much more than that. But he may have some argument in questioning the need for credentials in the modern world. Technology it seems is making this "yesterday's idea".

Technology has changed everything - or has it? Was it not always thus? Josiah F. Bumstead, writing in the book "The Black Board in the Primary School: A Manual for Teachers" in 1841 recalls asking a Clergyman on a school committee if the school had a blackboard. "No" replied the clergyman, "it is of no use to get them. If we had blackboards, we have no teachers to use them to advantage". Bumstead was of course astonished at this (so he wrote the book) - 175 years later we should be equally astonished if our teachers and students could not use technology to advantage. What will the David McWilliams' of this world be writing about in another 175 years?

In the same newspaper, Irene Falvey writes that her "arts degree has served me very well". Her degree was part of her path to lots of reading, travel, working broad, and getting a job related to her degree. Now that's more like it!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

"unfair"? Making up for lost class time

Image source: RSVPlive
This morning it is reported in the Irish Independent that the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) have said that it would be "very unfair" to shorten Easter holidays to make up for days lost due to bad weather. This might sound like a little bit of moaning to those in the private sector, but the statement comes just two weeks before the Easter holidays, and no doubt teachers as well as students and their parents will have plans in place for the two week break. I myself am taking a break during my own College's two week hiatus in Semester II as our reading week is followed immediately by an Easter break week. I agree it would be "very unfair" to ask me to make up for lost classes (I lost two days of classes) by rescheduling missed classes during the reading week and break (and thus forcing me to cancel an already paid for holiday). The snow and storm Emma was no one's fault, and due to the closeness of the Easter break we cannot blame the INTO for its stance. For once I am in agreement with a teaching union.

It's easy to forget that this country does not experience extreme weather events very often and that we are not really prepared very well for them. Imagine if countries like Finland, Canada, and Russia came to a halt every time a few inches of snow fell? What we do need is a plan for when things like this happen - this is proper Risk Management. We can't stop the snow falling, but we can plan for what happens when days are lost like in the past week. While the risk of schools and colleges closing due to bad weather is quite small in this country - storms Ophelia and Emma have meant that at least four days have been lost this academic year. I will make up much lost time by shortening breaks and making my classes last as close to the hour as possible. If needs be, I will schedule an online or recorded class. But this is me micro-managing my own classes - others will do things differently. For State run schools where thousands of students, parents, and teachers are affected, it should not be beyond the might of the Department of Education to plan for making up lost time in all schools. For example, there could be increased class times for a short period, extra after hours or holiday time classes for exam students, use of technology to deliver on-line, and of course - pay teachers the extra that is needed to make this work. 

While there will be little appetite amongst many for using holiday time for extra classes for exam students, let's not forget that thousands of them will flock to grind schools this Easter paying a lot of money for extra classes. My view is that it is the Dept of Education that should at least be controlling this, if not providing the extra classes via the school system itself. The Dept does provide "advice" and "options" - but nothing concrete. leaving it to schools themselves to figure out.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Irish 101 complete!

FutureLearn, part of DCU, are in the process of creating basic Irish language courses aimed at people from other countries who want to learn a bit about Ireland as well as pick up the cúpla focal. Their first course: Irish 101: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture, is now finished. I took this course out of curiosity as well as a personal journey to re-visit the Irish language. I even managed to complete it! I am now enrolled in Irish 102: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture which starts on 26th March next. Both are short courses with a suggested four hours a week study.

The experience of learning Irish again was a mixed one for me. I'm not proud of the fact that I cannot hold even a modest conversation in Irish. From 1964 to 1977, I probably had Irish classes every school day. I even attended 6th class in an all Irish school in Trabolgan (Co Cork) from September 1971 to May 1972. I wasn't particularly good at speaking Irish, but I was awarded a Fáinne Nua at the end of this school year (I think every student got one!). I scored a D in honours Irish in the Intermediate (Junior) Certificate exam, while I got a C in ordinary level Irish in the Leaving Certificate. Since 1977 I have almost never had the need to have a conversation in Irish. Despite this, I was surprised at how familiar the Irish covered in the first course was to me. It has to be said that there was a lot of Dia dhiut and  Is maith liom in it - basic stuff. Quite a bit of grammar was covered (which I had totally forgotten), which was a bit boring. There was a good mix of animation, video, text, and quizzes - well done to the Future Learn e-Learning team for developing content that holds student interest well.

I'm looking forward to Irish 102 where among the topics we will be learning how to discuss the weather, and tell the time in Irish. Anyone interested in taking the course can enrol hereBígí linn – join us!