This school in Norway abandoned teaching subjects 40 years ago

Finland has announced that in their new national curriculum, they will emphasize phenomena-based project studies instead of traditional subjects.

The Ringstabekk school—with 425 students aged 13 to 16 years just outside Norway’s capital, Oslo—has been doing this for 40 years with great success. It all started in the 1970s when the teachers realized that their students were not truly engaged in what they learned at school. These educators were inspired by the Danish pedagogue Knud Illeris and his ideas of cross-curricular project work, and in the 1980s, the fundamental concept and organization of the school was revamped. Although the pedagogy of the school has been developing ever since, the basic idea of learning through multidisciplinary studies has endured.

The lower secondary school is organized in a way that supports this multidisciplinary learning. When teachers are hired at this school, they know very well that they will have to cooperate with other teachers—and not just the ones who teach the same subjects as themselves. They will have to work in multidisciplinary teacher-teams.

Each teacher-team, consisting of 4-6 teachers, is responsible for the education and growth of 60-75 students. The teachers together craft the students’ schedules from week to week, and make their own plans based on the national curriculum and the expectations of the school leaders. The school uses different cross-curricular methods, and is constantly refining methods like storyline, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, simulations, etc. The teachers pick up ideas from each other and share their experiences ensuring that although the school does not have a local specified curriculum, all students experience the same learning methods and multidisciplinary themes.

Students in the 8th grade, at age 13, will often study earthquakes, volcanos, and other forces of the earth—topics usually taught in natural science and geography courses. Instead of working with this subject in fixed lessons, teachers have to come up with different storylines that incorporate several different subjects. In one of the storylines, the students pretend that they are going to climb Mount Everest. In preparation, they have to study maps, weather, and climate. As the story moves forward, they are assigned different tasks from the teachers—such as suggesting the best route to the top of Mount Everest, making a list of the equipment they need, calculating the time they will use, making a budget, and applying for funding in English, which is a foreign language to these students. As they solve these tasks, the students have to find a lot of information and discuss their findings within the group.

The students at the Ringstabekk school work in small groups most of the time. This is based on the theory that most of our learning happens when we think, talk, and solve tasks together instead of on our own—and the idea of “learning by doing,” theories developed by the late Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky and the late American philosopher and psychologist John Dewey.

Another cross-curricular theme, often executed in the 10th grade, focuses on the environment and sustainability. This is done in different ways by different teacher-teams. One way is to give each group of students a unique area of their local municipality and let them work as consultants. They produce a report and perhaps some models on how one should develop their specific part of the local community—with special focus on transportation, energy, waste, etc. If they are to produce models, they have to work with ratios and other mathematics, as well as design. They will need to investigate different kinds of energy and corresponding pollution outputs—which is part of the natural sciences—and produce and present their report both written and orally. The first year this project was run, the teachers cooperated with a local consultant company that was doing these kind of jobs. The consultants and engineers were impressed when the students, aged 15, were able to inform them of a new technology that they were not aware of.

During cross-curricular work, the students don’t have a fixed weekly plan—one that segregates English to one lesson, and science to another. They stay in school for at least the specified number of lessons given in the national curriculum, and they work on their task through the weeks, receiving guidance and instruction from their teachers.

The Ringstabekk school has to follow the national curriculum and national assessment-systems, so every student still gets individual grades for each traditional subject. They also complete the same national tests and exams as all other students in Norway. On these tests, they are performing on the top national level, indicating that multidisciplinary learning gives students the knowledge and skills they need. Not only that, but it also motivates students to learn for the sake of learning. Students become very engaged in what they do at school—sometimes they don’t want breaks, because they are eager to continue the work they have started.

Most parents are very satisfied with the school—they realize that it actually is preparing their kids for a future working-life, helping them develop necessary competencies both when it comes to skills and knowledge and also when it comes to personal growth. The head teacher at the school puts it this way: ”We are not just developing calculators, we are developing human beings.” More

 

Economic Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew: Lessons for Aspiring Countries

Developing countries have much to learn from Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore who transformed the republic from a third world economy to one of the most advanced countries in one generation.

Lee Kuan Yew

The lessons for countries aspiring to learn from the Singapore development model are clear – strengthen institutions and improve governance.

But this is much easier said than done. To begin with aspiring countries need to improve the rule of law so that no one is above the law of the land. Equally crucial, they need to reduce corruption as corruption is regressive – small and medium-sized firms pay higher amounts in bribes than large firms.

Thirdly, they need to reform public institutions such as the civil service, bureaucracy, and public administration. Fourthly, they also need to improve the environment affecting the private sector through regulatory reforms, reforms of labour markets, and provision of clearly-defined property rights.

The dilemma is that such reforms generate benefits only in the longer term, making them hard for policymakers and politicians with a shorter time horizon to set as priorities. Yet without them, other policy measures to support sustained economic growth will become less effective and ultimately unravel.

Importance of good governance

Strong institutions and good governance – the economic legacy of Lee Kuan Yew for aspiring countries

The Singapore model of good governance is well-recognised. Development theorists of the past were of the view that economic development could be explained solely by factors like the availability of natural resources, high levels of saving and investment, and openness to foreign trade and investment.

More recently, the Growth Report published in 2008 by the Commission on Growth and Development headed by Nobel laureate Michael Spence has found that an additional factor has also to be good governance, based on mainly Singapore’s development experience under Lee.

As Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who participated in the Commission, puts it, for a delicious dish “besides having the right ingredients and the right recipe, you must have a master chef”.

Economic development does not just happen. It must be consciously chosen as an overarching goal by the government.

Good governance means a government that delivers political and economic stability, implements the correct macroeconomic policies, articulates a vision for the country and implements it.

This requires a capable, committed, and credible government, governments that people can trust in, and leaders who are above the board. An abundance of natural resources is neither necessary nor sufficient for a country’s economic development. What is required is good governance.

A case of good governance is Lee’s choice of the Singapore development model in the 1960s and beyond.

The Singapore Development Model

After the separation from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore was similar to a typical developing country of today. GNP per capita was about US$300, unemployment rates were high, and racial disharmony was rife. The announcement by the British in 1968 that they would withdraw their forces from Singapore was also expected to aggravate the unemployment situation further. How should jobs be created?

As the prime minister of a small country, Lee was always thinking big and making bold decisions in the interest of the country. Mr Lee adopted a development model based on export of labour-intensive manufactured goods to world markets. Lee invited multinational companies from all over to invest heavily in Singapore. Produce in Singapore and sell to the world, he told them.

To provide an attractive investment environment, the government built the appropriate infrastructure, cut tariffs and quotas, offered tax incentives, and implemented appropriate macroeconomic policies. The Economics Development Board (EDB) Singapore was established in 1961 to provide a business friendly environment to foreign investors and to convince them that Singapore was a good place to invest.

The National Wages Council (NWC) was also established in 1972 to make sure that the benefits of foreign investment were shared and also to accelerate Singapore’s move up the development ladder. Mr Lee also met foreign investors regularly and listened to them and their grievances.

Although pragmatic, Lee’s choice of an export-oriented development model driven mainly by foreign investment was a risky strategy at the time. This is because in the 1960s and 1970s, foreign investment was not welcome in the developing world.

The dependency theorists, in particular, argued that foreign investors from developed countries typically exploit cheap labour and extract natural resources of the developing countries. It is only after the success of the Singapore development model that export-oriented development strategies driven by foreign investment has been popularly adopted all over the world.

‘It’s not how you start but how you arrive’

In the 1980s and the 1990s the type of investment Singapore sought to attract shifted gradually from labour-intensive industries (eg, garments, textiles, and wigs) towards more high-tech and knowledge-based industries (eg, chips, wafer fabs, and disk drives).

Lee noted that, since the unemployment problem had been overcome, the new challenge was “how to improve the quality of the new investments and with it the education and skill levels of our workers”.

Lee’s attempt to make Singapore the Asian financial centre and global business hub is also bold. Unable to compete with Hong Kong then, Lee tried especially hard to convince foreign bankers and international financial institutions to come to Singapore by establishing integrity, efficiency, the rule of law, reliability, and stability.

In his words, “[the] history of our financial centre is the story of how we built up credibility as a place of integrity, and developed the officers with the knowledge and skills to regulate and supervise the banks, security houses and other financial institutions….”

Overall, Mr Lee’s development strategy which focused on strengthening institutions and improving governance was successful. Other developing countries will, however, face difficulties in adopting this strategy.

A case in point is South Asia. Countries in this region had begun their reform programmes in the early 1990s by focusing on macroeconomic areas – monetary and fiscal reforms, and industrial deregulation – which had contributed to a more rapid economic growth.

These reforms, however, eventually ran out of steam – because of red tape, endemic corruption, and lack of rule of law – and have contributed to the recent economic slowdown. Lee’s model followed his dictum, which he shared with the King of Bhutan: “It’s not how you start the journey that counts, but how you arrive.” More

 

We’re not as small as we like to think

The dilemma facing the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, is that they are not as small as they like to make out — based on comparisons with the population, land area and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of other countries. Neither are they as deprived of resources, if they measure their land and their marine space.

For example, the land area of The Bahamas is 5,383 square miles but its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is 242,970 square miles. St Kitts and Nevis is only 100 square miles, but its EEZ is 7,900 square miles. The importance of this is that the sea is a vital resource. Some three billion people live in coastal areas and 90 per cent of all international trade is transported by sea. Fish and fish products are an important sector of global trade. In 2013, total world exports of fish and fishery products were estimated to reach US$136 billion.

Oceans and seas are essential resources to be utilised for a more sustainable future for all countries. This is particularly true in the case of SIDS. Marine fisheries are particularly important in SIDS for income generation, earning of foreign exchange and employment, particularly in coastal communities. In 2012, SIDS exports of fish products were valued at US$1.75 billion and represented approximately seven per cent of their total exports and 1.7 per cent of their total GDP. In some SIDS, fish contributes 90 per cent of animal protein consumed by their populations.

In the Caribbean, most of the population lives on the coast where economic activity and infrastructure is concentrated. The most important industry, the tourism industry, is also on the coast. The sea is an indispensable means of transportation and, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, nearly 24 million cruise ship passengers pass through the Caribbean Sea.

The Caribbean is not, however, making the most of the potential of the sea. First, it is not fully utilising the potential for fishing; and secondly it is not making a vigorous attempt to exploit the possibility of oil and natural gas in the coastal waters.

Just as unfortunate as underutilising the sea is the inadequate provision for protecting the quality of the Caribbean Sea. The value of the Caribbean Sea will not long be attractive if our governments do not immediate intensify their national and regional programmes to protect it. Human and financial resources must be directed to (1) developing a blue economy approach to economic development based on sustainable marine resource management; (2) establishing an integrated approach to ocean governance and regulation; (3) applying marine spatial planning; (4) increasing research and knowledge of the Caribbean Sea; (5) taking measures to ameliorate the impact of climate change and (6) improving institutional and human capacity to act.

If these measures are implemented, the SIDS of the Caribbean will be able to utilise the large potential of the vast area of the sea which fall within their EEZs. The benefits are more productivity from existing activities such as fishing and tourism, realising the potential for underwater resources which might include oil and natural gas, and developing entirely new industries, for example, various forms of aquaculture and blue biotechnology. More

 

 

The Human Cost of Secret U.S. Drone Strikes in Yemen

 

For more than a decade now, the United States has been using armed drones to secretly kill suspected terrorists in Yemen. The public knows very little about these attacks. Neither the U.S. nor the Yemeni government has systematically disclosed who was killed and why, or whether civilians were among those killed.

Now, working with the Open Society Justice Initiative, researchers from the Yemeni nongovernmental organization Mwatana Organization for Human Rights have spent two years visiting the sites where some of these attacks took place. Their findings are detailed in a new report, Death by Drone: Civilian Harm Caused by U.S. Targeted Killings in Yemen, which gives the world a look at the reality of a counterterrorism strategy that the Obama administration has hailed as a model program.

The findings raise serious concerns over the lawfulness of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. It also provides credible evidence that U.S. strikes continued to kill civilians even after President Obama said in a May 2013 speech that “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” This raises serious questions about the extent to which the United States is complying with its own policy guidelines.

As Yemen sinks further into instability, the report seeks to ensure that the civilian victims of these strikes are not forgotten to new and future crises. And as the United States implements a new drone export policy purporting to be part of a broader effort to shape international standards on drone use, the report warns of the dangers associated with promoting the U.S. model of drone use.

The report, which documents civilian harm caused by nine U.S. airstrikes between May 2012 and April 2014, describes the experiences of civilians directly affected by U.S. drone strikes, individuals whose voices are all too easily forgotten because they are poor and without political influence, and because the drone strikes were conducted in secret, in remote locations far away from the United States.

The report is based on 96 interviews with injured survivors and eyewitnesses of the attacks, relatives of individuals killed or injured in these attacks, local community leaders, doctors and hospital staff who were involved in the treatment of victims, and Yemeni government officials. Where available, Yemeni government statements, photographs and videos of the aftermath of the drone strikes, and medical records corroborated these accounts. An independent munitions expert provided additional analysis.

But, as our report explains, this research was conducted in a context of pervasive U.S. and Yemeni government secrecy concerning the airstrikes. There were also tense security situations in many of the regions where the strikes took place, as well as the fear of reprisals for speaking openly about the strikes.

The testimonies in this report describe desperately poor communities left to fend for themselves amid the devastation caused by U.S. drone strikes. Mothers and fathers who lost their children in drone strikes speak of inconsolable loss. They speak of their children’s bodies charred beyond recognition. Wives speak of losing their breadwinners, and of young children asking where their fathers have gone. The victims of these strikes say that these strikes will not make the United States or Yemen safer, and will only strengthen support for al-Qaeda.

The report also describes the terrorizing effects of U.S. drones on local populations. In many of the incidents documented, local residents had to live with drones continually flying overhead prior to the strikes and have lived in constant fear of another attack since. Some fled their villages for months after the strike, and lost their source of livelihood in the process. Survivors of the attacks continue to have nightmares of being killed in the next strike. Men go to their farms in fear. Children are afraid to go to school.

The civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen want justice. They want to know why they were targeted when they had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group. But none of the nine strikes documented in the report have been acknowledged by the U.S. government. Nor are the victims aware of investigations into civilian deaths and injuries caused by U.S. strikes. In most cases, civilians have not received adequate compensation.

In February 2013, then–White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan testified at his Senate confirmation hearing to become CIA director that the United States “need[s] to acknowledge … publicly” mistaken killings “in the interest of transparency.” More recently, the General Counsel for the Department of Defense publicly declared: “Transparency … strengthens our democracy and promotes accountability.”

It is time for the U.S. government to make good on these assurances. It should publicly disclose the May 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance relating to targeted killings as well as the numbers and identities of civilians killed or injured by U.S. airstrikes. It should also conduct effective investigations into unlawful killings and provide prompt and meaningful reparations for civilian harm caused by U.S. strikes. More

 

NATO: Guardian of peace or bellicose bully?

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on whether the West’s military alliance has reignited the Cold War.

“We are pretty close to a new Cold War because of Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine,” says former Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen who led the alliance from 2009 to 2014.

In this episode of Head to Head, Mehdi Hasan challenges Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister and former NATO chief, on the West’s military alliance’s role in Eastern Europe and the so-called War on Terror.

We examine his record since assuming office in 2001, his role in the European support for the Iraq War and ask whether his NATO policies since 2009 have backfired.

Is it the West, or Putin who calls the shots in Ukraine? Has NATO reignited the Cold War? Did it create a bigger problem in Libya? And did it botch its mission in Afghanistan?

Joining this discussion are:

• Richard Sakwa, Russia and European politics professor and author of Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, from the University of Kent

• Alexander Nekrassov, a political commentator and former adviser to the Kremlin

• Ian Bond, a former British diplomat and director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform

NATO: Guardian of peace or bellicose bully? with Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be broadcast on Al Jazeera English on April 17 at 2000GMT and will be repeated on April 18 at 1200GMT; April 19 at 0100GMT; and April 20 at 0600GMT.

Follow us on: https://www.facebook.com/AJHeadToHead and @AJheadtohead

 

 

 

WARNING: Handle With Care!

Our oceans are home to the discarded munitions of wars past!

In 1987, hundreds of dead dolphins washed up onto the shores of Virginia and New Jersey. Following an investigation, one marine-mammal expert stated that the dolphins showed wounds that resembled chemical burns. It is now believed that these dolphins were exposed to chemical weapons that had been discarded in the ocean. Since World War I, the oceans have been the dumping ground of enormous quantities of captured, damaged, and obsolete chemical, biological, conventional and radiological munitions.

In many cases, these munitions are resting quietly at the bottom of our oceans. However, in other places, these discarded munitions are causing a myriad of problems. There are risks to both humans and marine ecosystems. Let’s first take a look at the some of the potential risks to humans – explosive or chemically dangerous munitions washing up on beaches, munitions being disturbed/activated by fishing vessels, and the leakage of deadly chemicals into the water contaminating the water and the fish that digest these toxins. As the casings on some of these munitions erode and others detonate, poisonous materials are entering the food chain via plankton.

So, what is being done? In 2004, a Canadian by the name of Terrence Long founded a non-profit organization called the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions (IDUM). Today, the IDUM is an internationally recognized body where all stakeholders (diplomats, government departments including external affairs, environmental protection and fishery departments, industry, fishermen, salvage divers, oil and gas, militaries and others) can come together in an open and transparent forum to discuss underwater munitions, seek solutions, and promote international teamwork on their issues related to underwater munitions.

In many cases, these munitions are resting quietly at the bottom of our oceans. However, in other places, these discarded munitions are causing a myriad of problems. There are risks to both humans and marine ecosystems. Let’s first take a look at the some of the potential risks to humans – explosive or chemically dangerous munitions washing up on beaches, munitions being disturbed/activated by fishing vessels, and the leakage of deadly chemicals into the water contaminating the water and the fish that digest these toxins. As the casings on some of these munitions erode and others detonate, poisonous materials are entering the food chain via plankton.

So, what is being done? In 2004, a Canadian by the name of Terrence Long founded a non-profit organization called the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions (IDUM). Today, the IDUM is an internationally recognized body where all stakeholders (diplomats, government departments including external affairs, environmental protection and fishery departments, industry, fishermen, salvage divers, oil and gas, militaries and others) can come together in an open and transparent forum to discuss underwater munitions, seek solutions, and promote international teamwork on their issues related to underwater munitions.

In most cases, once an underwater munition has been removed, the problem is removed. That being said, the removal of these munitions can be incredibly dangerous and must be conducted by specialized teams trained in the handling of explosives and hazardous materials. In 2013, tourists visiting the Assateague Island National Seashore, a U.S. National Park on the Maryland coast discovered an unexploded ordnance on the beach. Fortunately they reported the find and the beach was closed while an Army bomb squad exploded the World War II-era munitions.

Between 1941 and 2003, the U.S. Navy occupied about 2/3rds of an Island in Puerto Rico called Vieques. The land was used both as a naval ammunition depot and for live training exercises. Operations included not only the storage and processing of supplies, but also the disposal of wastes and munitions of all types. As of 2004, the EPA had listed the presence of contaminants, such as mercury, lead, copper, magnesium, lithium, napalm, and depleted uranium, as well as unexploded ordnance and remnants of exploded ordnance.

As of 2014, the Navy has spent about $220 million since 2003, to investigate and clean contaminated lands on Vieques. For the remainder of Fiscal Year 2015 Congress appropriated $17 million for the cleanup of Vieques. While it is fantastic that there is forward momentum on the clean-up up this particular area, the effects are showing themselves in many very visible ways. The cancer rate in Vieques is 27% higher than mainland Puerto Rico and the infant mortality rate is much higher than other areas in Puerto Rico. These staggering numbers have turned Vieques into the poster child example of this issue. Unfortunately, the subject of underwater munitions isn’t sexy and doesn’t get the attention that is needs and deserves.

Things YOU can do to make a difference! Educate yourself on this issue, research where you live and locations you make be visiting, talk to others about this issue so more people know, write to your government representatives to let them know you care about this issue, and if possible, make a donation to organizations like the IDUM so they can advocate for all of us. Underwater munitions might be “out of sight” but they have the capacity to make a huge impact on your health and the health of our future generations. More

Thanks to the Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation (MOSF) for collaborating with IDUM and who wrote and posted this blog.

 

 

Saudi Arabia is ‘biggest funder of terrorists says Hillary

Saudi Arabia is the single biggest contributor to the funding of Islamic extremism and is unwilling to cut off the money supply, according to a leaked note from Hillary Clinton.

The US Secretary of State says in a secret memorandum that donors in the kingdom still “constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” and that “it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority”.

In a separate diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks last night, the militant group which carried out the Mumbai bombings in 2008, Lashkar-e-Toiba, is reported to have secured money in Saudi Arabia via one of its charity offshoots which raises money for schools.

Saudi Arabia is accused, along with Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, of failing to prevent some of its richest citizens financing the insurgency against Nato troops in Afghanistan. Fund-raisers from the Taliban regularly travel to UAE to take advantage of its weak borders and financial regulation to launder money.

However, it is Saudi Arabia that receives the harshest assessment. The country from which Osama bin Laden and most of the 9/11 terrorists originated, according to Mrs Clinton, “a critical financial support base for al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during the Haj and Ramadan”.

These pilgrimages, especially the Haj, are described as a “big problem” in another cable dated 29 May 2009. Detailing a briefing from the Saudi interior ministry to Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, it notes: “The Haj is still a major security loophole for the Saudis, since pilgrims often travel with large amounts of cash and the Saudis cannot refuse them entry into Saudi Arabia.”

It also quotes one of the officials admitting that the Haj is “a vacuum in our security”. The huge annual influx of Muslims from around the world offers a prime opportunity for militants and their donors to enter the kingdom to exchange funds, launder money through front companies and accept money from government-approved charities.

The memo underlines that the US supports the work of Islamic charities, but is frustrated that they are so easily exploited to fund terrorism.

“In 2002, the Saudi government promised to set up a charities committee that would address this issue, but has yet to do so,” Mrs Clinton's cable reads, before seeming to admit with disappointment that merely “obtaining Saudi acknowledgement of the scope of this problem and a commitment to take decisive action” has proved hard. More