Tuesday, September 14, 2010

5 links to follow, and why


1.  M Rajshekhar on Food Security
When we consider policies meant to insure 'food security' for all people, we find the problems are enormously complex.  But it's something we all need to think more about. Chhattisgarh’s 'right to food' programme. Rajshekhar covers interesting ground, and his piece raises important questions...How does Chhattisghar's flagship food programme affect different kinds of farmers and farm labourers? How does it impact the economy in general? Is it making food crops more or less diverse?  Are these effects given, or could they be modified under a modified food distribution regime?  This is good reporting; read it and pass it on.

2. and 3.  A personal narrative and a photo essay on children at Commonwealth Games construction sites.
When I read 'Footpath,' Mridula Koshy's short narrative about her walk through the CWG construction zone on Khel Gaon Marg, I immediately thought of 'Bricks for Bread and Milk,'  a photo essay, which ran in Foreign Policy earlier this year. When I went back to look at that essay last week, I was surprised by something I hadn't noticed before: many of the people leaving comments couldn't believe the photos or tried to minimize their impact.  One said, "These pictures cannot be from India. They must be from Pakistan, or Bangladesh or from some other downtrodden place...." Another compared the children of CWG workers, who spend their days at construction sites, to the children of reporters, who spend the occasional Saturday in the newsroom with one parent when the other can't mind them. 'I'm a journalist, and I have seen many of my colleagues bring their kids to the office on a Saturday just like that.' Just like that--except of course that the children of his colleagues don't get struck down by trucks hauling construction material as they play in the newsroom. Whether or not you've seen the kids on Khel Gaon, you won't think of them in the same way once you've read Koshy's piece and looked at the FP photo essay

4. Frontline on Unilever's poisonous factory in Tamil Nadu
With the flu and dengue going around, thermometers are getting a lot of use.  'Poisoned Ground'--the cover story in the current issue of Frontline about the continuing problems caused by an old Hindustan Unilever thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu--reminds us that even good things like thermometers often come with a price.  Back in 2003, Unilever had to admit it had a problem and went so far as to ship tonnes of mercury contaminated soil back to the US.  But Unlilever seems to be having a hard time accepting their responsibility for the contamination and health problems that remain.  I know Frontline has a reputation for being boring.  I prefer the word 'thorough,' though I can't say I read it cover-to-cover.  But this article--and the102 footnotes that accompany it-- remind us why it's good Frontline is still around.  Let's hope the mainstream press gives this issue the attention it deserves.

5. What research says about how--and how not to--study.
 It's exam time in many Delhi schools, so this article, which ran in The Hindu, but was originally published here in the New York Times, is timely. It's gotten a lot of attention for a lot of different reasons.  Students, if you read it, you may actually take away a few useful study tips.  Did you know that you will learn better if you study the material in more than one location than you will if you study only in one location? And teachers, this article is a reminder to give mixed practice:
Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.
In other words, endless word problems (or just sums) that only use subtraction is not good practice--and there's research cited that proves this.  Far better to give less work and mix it up.  And last minute mugging (something I'm seeing a lot of this week in my own home) may work--but not for long:
Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out...“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.” 
The problem, of course, is that our whole system is built on cramming for high-stakes tests.  Testing itself is not bad--and this article makes that clear.  But it's much better to ask students to demonstrate deep understanding of a smaller amount of content than it is to ask them to study a huge amount of content in a shallow manner.  Parents, teachers, and older students would do well to read and consider this article.

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