Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Planet of the Humans

tonight, I watched the controversial "Planet of the Humans".

I loved it!

It's a film with a clear message: let's stop the bullsh...... about green-washing and biodiesel and hydrogen cars and electric cars that run on electricity which comes from 60% non renewable energy.

Let's be frank to our kids and to our students: we messed it up and we keep messing it up; but this time we are using fanciful terminology like "sustainable palm oil", "minimum carbon impact" etc etc

We consume endlessly, we are using lots of energy and the recycling technology is still infant.

Just one example : have you thought what is happening to your old mobile phone when you get rid if it? where does it end? what percentage can it be recycled? and what about the rest, the non-recyclable parts? where do they end?

Few questions with easy answers...answers easily found on the internet, in the lock-down days we are living.

p.s. the film prompted me to read a bit more about Bill McKibben and Mike Shellenberger...
Bill claims that biofuels are green (i.e. sustainable) and Mike calls nuclear energy ...clean.
Needless to say that they are both wrong.

Further reading
Nuclear Byproducts and Management Strategies
Biofuels are (Not) the Future! Legitimation Strategies of Sustainable Ventures in Complex Institutional Environments 

It's high time to re-define the words

1. Clean    
2. Sustainable

having in mind the food and water chain.

Because, at the end of the day, we, humans can live with less energy but can't with less food.
It's so bloody elementary, my dear Watson...


για τον Αλεξανδρινό μας / on Cavafy

Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933)

Ο Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης γεννήθηκε στην Αλεξάνδρεια της Αιγύπτου στις 17 Απριλίου 1863. Όταν τέθηκε σε ισχύ το νέο ημερολόγιο, η ημερομηνία άλλαξε σε 29 Απριλίου, η οποία και αναφέρεται ως ημερομηνία γέννησης του ποιητή. Μετά από εβδομήντα χρόνια ο Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης αφήνει την τελευταία του πνοή στο Ελληνικό Νοσοκομείο της Αλεξάνδρειας στις 29 Απριλίου 1933. O Κ. Π. Καβάφης είναι ο κορυφαίος ποιητής της περιφέρειας, που γράφει ελληνική ποίηση μακριά από τον ελλαδικό χώρο. Σήμερα η ποίησή του αποτελεί έναν διακριτό πόλο στην ελληνική λογοτεχνία, ενώ κατέχει σημαντική θέση στην παγκόσμια γραμματεία. Στα ποιήματά του συχνά πρωταγωνιστούν γνωστά ιστορικά πρόσωπα ή γεννήματα της φαντασίας του ποιητή με συχνές αναφορές σε γνωστές ή λιγότερο γνωστές πτυχές των ομηρικών, ελληνιστικών και βυζαντινών χρόνων.
Ο ποιητής φρόντιζε να συγκεντρώνει και να αρχειοθετεί το έργο του συστηματικά, δημιουργώντας έτσι ένα μοναδικό λογοτεχνικό και προσωπικό αρχείο. Το αρχείο Καβάφη περιλαμβάνει χειρόγραφα ποιημάτων, έντυπες αυτοσχέδιες εκδόσεις, πεζά λογοτεχνικά κείμενα, άρθρα, μελέτες και σημειώσεις του ποιητή, καθώς και το προσωπικό του αρχείο με πλούσια αλληλογραφία, κείμενα και φωτογραφίες.

[πηγή: Documento ]

Σήμερα που αντιμετωπίζουμε τόσους βαρβάρους τριγύρω μας...από τον κορονοϊό ως τους μικροπρεπείς και απρεπείς πολιτικούς ταγούς (αχ αυτή η μοτοσυκλέτα, Μιχάλη), ας θυμηθούμε ένα ποίημα του Αλεξανδρινού μας ποιητή.

= = =

Περιμένοντας τους Βαρβάρους

-Τι περιμένουμε στην αγορά συναθροισμένοι;

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

-Γιατί μέσα στην Σύγκλητο μιά τέτοια απραξία;

Τι κάθοντ' οι Συγκλητικοί και δεν νομοθετούνε;

-Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.

Τι νόμους πια θα κάμουν οι Συγκλητικοί;

Οι βάρβαροι σαν έλθουν θα νομοθετήσουν.

-Γιατί ο αυτοκράτωρ μας τόσο πρωί σηκώθη,
και κάθεται στης πόλεως την πιο μεγάλη πύλη
στον θρόνο επάνω, επίσημος, φορώντας την κορώνα;

-Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.

Κι ο αυτοκράτωρ περιμένει να δεχθεί
τον αρχηγό τους. Μάλιστα ετοίμασε
για να τον δώσει μια περγαμηνή. Εκεί
τον έγραψε τίτλους πολλούς κι ονόματα.

-Γιατί οι δυό μας ύπατοι κ' οι πραίτορες εβγήκαν
σήμερα με τες κόκκινες, τες κεντημένες τόγες·

γιατί βραχιόλια φόρεσαν με τόσους αμεθύστους,

και δαχτυλίδια με λαμπρά γυαλιστερά σμαράγδια·

γιατί να πιάσουν σήμερα πολύτιμα μπαστούνια
μ' ασήμια και μαλάματα έκτακτα σκαλισμένα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα·
και τέτοια πράγματα θαμπόνουν τους βαρβάρους.

-Γιατί κ' οι άξιοι ρήτορες δεν έρχονται σαν πάντα
να βγάλουνε τους λόγους τους, να πούνε τα δικά τους;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα·
κι αυτοί βαριούντ' ευφράδειες και δημηγορίες.

-Γιατί ν' αρχίσει μονομιάς αυτή η ανησυχία
κ' η σύγχυσις. (Τα πρόσωπα τι σοβαρά που έγιναν).

Γιατί αδειάζουν γρήγορα οι δρόμοι κ' οι πλατέες,
κι όλοι γυρνούν στα σπίτια τους πολύ συλλογισμένοι;

Γιατί ενύχτωσε κ' οι βάρβαροι δεν ήλθαν.

Και μερικοί έφθασαν απ' τα σύνορα,
και είπανε πως βάρβαροι πια δεν υπάρχουν.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους.
Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μιά κάποια λύσις.

Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης

= = = =

Translated by Edmund Keeley 
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

      The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

      Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

post-covid-19 education

I have to confess that since my childhood, and thanks to my parents (my mum was a teacher and then a Principal in a Comprehensive school that was named after Miltos Kountouras and my dad was a chemist and economist combining Chemistry with Business and a fan of Beethoven and Theodorakis) I was exposed to unconventional educational literature from very young, like this and that.

Later on, we came across the work of Miltos Kountouras and the school I went to was renamed after Miltos. One of the best books that Miltos has written is this one, unfortunately available only in Greek "Κλείστε τα Σχολειά" where he describes the need for a new school based on mutual respect, more freedom and polyphony. That book was written from April to July 1923, 97 years ago but it is still so fresh and valid.

All this educational and pedagogical background reading came so useful when I was doing my M.Ed. in the University of Leeds, studying about learning outcomes, means/ways of active teaching and how active learning differs to teaching, how videotaping myself was one of the best ways of feedforwarding (I think the word "feedback" has a negative - backwards connotation) and most of all the value of problem based learning (PBL). I loved PBL and I chose it as an educational tool in my MEd thesis.

All these years, I still remember vividly this story from Leo's Book "Living, Loving & Learning"

This is a tale, an illustrative tale titled The Animal Schoola story Leo loves “because it’s so wild, yet so true”:

(the wording is Leo's wording, as published in 1982)

"The animals got together in the forest one day and decided to start a school. There was a rabbit, a bird, a squirrel, a fish and an eel, and they formed a Board of Education.

The rabbit insisted that running be in the curriculum.

The bird insisted that flying be in the curriculum.

The fish insisted that swimming be in the curriculum, and the squirrel insisted that perpendicular tree climbing be in the curriculum.

They put all of these things together and wrote a Curriculum Guide.

Then they insisted that all of the animals take all of the subjects.

Although the rabbit was getting an A in running perpendicular tree climbing was a real problem for him; he kept falling over backwards. Pretty soon he got to be sort of brain damaged, and he couldn’t run any more. He found that instead of making an A in running, he was making a C and, of course, he always made an F in perpendicular tree climbing.

The bird was really beautiful at flying, but when it came to burrowing in the ground, he couldn’t do so well. He kept breaking his beak and wings. Pretty soon he was making a C in flying as well as an F in burrowing, and he had a hellava time with perpendicular tree climbing.

The moral of the story is that the animal who was valedictorian of the class was a mentally retarded eel who did everything in a halfway fashion. But the educators were all happy because everybody was taking all of the subjects, and it was called a broad-based education".

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Fast forward  to 2020, today, with covid-19 having closed schools and Universities around the world, it is time to think, to re-think, to evaluate our teaching and assessing practices.

Since March 13th, I am watching every morning my boys (13 and 16) waiting for a boring email on Teams with more homework.
47 days since schools closed in Ireland, only yesterday my younger one had an online class.
The older one, Junior Cert year, had no online classes for.... 47 days now!
Why is it so hard to have a Teams online class at least once a week? To keep the class and team spirit up?

And the boring emails are still coming but this is not education, is it?

Let's think.

What are we teaching?
Why have we chosen these subjects?
How do we assess these modules?
Moving to online teaching and assessment, what do we need to modify?
Can we deliver lab-practicals online?
If not, how can we produce a blended-delivery of courses?

Exams where students have to recite word by word are not promoting meritocracy , for sure. We need people able to think, to analyse , to synthesise , not to memorise information that is only two clicks away. In the era with a plethora of e-resources and online educational tools, we may have to wonder: why are we still functioning like Leo's "The Animal School" ?

Why aren’t we thinking beyond conventional exams and predictive marking? By addressing these points, with one stone we could kill two birds: modernising Leaving Cert exams and creating online course that could attract distance-learning students from all over the world. Extraordinary times require out of the box approaches.


Ioannis Zabetakis

Sunday, 26 April 2020

with planes grounded and flights banned, is there a future for tertiary education?

With planes grounded and flights banned, is there a future for tertiary education? Of course there is!

Is there a way to keep attracting students from all around the world to come to Europe to study and train?  Absolutely! But without traveling!

With the current reality of millions of unemployed people in EU and US, now it's the time to be more proactive and design/re-design modules, programmes and courses to train young people and retrain unemployed people.

Now, it's the time for Universities to prioritize the societal needs and provide education and training for all; it's a huge challenge but we can rise to it together and we can support, provide and Lead by example. 
In Ireland, today 600k people claim unemployment benefit, in Greece the unemployment rate is going to rise at levels >30%, a lot of people will have to change jobs; a lot of food companies might have to move to totally online commerce.

In this changing world, Universities may have to Lead in a different way! 

Let's have a look of this update on payments awarded for COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and Enhanced Illness Benefit in Ireland.


Sector Breakdown
The highest sector with people in receipt of PUPs is Accommodation and Food Service activities (126,000), followed by Wholesale and Retail Trade (88,400) and Construction (77,400).


The worst hit sectors so far, in Ireland, are: 
Accomodation, Food Service, Wholesale and Retail Trade and Construction.

A high percentage of these people may have to change jobs or may have to retrain to something similar or completely different to what they were doing.

For example, many food companies providing to restaurants, they lost 70% of their turnover overnight, when restaurants closed. They had to move online. Not an easy switch. Did they have any support to do this? Would it be better if these people could have access to courses on this topic? On how to use the internet and online labeling tools to promote food, to promote their products worldwide ?
To conclude, the Universities can help these people and these sectors. The Universities can play a Leading role in providing skills in a novel way. The specifics (tools, platforms, resources) can be discussed and found (if not already available). 

Past experience has shown that online courses on food sciences (food safety, HACCP, ISO9001, ISO22000, food exports etc) are useful for a high number of people who can not come on campus. 

In the post-covid-19 era, online classes may have to evolve to be the main educational tool, for at least the next Academic year... or for many years to come.