Saturday, August 25, 2012

Texas Making Use of an Online News Database

The Texas Education Agency has made a deal with the New York Times. This deal will allow for the use of an electronic database.
This database is different than a typical database. It isn't based on MYSQL or Oracle programming knowledge, and won't be used by IT professionals or database administrators (at least most likely). No, this database is for the kids. In essence, the creation is an interactive portal that will search news articles - all the way back to 1851. If a student wants to write a paper on the Gettysburg Address, for instance, he can pull up the paper's entire text, and, the various news stories written about it to gather relevant information. Students can also now access modern content, stories, related multimedia, and source content related to all of the news recorded over the last 150 plus years.
Texas also plans to eventually use the database to deliver vast amounts of varied educational content to schools all over the state. The $1 Million contract, which initially purchased statewide use of the portal, might change based on usage numbers (though these increase are likely to be very slight).
This is a small footnote in the ongoing story of weeding out textbooks. Books are getting old and outdated faster than publishers can release them. Information technology principals change every day, databases across the world are updated, and hardware improves with the times. With an up to date, valid news database such as this, Texas will have the opportunity to provide quality information for children in their public schools for decades to come. At least that is what Anita Givens hopes. Given's is the agencies chief of textbooks and technology. She states that the "statewide license allows for economies of scale that we just don't see in any other kind of agreement." This makes a lot of sense for Texas.
Down the line, this project will open up the opportunity for "ePortfolios," where students can display their classroom projects and writing assignments. They will even be able to store large multimedia files and band/choral performances with this new technology. This plan most excites Robert Scoot, who says that the ePortfolios are "going to be a pretty big deal in a few years... It's an opportunity for teachers and students to show what happens on every other day besides test day."
This program should help to save money in the long run - at least that's what the state is hoping. "It's a system to organize future content," Scott said. "Stay tuned. We'll be adding more apps."
This database software will initially be programmed and developed by DBAs, setup for ease of use and connective efficiency for students and administrators. This deal should be set in place and fully functional by early 2010.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Is Sex Sacred? Fathers and Boys in the News

Two prominent news stories in the past few weeks may seem at first disparate, unrelated and quite historically and culturally removed from each other. However, to my mind, both raise serious issues of attitudes towards sex and children in any society.
One story involves the tawdry revelations surrounding baby-faced Alfie, the boy said to have conceived a child with a fourteen year old girl, at the age of just twelve. Although at the time the news of the birth 'broke out' there were whispers that there were other, slightly older and more physically developed contenders for the title, no longer poor Alfie's, following the results of a recent DNA test. To give Alfie credit, he proclaimed his willingness to take responsibility for his actions, even though he did not understand the meaning of the word 'financially'. Perhaps one of the financially astute grown-ups capitalising on the cherubic features of 'father' and child could have explained. Max Clifford, who took on the role of publicist, or the girl's father, who appeared in public wearing a devil mask?
Masquerading behind the face of Christ, it could be said, were the priests exposed as having sexually abused many boys in Catholic institutions in Ireland, between the 1930's and 1990's. Children who were truants, deemed delinquent in some way, or the progeny of single mothers were amongst those sent to these establishments, presumably for their own good and protection.
So what do these stories share in common? Both have elements of a vulnerable underclass, child protection issues and therefore, the matter of prevention being an important strategy in the task of protection. On one hand we have a group of disadvantaged children being used for the gratification of adults who were supposed to care for and educate them both spiritually and academically. On the other we have gratuitous sex among older children, in the context of high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, particularly, though certainly not exclusively, amongst a low educated, low-aspirational section of our society. A void also seems to be the common ground here. What needs to be put in its place?
John Banville, who grew up in an Irish Catholic institution run by the Christian Brothers, wrote in the New York Times recently, "What happened to them within those unscalable walls was no concern of ours. We knew, and did not know. That is our shame today."
The shame of Alfie's story is that we know, are told too much, and do not seem to know, or want to know, what to do about it. Our teenagers function in what has been described as a 'porn culture', without much, apparently, being presented to address the balance in our largely secular society.
Having personally experienced some of the down-side consequences of a Roman Catholic convent school education. I am therefore, not advocating a return to the ignorance, dualism, guilt and idealism of such traditions, nor do I want to take the fun and freedom out of sexual expression. I am proposing that we offer our children a much more wholesome view of sex, that places it firmly in the context of loving relationships, holistic health and wellbeing. Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived concentration camps in World War II, noted an absence of sexual perversion in the camps. In the face of extreme and total deprivation, sex ceased to become a concern, and that, apart from a longing for food, generally, Frankl said that it was the 'higher emotions' which manifested in the inmates' dreams. In his magnificent book, 'Man's Search For Meaning', he says:
"Love is as primary a phenomenon as sex. Normally, sex is a mode of expression for love. Sex is justified, even sanctified, as soon as, but only as long as, it is a vehicle of love. Thus love is not understood as a mere side effect of sex; rather, sex is a way of expressing the experience of that ultimate togetherness which is called love."
I cannot think of a better way to explain the connection. And if we seek to emphasise to our children that, apart from having the physical equipment and skills, sex is a pleasurable act which requires trust, responsibility and respect, if not love, it may be elevated, if not to the sacred, then at least above the profane.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Globalization, Online Education and the Role of the Internet

Online ticket booking for nights out, online chat rooms to socialise, online newspapers to keep up to date, online dating to meet lovers, online concerts to watch music, online shopping for weekly groceries, online universities for online education ...I could go on.
Considering that the Internet is a fairly new introduction to modern life, it is amazing to see how much it has developed in such little time. The Internet has gone from being a new and exciting commodity to an essential tool of 21st Century Life.
We are able to update the Internet instantly. Unlike print, the Internet is fluid, information is not bound into physical print never to be changed. This is why online newspapers have proved so popular with readers. They are able to check the news for developments every few minutes, always being rewarded with another snippet of information or a new breaking news headline.
The Internet has proved itself to be a powerful factor in the spreading of globalisation. Hundreds of countries, states and islands share the same bank of information, dipping their heads into the giant pool of the Internet and receiving the same electric shocks.
Scottish boys can race cars with kids from California and Italians can flirt with Brazilians on i-life. At the same time teenagers in New Zealand are listening to obscure Chinese musicians via My Space. All through the amazing medium of the Internet! It is even possible to attend university courses on the Internet by reading lectures and listening to podcasts online in an educational revolution. Imagine no more classroom lectures!
Of course it has been a matter of debate about whether or not this kind of globalisation will be a force for good or a force that brings something more damaging.
Many people believe that the Internet will help eradicate any sense of national culture and identity whilst some people argue that this would be a good outcome.
It is useless to try to stem the tide of progression and to do so would be to hamper science and the nature of humanity itself. It still remains to be seen what the effect of the Internet will have because it is still growing and developing, a technology that develops society whilst being simultaneously developing by society.
As I was saying before, companies are tapping into the market with online universities. Universities are partnering up with innovative businesses to create tailor-made online courses aimed at people who want to gain more qualifications but whom may have been in the world of work for a long time already. This not only has the effect of enabling individuals to potentially earn more than before but it contributes to countries as a whole by offering the adult population further education.