Technology doesn’t make people stupid. What makes them lose their senses is their obsession with technology, their simplistic claims, their disregard of the complexity of problems in life and society.
Technological magic thinking is no better than other types of magic thinking. This type of thinking makes people forget to do any research on translation before making big claims about the development of “Universal Translator” — as in the story below.
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“Movement”: A Story of my Life & Education
In the winter of 1987, my father decided to take me along with him on a visit to our home country, Nepal. Due to increasing conflict between the government and extremists in India’s northeastern states at the time, traveling across five states and returning safely to the remote little town in the south of Manipur (close to India’s border with Myanmar) was not easy–not to mention traveling with a ten year old. But daddy had with him good documents from local government offices, one of which was a “movement certificate” for me, written by my school’s principal. After a nifty subject line of “Movement Certificate,” it addressed “whom it may concern” and said: “This is to certify that Master Ghanashyam Sharma s/o Gopi Chandra [Sharma], a resident of Tangpizawl Village, Churachandpur District, Manipur, has been a student of this school since 1980.” It went on to request anyone reading it to kindly let me travel to Darjeeling (in the state of West Bengal in India) and return home to Manipur.
This document, as daddy told me before the trip, would serve at least two purposes: first, it was proof that I was his child–one of the things that a foreigner-looking man might have to prove when inevitably hassled by bad cops, of which there seemed many–and, second, it was a clever way of showing them our home address in India. Daddy had better documents of his residency, but they did the disservice of revealing that he was a foreigner (from Nepal), unlike my document, which only said what part of India we were “residents” of, so this would be a good piece of paper to dig out when questioned where we were from and who we were. Darjeeling, I found out, was the “permanent home address” in the school’s record, a reminder that ethnic outsiders needed an outside address. Never mind that 1) the border between India and Nepal is open by treaty and we shouldn’t have to conceal our identities, 2) those who were paid to be good guys protecting the vulnerable were being bad guys (making money, using hatred of outsiders in the name of law and order, etc), and 3) the effect of good guys acting badly can be very damaging to people’s trust in systems of justice and security.
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Published in The Republica on Nov 16, 2016.
As I observed my six- and eight-year-old children improve their Nepali at an astonishing speed while my family was in Nepal last summer, I wondered why forcing young people to speak in English “only” for their entire school lives in the past few decades hasn’t made them speak the language very fluently.
Perhaps it was the need to reciprocate their grandmothers’ absolute love, perhaps the right input of child-talk from the two little playmates downstairs, or perhaps the constant attention and praise from family members who found their accent cute. Whatever it was, I kept thinking about the thousands of English-failing students who pass all other subjects in SLC, English medium schools and colleges that sell myths to poor parents, and all the science and math teachers across the country who shouldn’t have to teach in a foreign language that they aren’t fluent in. I kept thinking about why no research, no reasoning seem to undermine the mythologies (and lies) about English in Nepalese education. Let me debunk the major ones, using current research.
The English ONLY Myth
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To communicate effectively in an increasingly globalized world, we must understand others through the lens of “context” rather than “culture.”
“I am a Chinese citizen but I don’t have very high expectation of this place,” said a young man, as I joined a line outside the Chinese Consulate in New York City last Friday. Many people in line—most of whom were there to apply for a visa, like me—seemed tense, with some vocally complaining. “I hate this,” said another, without specifying what it was that he hated. The line was moving forward fairly quickly and the weather was pleasant. read full post…
Amidst yet another crisis at home, one of the issues that worry me is how the education of younger generations is being affected. I’ve written about privatization and phony ideas about quality education that are making it increasingly difficult for the children of a vast majority of poor people to become successful on the basis of their talent and hard work alone (like we used to be twenty years ago). Rising cost of education is one of those forces that lead parents and students to ask the wrong questions about what to study, what career to pursue. As they pursue higher education in the fog of crises after crises, how are members of Nepal’s young generation choosing what field to study, what career to pursue? read full post…
The belief that you need to be a “good writer” to write effectively is a myth that has insalubrious consequences
In place of a society where “writers” were a few creative and educated people who did all the writing for the rest of us, we now have a society where everyone constantly writes. And yet, many myths about writers and writing prevail. The first of those myths is that good writing requires good writers. As someone who pursued two post-graduate degrees in “writing studies,” let me share the bad news: Good writers are a myth. Good news: You don’t need to be a “good writer” to write well.
In the same way “literacy” means much more than being able to read printed words, “writing” has far transcended the mere act of translating ideas into words and sentences on the page (or screen). Within a vast range of means, modes, and functions that it encompasses, writing now includes the personal, social and professional act of using script to get things done. The other older meaning of writing, creative expression, like the more mechanical form, has also become marginal in the big picture. That is, most of us have to write “effectively” for given contexts and purposes, instead of generally “well.”
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For millions of people around the world – or perhaps several billions — education means understanding and/or memorizing ideas in different subjects and demonstrating that knowledge or memory on paper. From school systems all over South Asia to stringent testing regimes in China and South Korea to increasingly standardized testing methods that characterize more areas and levels of education in the Western world, formal education is still not aligned well with needs and uses of knowledge outside school. Perhaps the most striking case in this regard, you guessed it, is our own country Nepal. However, instead of rehashing this old, rather tired theme about traditional education, let me describe what kind of education learners need in order to thrive in the knowledge economy. read full post…
Reposting (for access) Part I of a series of blog posts by Chris Petty and me from RhetComp@StonyBrook–
Putting Everything On the Line? Optimizing the Affordances, Minding the Pitfalls
Shyam Sharma and Christopher Petty
Especially after the advent of web 2.0 applications, the landscape of teaching writing is drastically changing. In many ways, writing teachers greatly benefit by moving into web-based, increasingly shared, and peer-involved practices especially at the post-secondary levels. New developments in technological applications are allowing highly effective pedagogical practices to develop. However, technocratic arguments founded on the positive affordances of new technologies can also be taken too far.
In this context, we wanted to write a brief series of blog posts that will describe and discuss some of the educational/pedagogical benefits and also pitfalls of using web applications and shared spaces for providing instructor feedback to students’ writing, for engaging them in peer review, and for promoting collaboration in college writing courses. These discussions will go along with somewhat corresponding videos (which will be included in a separate section in the Writing@StonyBrook portfolio) that demonstrate how to effectively use collaborative and interactive spaces and tools such as wikis, cloud-based documents, blogs, and portfolios. read full post…
Published on July 2, 2016 [Logic of Writing]
It is not necessary to “dumb down” specialized ideas when writing for “general” public, which, by the way, doesn’t exist.
Previous generations arguably had two rather distinct groups of people when it came to reading and writing specialized bodies of knowledge: there were the few educated people mainly at the center of political and economic hierarchy, and there was the “general” public. The spread of literacy and higher education have now radically blurred that boundary. However, myths about communicating complex ideas still prevail. Like the myth about “good writers” that I wrote about here previously, the idea that there is a general public who can only handle simplified language is a misconception that any writer should avoid.
Read the full article on Republica.
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Published in The Republica on Oct 18, 2016
The semester system was first implemented in Nepal about four decades ago, but it discontinued after a few years during a political upheaval. This time, there are indications of effective implementation, but there are also reasons to worry again, one of which I explore here. We risk spilling old wines from new bottles (or, to stretch the metaphor, failing to get new bottles) if we rock the boat too much.
Changing from annual to semester system, or vice versa, will only improve education to the extent that we improve practice and culture of teaching/learning. During a seven week stay in Nepal last summer, I was inspired by new trends in colleges and universities of all kinds—as I learned from many and extremely productive conversations with top level officials in Tribhuvan University and Mid-Western University, colleagues in professional organizations, and scholars running various private colleges.
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