How children’s books can change the course of a nation

I enjoyed reading this article yesterday and I thought it is something I need to reread every now and then. I quoted some of it in this post but you can read the full article here.

How the USA predicts how many prison cells they need in the future is astonishing to say the least. The author explains how.

I always pondered why Europe is the innovator not Asia. It seems is has nothing to do with the superiority of the white man. The author writes his experience on this.

Other than Star Trek’s transporter (beam me up) almost every technology imagined in this series is a reality now.

I think it is true that we can’t build something before we imagine it first. And it is not technology only that we need to imagine. Can we imagine a scenario were there is peace in the Middle East?

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming
A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

You’re also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this:

The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the “only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account”.

Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.


How we learn

The latest issue of the Scientific American Mind (Sep/Oct 2013) has a special report on the way we learn. The report consists of three articles:

I What Works, What Doesn’t

This report is essential to read for everybody but especially important for both educators and students. As a graduate student I use many tools and techniques to help me get the most out of reading technical papers. I used or still use index cards, mind maps, highlighting, Post-it notes, and many others.

We reviewed more than 700 scientific articles on 10 common learning techniques to identify the most advantageous ways to study.

In this article, Psychologists identify the best ways to study. They concluded the following best two techniques for studying:

1. Self-Testing – Quizzing yourself

Writing notes on flash cards or index cards can help in the studying process by quizzing ourselves.

2. Distributed Practice

Longer Intervals are generally more effective. In one study, 30-day delays improved performance more than lags of just one day. In short, studying one day before the exam is not a good idea. It is better for the brain to take its time memorizing and digesting information.

On the other hand, the two least efficient techniques for studying the found were highlighting and rereading.

II The science of Handwriting

The second article is about the importance of handwriting. This is not something new. I have read many articles about how handwriting engages the brain more than typing on a keyboard. Some educators even advise against what some kindergarten and elementary schools do in promoting the use of iPads in class rooms.

Some parents feel proud and happy when they see their young child use an iPad very intelligently. Nevertheless, they should limit their children’s time spent on an iPad not just for playing but also as an educational tool. Learning doesn’t come from just answering or moving objects on the screen. There is the factor of smell, feeling, touching, etc. When a child gets frustrated, because his real object blocks collapsed due to a mistake he made, and determines to rebuild his tower again he becomes better prepared for the real life .

My sister is happy for her 3-year-old daughter because she knows how to start a drawing app on the iPad. She knows how to use the app better than her mother. My niece draws and choose colors very easily on the iPad. I didn’t like it because I believe my niece would be more skilled and happier if she smells every color whenever she opens the marker’s cap or experience using Crayons, colored pencils and many more. When she draws a line by mistake and finds she cant just simply erase it as she does on the iPad. I also think she is missing on teasing her brothers by doodling on their arms or faces.

I am not saying the iPad is not good for children but it shouldn’t replace other children’s education or playing tools.

III For the Love of Math

The author of this article talks about a program he developed in Canada called JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies). His technique is based on a guided learning of Math. That is learning by solving examples. I do agree with him at least in my case this is how I learn math.