Education trends (personal thoughts for Big U)

Colleagues at Big U have asked me to take part in a panel discussion this morning on trends and education to present a personal perspective. Perhaps the urgency of the matter is best illustrated by the quoation
“Education spending grew by 14% a year for the past three years and accounted for R140,4 million in 2008/09.”
from the information website of the SA government, on education  (or the archived copy). Of course, they mean “thousand million” or “billion” and not “million” and obviously it was not enough. These are my trends to watch in education over the following decade or so.

  1. Private provision. A recent study funded by the Ford Foundation points to tight restrictions on the provision of private higher education as one of the reasons for the fact that 50% of youth aged 23–24 are not disabled, not in education and not employed. The current higher education system has also failed to advance the current government's “Transformation” programme since the gap between minority students and the rest of the population has been growing over the past decade. Many developing nations (and the USA) have a extensive private provision in tertiary education. In his book The Beautiful Tree, author James Tooley has described the immense impact of private primary and secondary education in India and elsewhere.
  2. Technology. The obliteration of certain kinds of distance by technology will have a continued impact. However, it is not a panacea. A recent study at Duke University among over 150 000 learners, has shown how the introduction of home computers lowered test scores in reading and in mathematics, especially for students from a disadvantaged background.
  3. Cost and quality. There is little doubt that cognitive ability is positively related to economic growth rates. However, international comparisons are now showing the gap between quality and quantity, as measured in years of full-time education. As costs spiral, the public will increasingly ask where the value for money is.
  4. Cognitive science. Will insights about the difference between understanding division for fractions and being able to just to it, inform education in the near future?
I have put some further reading at www.kolmogorov.net/download/edulinks.html.


Television standards in South Africa

South Africa has started the process of migrating television broadcasts from the analogue Phase Alternate Line (PAL) system introduced in 1975 to a digital system that is more efficient and made possible by technical progress, mainly in computer processing since the 1960s when PAL was introduced in Europe. PAL is the analogue television standard for most of Europe and large parts of Africa and Asia, including China and India. Its main competitors were the French SECAM (also widely used in Africa) and the North American NTSC (also used in Japan, South Korea and a few other countries). This has meant that a German or Kenyan analogue television set, for example, could be used without problem in South Africa but that a Japanese or American one would certainly not work.

Digital television broadcasting (over the air or OTA) more efficiently uses the available spectrum and allows for the transmission of many more channels. This is, indeed, why satellite broadcasting (like DSTV in South Africa) has been digital for some time now. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU)  has been driving a world-wide effort to convert OTA broadcasts to a digital standard. In SA this is essentially the SABC and e-TV. The migration to digital broadcasting has already been completed in the United States and in the SADC region, Mauritius is nearly done. The SADC region had decided to adopt the DVB-T (Digitial Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial) standard that is also in use in Europe, Indian and Australia. DVB-T is an open standard which incorporates some patented algorithms for encoding of the signal.

Recently, the South African government has started to suggest that SA might switch to the Japanese ISDB (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting) standard. Since trials of DVB-T have already started, such a switch would imply considerable cost for the industry. It would also put South Africa's chances of completing the conversion from analogue to digital television by 2015 in considerable jeopardy!

Further reading

Digital TV standards: The truth behind it by Jan Vermeulen,  MyBroadband  (10 June, 2010)

Digital TV conspiracy: Is govt lying? by Candice Jones, ITWeb online telecoms editor (Johannesburg, 10 Jun 2010)


Police protecting SA from “illegal” shirts (and iPods?)

As part of the state-corporate criminal take-over of South Africa, otherwise known as the 2010 FIFA Sucker World Cup, police have been clamping down on “illegal” T-shirts. In Pretoria this week, five Ethiopians were reported arrested on charges of dealing in counterfeit goods. Now, in a country which is second in murder and first in rape, does the public really demand protection against counterfeit (whatever that means) T-shirts? Is it really necessary to arrest people for a putative offense that does not harm anyone or anything except corporate profits and poses no imminent danger that cannot be obviated by simple confiscation of the shirts? When does intellectual property vest in a yellow shirt with a national symbol on it?

In the meantime the Intellectual Property Research Unit at UCT have confirmed that it is illegal in South Africa to rip your own CDs and put them on an MP3 player or iPod. This issue has been discussed in the blogosphere before and it stems from a special provision in SA's Copyright Act for sound recordings. Otherwise SA has, as far as I know, fairly generous fair use provisions. Can we expect the police soon to be stopping people and arresting them for using an iPod with “counterfeit” music on it? This ridiculous notion is supported by a dinky industry association website stoppiracy.org.za which shows how close to the coalface it is by proclaiming that
“[b]y buying pirate music you are supporting organised crime”
which will, I am sure, come as a great shock to those who are in the habit of paying for pirated music!