Global Education Action Week 2007

During Global Education Action Week 2007, activities will take place worldwide to raise awareness ab

This week and up to 29 April millions of children around the world will be joining together in activities as part of Global Education Action Week.

The Global Campaign for Education initiated the idea five years ago to raise awareness about the importance of providing every child with a proper education.

Throughout the week, children will participate in events aimed to remind local and national leaders that they need to place literacy and education at the top of their political agendas.

This year, many children made human and paper chains to signify the right to education that every child has, no matter where they live. They are encouraged to send their paper chains to world leaders attending the G8 conference this June, and schools across the globe have been doing so, as well as raising awareness in other creative ways.

The Global Campaign for Education also invites people to show their support by signing up to an online chain on its Join up! website, which currently has over 40,000 participants.

And we at newstatesman.com would like to invite children, teachers, parents and education supporters all over the world to share their experiences during this week's activities by submitting them in writing and pictures to our website at online@newstatesman.co.uk.

Manor Park Public School, Ottawa, Canada

About 600 children in grades one through six at Manor Park Public School launched Global Education Action Week on April 17 by opening the huge paper chain each had contributed to in the gymnasium. Then Irene Adanusa, President of Education International Africa Region and General Secretary of the Ghanaian Teachers' Association, spoke about what education was like in Ghana, and Member of Parliament for Vanier, Hon. Mauril Bélange, offered his help to any of them who were willing to work on providing education to a particular worldwide community.

The children commented on their experiences.

"Education is very important for the world. Everyone, adults, teenagers, children should have and education. Throughout the world, right now, children are the most important people to have education. Many children don’t have the opportunity to be what they want to be or to do what they want to do because of a lack of education.

The week of April 23, 2007 is Global Action Week. Throughout this week people around the world joined in this campaign to raise awareness to help the children who have no education. Kids around the world made people or paper chains to show how important education is. This campaign helped a lot! But still, to give education for all by 2015 we still need 18 million more teachers. Over 80 million kids still don’t have an education.

To me, it’s very important for children to have an education. I want their dreams to come true. I want them to have a future! I hope the people from richer countries feel the same way and do something about it. Families in poor countries need the money to survive. If their children have an education they might become teachers and help their families. It’s important for everyone to have an education!"

-Laily Popal

"Why is education important? Why can't people just "live" without it? Because without an education, you never know what the future holds for you. Drugs, alcohol, things that sometimes lead to even...DEATH! A lot of people have made promises,but why haven't these promises been made? Doesn't everyone deserve an education? Some children must work hard to support their families when they should be in school learning. but why are these things happening? Over 18 million teachers are needed so that EVERY SINGLE child gets an education. but we cannot do it alone. You must help. So go ahead, and save a life."

-Matouga Mohamed

"Education is important for all children because there are over 1 million children that have dreams of becoming doctors, dentists, firemen, policemen and lots of other lifesaving professions. These children can make a difference in the
future.

All children have a right to get educated. One day you will realize that you made the right choice and maybe they might help you!

Help the uneducated!"

-Ibrahim Matar

"Why is education important for all the children in the world to have? Well,
education is one of the most important things to have in the world. If you
don't have an education, it will be even harder to be what you want to be,
and do what you want to do. My school, Manor Park, had an assembly about
global education. We invited some people to come and talk to us about global
education. Amazingly, we had a lady come all the way from Ghana to talk
about it! For example, she stated how Africa does not have enough qualified
teachers for all the children, as well as the fact that they don't have
enough schools. If everyone in the world could hear something like this, it
would have a huge impact on the understanding of the importance of global
education."

-Simon Mertick

Ysgol Emmanuel, Rhyl, Wales,

On April 20, the 471 students and staff at Ysgol Emmanuel in Wales came together to show off the paper chain they had been making to local MP, Chris Ruane. The children will be sending the chain, which includes contributions from children ages four to 11, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in preparation for the G8 meeting in June.

Some of the children shared their thoughts on the fight for global education.

"It is really good to help others."
-Reilly, age 9

"I didn't know there were so many children not in school, that is amazing!"
-Kelsi, age 8

"Its not fair for them. We do loads of fun things at school!"
-Cameron, age 9

"My mum says I should never break a promise so I don't think they should!"
-Jared, age 11

Taipei, Taiwan

"The National Teacher's Assocaiton planned the ‘Official Back to School Day’ on April 23 inviting administration representatives and legislators to schools and joining hands with the children in support of the campaign. There students asked officials to sign-up to the campaign, thereby undertaking to urge the Government to keep its promise of promoting quality education for all both in Taiwan and around the world. Through the campaign, children learned not only to cherish the education resources in Taiwan, also to take social responsibility to fight for everyone's education rights."
-Liao Wan-Ju, Associate Director of Dipl. Dep., NTA, Taiwan

Spain

More than 70 cities in Spain have been united in Global Education activities. Tens of thousands of students, professors, parents and mothers are making human chains. Not only the students are participating in the mobilizations. Politicians are, as well, and among them is Leyre Pajín, State Secretary of Development. He participated in the chain in Madrid and is committed to continue working so that the Education is a right for all the children of the planet.

Music, the dances and the games have brightened up the central acts, turning them an authentic celebration.

Human chains have been created in many of Spain's large cities. In Barcelona one was created in Sagrada Family Square, in Seville, a chain was created in front of the cathedral and ,in Madrid, it took place in the Plaza Mayor. In Aragón, the Plaza del Pillar was united forming a chain.

In the Canary Islands, radio ECCA emits weekly programs, in collaboration with the UNESCO, in which the institutional children and representatives look for solutions to facilitate the right to the Education of All.

In Cantabria the mobilization will be massive in the main localities of the region. In the Basque Country all the mayors and delegates of education participate. In Navarra, they will mobilize themselves on the most centric streets. And, in La Rioja, children of two and three years will mobilize until they have gone to the patios of the schools.

Hana Bieliauskas is a junior at Ohio University majoring in magazine journalism. She is currently studying in London.
JOHN DEVOLLE/GETTY IMAGES
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Fitter, dumber, more productive

How the craze for Apple Watches, Fitbits and other wearable tech devices revives the old and discredited science of behaviourism.

When Tim Cook unveiled the latest operating system for the Apple Watch in June, he described the product in a remarkable way. This is no longer just a wrist-mounted gadget for checking your email and social media notifications; it is now “the ultimate device for a healthy life”.

With the watch’s fitness-tracking and heart rate-sensor features to the fore, Cook explained how its Activity and Workout apps have been retooled to provide greater “motivation”. A new Breathe app encourages the user to take time out during the day for deep breathing sessions. Oh yes, this watch has an app that notifies you when it’s time to breathe. The paradox is that if you have zero motivation and don’t know when to breathe in the first place, you probably won’t survive long enough to buy an Apple Watch.

The watch and its marketing are emblematic of how the tech trend is moving beyond mere fitness tracking into what might one call quality-of-life tracking and algorithmic hacking of the quality of consciousness. A couple of years ago I road-tested a brainwave-sensing headband, called the Muse, which promises to help you quiet your mind and achieve “focus” by concentrating on your breathing as it provides aural feedback over earphones, in the form of the sound of wind at a beach. I found it turned me, for a while, into a kind of placid zombie with no useful “focus” at all.

A newer product even aims to hack sleep – that productivity wasteland, which, according to the art historian and essayist Jonathan Crary’s book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, is an affront to the foundations of capitalism. So buy an “intelligent sleep mask” called the Neuroon to analyse the quality of your sleep at night and help you perform more productively come morning. “Knowledge is power!” it promises. “Sleep analytics gathers your body’s sleep data and uses it to help you sleep smarter!” (But isn’t one of the great things about sleep that, while you’re asleep, you are perfectly stupid?)

The Neuroon will also help you enjoy technologically assisted “power naps” during the day to combat “lack of energy”, “fatigue”, “mental exhaustion” and “insomnia”. When it comes to quality of sleep, of course, numerous studies suggest that late-night smartphone use is very bad, but if you can’t stop yourself using your phone, at least you can now connect it to a sleep-enhancing gadget.

So comes a brand new wave of devices that encourage users to outsource not only their basic bodily functions but – as with the Apple Watch’s emphasis on providing “motivation” – their very willpower.  These are thrillingly innovative technologies and yet, in the way they encourage us to think about ourselves, they implicitly revive an old and discarded school of ­thinking in psychology. Are we all neo-­behaviourists now?

***

The school of behaviourism arose in the early 20th century out of a virtuous scientific caution. Experimenters wished to avoid anthropomorphising animals such as rats and pigeons by attributing to them mental capacities for belief, reasoning, and so forth. This kind of description seemed woolly and impossible to verify.

The behaviourists discovered that the actions of laboratory animals could, in effect, be predicted and guided by careful “conditioning”, involving stimulus and reinforcement. They then applied Ockham’s razor: there was no reason, they argued, to believe in elaborate mental equipment in a small mammal or bird; at bottom, all behaviour was just a response to external stimulus. The idea that a rat had a complex mentality was an unnecessary hypothesis and so could be discarded. The psychologist John B Watson declared in 1913 that behaviour, and behaviour alone, should be the whole subject matter of psychology: to project “psychical” attributes on to animals, he and his followers thought, was not permissible.

The problem with Ockham’s razor, though, is that sometimes it is difficult to know when to stop cutting. And so more radical behaviourists sought to apply the same lesson to human beings. What you and I think of as thinking was, for radical behaviourists such as the Yale psychologist Clark L Hull, just another pattern of conditioned reflexes. A human being was merely a more complex knot of stimulus responses than a pigeon. Once perfected, some scientists believed, behaviourist science would supply a reliable method to “predict and control” the behaviour of human beings, and thus all social problems would be overcome.

It was a kind of optimistic, progressive version of Nineteen Eighty-Four. But it fell sharply from favour after the 1960s, and the subsequent “cognitive revolution” in psychology emphasised the causal role of conscious thinking. What became cognitive behavioural therapy, for instance, owed its impressive clinical success to focusing on a person’s cognition – the thoughts and the beliefs that radical behaviourism treated as mythical. As CBT’s name suggests, however, it mixes cognitive strategies (analyse one’s thoughts in order to break destructive patterns) with behavioural techniques (act a certain way so as to affect one’s feelings). And the deliberate conditioning of behaviour is still a valuable technique outside the therapy room.

The effective “behavioural modification programme” first publicised by Weight Watchers in the 1970s is based on reinforcement and support techniques suggested by the behaviourist school. Recent research suggests that clever conditioning – associating the taking of a medicine with a certain smell – can boost the body’s immune response later when a patient detects the smell, even without a dose of medicine.

Radical behaviourism that denies a subject’s consciousness and agency, however, is now completely dead as a science. Yet it is being smuggled back into the mainstream by the latest life-enhancing gadgets from Silicon Valley. The difference is that, now, we are encouraged to outsource the “prediction and control” of our own behaviour not to a benign team of psychological experts, but to algorithms.

It begins with measurement and analysis of bodily data using wearable instruments such as Fitbit wristbands, the first wave of which came under the rubric of the “quantified self”. (The Victorian polymath and founder of eugenics, Francis Galton, asked: “When shall we have anthropometric laboratories, where a man may, when he pleases, get himself and his children weighed, measured, and rightly photographed, and have their bodily faculties tested by the best methods known to modern science?” He has his answer: one may now wear such laboratories about one’s person.) But simply recording and hoarding data is of limited use. To adapt what Marx said about philosophers: the sensors only interpret the body, in various ways; the point is to change it.

And the new technology offers to help with precisely that, offering such externally applied “motivation” as the Apple Watch. So the reasoning, striving mind is vacated (perhaps with the help of a mindfulness app) and usurped by a cybernetic system to optimise the organism’s functioning. Electronic stimulus produces a physiological response, as in the behaviourist laboratory. The human being herself just needs to get out of the way. The customer of such devices is merely an opaquely functioning machine to be tinkered with. The desired outputs can be invoked by the correct inputs from a technological prosthesis. Our physical behaviour and even our moods are manipulated by algorithmic number-crunching in corporate data farms, and, as a result, we may dream of becoming fitter, happier and more productive.

***

 

The broad current of behaviourism was not homogeneous in its theories, and nor are its modern technological avatars. The physiologist Ivan Pavlov induced dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, which they had learned to associate with food. Here, stimulus (the bell) produces an involuntary response (salivation). This is called “classical conditioning”, and it is advertised as the scientific mechanism behind a new device called the Pavlok, a wristband that delivers mild electric shocks to the user in order, so it promises, to help break bad habits such as overeating or smoking.

The explicit behaviourist-revival sell here is interesting, though it is arguably predicated on the wrong kind of conditioning. In classical conditioning, the stimulus evokes the response; but the Pavlok’s painful electric shock is a stimulus that comes after a (voluntary) action. This is what the psychologist who became the best-known behaviourist theoretician, B F Skinner, called “operant conditioning”.

By associating certain actions with positive or negative reinforcement, an animal is led to change its behaviour. The user of a Pavlok treats herself, too, just like an animal, helplessly suffering the gadget’s painful negative reinforcement. “Pavlok associates a mild zap with your bad habit,” its marketing material promises, “training your brain to stop liking the habit.” The use of the word “brain” instead of “mind” here is revealing. The Pavlok user is encouraged to bypass her reflective faculties and perform pain-led conditioning directly on her grey matter, in order to get from it the behaviour that she prefers. And so modern behaviourist technologies act as though the cognitive revolution in psychology never happened, encouraging us to believe that thinking just gets in the way.

Technologically assisted attempts to defeat weakness of will or concentration are not new. In 1925 the inventor Hugo Gernsback announced, in the pages of his magazine Science and Invention, an invention called the Isolator. It was a metal, full-face hood, somewhat like a diving helmet, connected by a rubber hose to an oxygen tank. The Isolator, too, was designed to defeat distractions and assist mental focus.

The problem with modern life, Gernsback wrote, was that the ringing of a telephone or a doorbell “is sufficient, in nearly all cases, to stop the flow of thoughts”. Inside the Isolator, however, sounds are muffled, and the small eyeholes prevent you from seeing anything except what is directly in front of you. Gernsback provided a salutary photograph of himself wearing the Isolator while sitting at his desk, looking like one of the Cybermen from Doctor Who. “The author at work in his private study aided by the Isolator,” the caption reads. “Outside noises being eliminated, the worker can concentrate with ease upon the subject at hand.”

Modern anti-distraction tools such as computer software that disables your internet connection, or word processors that imitate an old-fashioned DOS screen, with nothing but green text on a black background, as well as the brain-measuring Muse headband – these are just the latest versions of what seems an age-old desire for technologically imposed calm. But what do we lose if we come to rely on such gadgets, unable to impose calm on ourselves? What do we become when we need machines to motivate us?

***

It was B F Skinner who supplied what became the paradigmatic image of ­behaviourist science with his “Skinner Box”, formally known as an “operant conditioning chamber”. Skinner Boxes come in different flavours but a classic example is a box with an electrified floor and two levers. A rat is trapped in the box and must press the correct lever when a certain light comes on. If the rat gets it right, food is delivered. If the rat presses the wrong lever, it receives a painful electric shock through the booby-trapped floor. The rat soon learns to press the right lever all the time. But if the levers’ functions are changed unpredictably by the experimenters, the rat becomes confused, withdrawn and depressed.

Skinner Boxes have been used with success not only on rats but on birds and primates, too. So what, after all, are we doing if we sign up to technologically enhanced self-improvement through gadgets and apps? As we manipulate our screens for ­reassurance and encouragement, or wince at a painful failure to be better today than we were yesterday, we are treating ourselves similarly as objects to be improved through operant conditioning. We are climbing willingly into a virtual Skinner Box.

As Carl Cederström and André Spicer point out in their book The Wellness Syndrome, published last year: “Surrendering to an authoritarian agency, which is not just telling you what to do, but also handing out rewards and punishments to shape your behaviour more effectively, seems like undermining your own agency and autonomy.” What’s worse is that, increasingly, we will have no choice in the matter anyway. Gernsback’s Isolator was explicitly designed to improve the concentration of the “worker”, and so are its digital-age descendants. Corporate employee “wellness” programmes increasingly encourage or even mandate the use of fitness trackers and other behavioural gadgets in order to ensure an ideally efficient and compliant workforce.

There are many political reasons to resist the pitiless transfer of responsibility for well-being on to the individual in this way. And, in such cases, it is important to point out that the new idea is a repackaging of a controversial old idea, because that challenges its proponents to defend it explicitly. The Apple Watch and its cousins promise an utterly novel form of technologically enhanced self-mastery. But it is also merely the latest way in which modernity invites us to perform operant conditioning on ourselves, to cleanse away anxiety and dissatisfaction and become more streamlined citizen-consumers. Perhaps we will decide, after all, that tech-powered behaviourism is good. But we should know what we are arguing about. The rethinking should take place out in the open.

In 1987, three years before he died, B F Skinner published a scholarly paper entitled Whatever Happened to Psychology as the Science of Behaviour?, reiterating his now-unfashionable arguments against psychological talk about states of mind. For him, the “prediction and control” of behaviour was not merely a theoretical preference; it was a necessity for global social justice. “To feed the hungry and clothe the naked are ­remedial acts,” he wrote. “We can easily see what is wrong and what needs to be done. It is much harder to see and do something about the fact that world agriculture must feed and clothe billions of people, most of them yet unborn. It is not enough to advise people how to behave in ways that will make a future possible; they must be given effective reasons for behaving in those ways, and that means effective contingencies of reinforcement now.” In other words, mere arguments won’t equip the world to support an increasing population; strategies of behavioural control must be designed for the good of all.

Arguably, this authoritarian strand of behaviourist thinking is what morphed into the subtly reinforcing “choice architecture” of nudge politics, which seeks gently to compel citizens to do the right thing (eat healthy foods, sign up for pension plans) by altering the ways in which such alternatives are presented.

By contrast, the Apple Watch, the Pavlok and their ilk revive a behaviourism evacuated of all social concern and designed solely to optimise the individual customer. By ­using such devices, we voluntarily offer ourselves up to a denial of our voluntary selves, becoming atomised lab rats, to be manipulated electronically through the corporate cloud. It is perhaps no surprise that when the founder of American behaviourism, John B Watson, left academia in 1920, he went into a field that would come to profit very handsomely indeed from his skills of manipulation – advertising. Today’s neo-behaviourist technologies promise to usher in a world that is one giant Skinner Box in its own right: a world where thinking just gets in the way, and we all mechanically press levers for food pellets.

This article first appeared in the 18 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s revenge