Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


British parents more relaxed about their children’s education

Brits are more likely to choose a school for their kids based on convenience rather than academic excellence. They also preferred a happy school environment over exam results.

And when it comes to homework they help less than parents in most other countries according to a survey by educational charity Varkey which surveyed 30,000 parents of children aged 4 – 18 in twenty-nine countries.

They helped on homework and school projects for an average of 3.6 hours a week. Only parents in Finland (3.1 hrs) and japan (2.6 hrs) were less involved.

Parents in India spend 12 hours a week, in Vietnam 10 hours, in Russia 8 hours, in Germany 5 hours and in Spain 4.8 hours.

Only 1 in 5 British parents worried about their children not being academically stretched compared to over 40% in Russia. This could be because we have more confidence in our teachers and schools.

Two-thirds of British parents rate the quality of state schools as fairly or very good, compared with a global average of 45%, and almost 90% rated the quality of teachers as fairly or very good – the fifth highest proportion of all the countries surveyed.

Unfortunately that confidence is misplaced. The UK is ranked 23rd out of 35 OECD countries when it comes to reading and 27th in maths.

Perhaps British parents should be less complacent and do more to help their children?

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Illegal schools should be shut down immediately & all home-educated kids registered

There has been a surge in the number of illegal schools and out-of-hours tuition centres according to the Department for Education.

Many of these are faith schools which teach almost exclusively religious texts – and they include all religions.

Ofsted has found over 350 illegal schools and have managed to inspect 200 of them. Fifty of these have been issued with warning notices and twelve are under criminal investigation.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, has again called for tougher powers to regulate and close illegal schools. Something councils have been calling on the government for some time to give them more powers but the government – or more likely their PC civil servants – are worried about upsetting religious groups.

Councils are convinced that many children being taken out of school to be  home-educated are actually being sent to these illegal schools.

Last year Spielman was quoted as saying “It is clear that weaknesses in current legislation allow some organisations to teach school-aged children religious texts full-time, while avoiding registration and proper scrutiny. Action is needed now to protect the children who attend these places”

The new education secretary has promised to get tough on this issue as there is growing concern that children are at risk of being radicalised, trafficked, abused, or growing up ignorant without a proper education.

And it’s not just illegal schools but children who are home educated or home schooled. A bill to require all children to be registered and tracked once they reach school age will be debated in the House of Lords next month. Last year there were 30,000 children known to be home educated, double the numbers five years previously. And that’s just those the authorities know about.

The education department says “Unregistered schools are illegal and unsafe. There are clear powers in place for local authorities and the police to intervene where children are being put at risk or not receiving suitable education. We expect them to use the and will support them to do so”.

So why do councils feel helpless and Ofsted restricted in what it can inspect? Hackney Council recently found almost thirty unregistered yeshivas in the borough educating between 1,000 and 1,500 boys from the Haredi Orthodox Jewish community.

Last year a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police said “segregated, isolated communities, unregulated education and home schooling are a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists“. This is just one aspect of radicalisation. Judges appear to be going soft on convicted terrorists allowing them shorter or no prison sentences because they have children. Yes judge let’s give them back to their parents so they can influence them even more!

  • I hope the bill goes through despite opposition from do-good liberals (including luvvie self-publicists who boast about home education and are prepared to go to prison for their beliefs) who demand the right to educate their kids themselves. They are being selfish and denying their children the opportunity of a good education with recognised standards.
  • I also firmly believe that we shouldn’t have any faith schools at all. They are decisive and produce selfish children


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Religious children more selfish, not a good sign

Given the current problems with religious fundamentalists trying to influence school policies about uniforms and the way children are taught British values – for example the way  head teacher Neena Lall, of St Stephen’s state primary in east London, who tried to prevent children under the age of eight from wearing the hijab in class, was attacked by muslim fundamentalists, I thought it worth while updating and re-posting this from one of my other blogs two years ago.

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The idea that religious children might be more selfish  may seem counter-intuitive as you might expect people with strong religious beliefs to be “better” people.

However a study carried out by the University of Chicago of children around the world aged 5 to 12 found that children brought up in a religious families were more selfish than those from atheist or agnostic ones. And the more they went to their place of worship, be it church or mosque, the more selfish they were.

The study used a test of altruism and involved sharing stickers with anonymous children in their school. The idea was to test the notion that being religious has positive associations with self-control and moral behaviours. Jean Decety, the lead author of the study, says this view is so deeply embedded that in some countries e.g. the USA, not being religious can make you a morally suspect person.

While Jesus may have believed in the social benefits of sharing in this study it was the non-believers who demonstrated the principle not his followers. Furthermore muslim children were more likely to believe that when their peers transgressed they should receive more punitive punishments.

This research fits with earlier studies which showed that religious people were the most selfish. And the point in a colleague’s blog about not needing to be religious to have moral values seems borne out by this research.

Why should this be the case? One view is that it is due to what is called “moral licensing when people use something good to justify something bad” without realising what they are doing. Religious people believe they have done something good simply by being religious and this gives them the licence to do something bad.

Doing something which strengthens their positive self-image makes them less worried about the consequences of doing something immoral. Decety said “I hope people begin to understand that religion is not a guarantee for morality and that religion and morality are two different things. Societies that cultivate secular values are more peaceful and generally “healthier” than those countries which anchor or base their values in religion

Personally I don’t think we should have any faith schools as I believe they are divisive. And when the Chief Inspector of Schools Amanda Spielman is warning that religious extremists are using schools to narrow children’s horizons and “pervert education”, I think that supports my view. She said some community leaders see schools as vehicles to “indoctrinate impressionable minds” – with extremist ideology in some cases. This is really worrying as there is good evidence that religious societies are more violent and suffer more anti-social behaviour than more secular ones.

 


British women walking taller

Scientists say British women have grown taller faster than most of the rest of the world.

British women now average 5′ 5″ (164.4 cm) compared to 5′ (153.4 cm) at the start of the century.

This pushes them up the world league table of the tallest from 57th place in 1914 to 38th place today.

British men have grown to 5′ 10″ (178 cm), up 10.6 cm, and have moved up from 36th to 31st place.

Who are the tallest?

Latvian women are the tallest and  average 5′ 7″ (170 cm)

Dutch men are the tallest at 6′ (183 cm)

Who are the shortest?

Men from East Timor and the Yemen at 5′ 3″ (160 cm), Laos (161 cm), Madagascar and Malawi (both 5′ 4″ or 162 cm).

Women from Guatemala at 4′ 11″ (149 cm), the Philippines  (150 cm), and Bangladesh, Nepal and East Timor (all 151 cm).

The researchers compared data from people who were 18 in 914 with those of the same age in 2014. The difference is partly genetic and partly due to nutrition, sanitation, and health. Particularly important is the mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy.

Height is a mirror to our social environment” said Professor Majid Ezzati from the School of Public Health at Imperial College.

The biggest increases have been in rapidly developing countries such as Japan and South Korea where women are now 8″ (20 cm) taller than before WW11. Iranian men have grown by the same amount.

Americans have grown by 5cm over the review period but have dropped down the league tables from 3rd for men and 4th for women in 1914 to 37th and 42nd place respectively. This was probably connected to their obesity problem – lots of calories but not good nutrition – said Professor Ezzati.

In sub-Saharan Africa people are actually getting smaller.

Tall people tend to have a longer life expectancy, with a reduced risk of heart disease. On the other hand, there is some evidence that they are at greater risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, postmenopausal breast and ovarian cancers.

One hypothesis is that growth factors may promote mutated cells,” said another Imperial co-author, Elio Riboli.

I’m always a bit bemused by stories like this about average height because I come from a tall family and am used to being around tall people. 6′ (183 cm) doesn’t seem tall to me yet it’s taller than the average British male.

And being tall does have some advantages at work.

League table showing top 10 from 187 countries surveyed

The nations with the tallest men in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):

  1. Netherlands (12)
  2. Belgium (33)
  3. Estonia (4)
  4. Latvia (13)
  5. Denmark (9)
  6. Bosnia and Herzegovina (19)
  7. Croatia (22)
  8. Serbia (30)
  9. Iceland (6)
  10. Czech Republic (24)

The nations with the tallest women in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):

  1. Latvia (28)
  2. Netherlands (38)
  3. Estonia (16)
  4. Czech Republic (69)
  5. Serbia (93)
  6. Slovakia (26)
  7. Denmark (11)
  8. Lithuania (41)
  9. Belarus (42)
  10. Ukraine (43)

Source: eLife


The world is becoming more short-sighted

A couple of years ago I posted this elsewhere when experts were blaming too much time spent on near electronic devices, smartphones, tablets, Kindle et. With the increase in the use of mobile gadgets and smartphones since then the risk must still be there, if not greater.

It’s been suspected for a while that lack of outdoor activity – for various reasons including safety fears – where you are exposed to UV light and can focus on distant objects more easily, and over-indulgence in screen time, has led to an increase in the number of myopic i.e. short-sighted, children. I also posted on research from Cambridge University about this over six years ago.

More recently scientists, at the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Australia, were predicting that half the world could be short-sighted by 2050 with 1 in 10 people suffering sever myopia.

The increase is particularly acute in Asia. 90% of teenagers and young people in China are short-sighted and in Seoul 96.5% of 19-year old men are too. In Europe and the West about half of young adults have the condition.

The scientists, reporting in the journal Opthalmology,  said “Among environmental factors, so-called high pressure educational systems, especially at a very young age in countries such as Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, and China, may be a causative lifestyle change, as may the excessive use of near electronic devices

If true the message is clear. Get off your backside, ditch the gadgets and get outside to enjoy the scenery.