by Stephen Downes
Feb 11, 2015
What’s wrong with Facebook-sponsored Internet access?
This column is an argument in favour of a new type of internet access which allows a Facebook and "selected health, employment and local information websites" to run without data charges, but which will see fees levied for any other sort of internet use (like, say, this newsletter). What's wrong with this? asks the author, responding to what he calls a diatribe in the Guardian. "This vision of a single demoniacal institution consolidating its power at the expense of the poor is misleading... Facebook is no alcove, but rather a powerful tool by which members of developing nations can create their own networks, beyond traditional media." To be fair, Facebook isn't the first app to do this - Skype has been doing to for some time, to enable calling. But this takes it to a new level. If Facebook really thought this service did not exploit the poor, it would be rolling it out in places like New York and Tokyo. But of course it won't. It will use the poverty of people to entrap them into an environment where normal internet freedoms are, to use a phrase, "rendered quaint."
Samsung gives warning about talking in front of the Smart TV
Not the TV! It is - quite literally - Orwellian. As the Toronto Star summarizes, "A voice command feature on Samsung’s Smart TV could allow the interception of private living room conversations and their transmission to third parties, the company says in a privacy statement highlighted Monday by online news site the Daily Beast." So if you have one of the TVs (and I do, here) then you have to be careful what you say, as it will be sent to a third party, transcribed, and then - well, who knows what then?
Seven big myths about top-performing school systems
I really have mixed feelings about this article, mostly because of how some of the things are phrased rather than the actual points made. For example, it says that it is a myth that "disadvantaged pupils are doomed to do badly in school." Yet we know that socio-economic status of a child's parents is the best predictor of educational outcome. What the author wants to say, but isn't saying clearly, is that if we address the negative impact of socio-economic inequality, poor children do as well as rich children. That is pretty clear - but caching that thinking inside a vague and loaded term like 'doomed' misleads and muddles. Similarly with the assertion that there is "no relationship between class size and learning outcomes." On its face, it's a silly assertion - being in a class of a million students to one teacher would be less beneficial than one-to-one tutoring. But we make things clearer when understanding that what we really mean is "the highest performing education systems in Pisa tend to systematically prioritise the quality of teachers over the size of classes."
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