Monthly Archives: January 2012

An online tool to learn about the Holocaust

Today, the 27th of January, is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. It is declared an International Day of Commemoration to honor victims of the Holocaust by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution on Holocaust remembrance: resolution A/RES/60/7.

The resolution condemns any denial of the Holocaust’s happening. It urges schools of member nations to adopt educational programs that facilitate learning about the Holocaust to prevent the horrors of genocide in the future.   

The UN Department of Public Information has partnered with the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute to make the educational plans happen. According to a press release, the Shoah Foundation Institute was established by Stephen Spielberg in 1994. The institute manages one of the largest video digital libraries, with 54,000 testimonials from Holocaust survivors.

And now students and teachers have access to some of the video testimonials–more than 1,000 of them—as an online educational resource. The resource has been named IWitness. It is developed for students between the ages of 13 and 18. IWitness has added a deeply personal and relevant touch to learning about the Holocaust beyond what any textbook could teach.

“The video is an immediacy that allows them to not only see the faces but also hear the voices. It’s from a personal point of view because they are connected with something that is very human, and that’s unique,” Kim Simon, managing director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute told USC’s campus publication, the Daily Trojan.

The Shoah Foundation Institute’s Web site also states that the IWitness application contains access to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s vast Holocaust Encyclopedia and Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Resource Center. This includes access to archived documents, photographs, maps, letters, and diary entries.

That’s pretty cool, in my book.

On January 23, more than 350 New York metropolitan area high school students assembled at the UN Headquarters to discuss their experiences with IWitness, a UN press release states.  Students talked about the videos they had seen. They also had the opportunity to interview a Holocaust survivor, Roman Kent, who was a guest at the event.

A webcast of the gathering can be viewed here.

Other than the links I have provided, there isn’t much that has been written about the schools’ reception of this program. I can only assume that it has been a useful and positive educational tool. But I would really like to know how many schools and how many classrooms are implementing the program. Is the program available to college students like myself?

For this important part of history I am glad to see an innovative way of teaching. If we are to make sure history won’t repeat itself, it is important to learn fully as many different perspectives and voices on the subject as possible.

You can view some sample testimonial videos on the IWitness Web site.

So extensive are the archives that you can plug in a name and videos will appear. It may be worth a subscription.


India, where my heart longs to go

For a few years, I’ve had in my head that I might want to teach children in India. I have never researched the educational situation there, but I have amassed a vague collection of knowledge about education on that side of the world, most of which may not even be correct. I see photographs of children living in dirt, poking through trash heaps. But I also hear, mostly in conversations about America’s educational pitfalls, how India and China crank out math and science geniuses by the boatload, then ship them to America. These students’ drive is intense, and all they want to do is study. They are no competition for our distracted and unmotivated youths of America, these conversationalists usually conclude.

I’ve skated on the tip of the iceberg, as far as researching this country’s education system. I hope you don’t mind reading a few statistics.

Here is what the government of India has decided in terms of education:

The legislative department of India upheld The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in 2009. It mandates that all children ages 6- 14 be enrolled in primary schools. It excludes the states of Jammu and Kashmir, which lie on the northernmost point of India, sandwiched between Pakistan and China. I see how this could be ambiguous territory. Also, children with disabilities should have a right to pursue education. They are allowed to transfer. Children from the “weaker section”, or lower class, shall not be discriminated against in terms of education.

It all looks so good on paper. I wonder if this is really the situation in India.

World Bank says that the number of out-of-school children was an estimated 8.1 million in 2009, which was a significant cut down from 25 million in 2003. Most of the students still not enrolled are from “marginalized social groups.”

Estimates of child poverty show that about 33 percent of Indian children up to age 14 are living below the absolute poverty line. This statistic increases a couple digits in urban India.

The absolute poverty line in India is defined by a number of factors, such as calorie intake and expenditures, and it is based on minimum living standards. Beyond that vague explanation, I admit that the poverty threshold is a bit more statistically defined than my simple mind can follow.

Another article I was looking at points out that just having literacy and a primary education is not of much value in the job market. It also says that “educational poverty” (aka no access to any elementary education) and “income poverty” are directly related. Elementary education has seen massive growth during India’s post-independence period. And though concerted efforts have been made to place children in primary schools, little attention is paid to the relationship between higher education and success in the labor market or development of the society as a whole. A few researchers have found that it is secondary education that cements the gains from primary education. With only a primary education, the article argues, it may be easy for students to slip below the poverty line once again after completing schooling.

So it looks like South Africa is not the only nation with a shortage of opportunities for higher education.

Article: Post- Elementary Education, Poverty and Development in India, by Jandhyala B G Tilak


On higher education in South Africa


Students try to force their way in to the University of JohannesburgStudents waiting to register at the University of Johannesburg.                             Source: Reuters, at the Guardian

The mother of a prospective student was killed Tuesday in a stampede of student hopefuls rushing the gates of the University of Johannesburg.

According to the New York Times article, the crowd had been waiting since before dawn for the handful of last-minute seats in the university. The Guardian reports that students and parents camped outside the school gates at least a day in advance. Only 11,000 students could be chosen out of the 85,000 that applied.

That could certainly be a cause for tension.

But I couldn’t come close to justifying this unspeakable tragedy with its cause. Someone’s mother is dead for this? Sources differ on whether the student even made it inside to register.

Though this death couldn’t be justified, I am looking to understand where these people are coming from. I know they are coming out of decades of oppression under white minority rule. I know young, black adults were barely given a chance at higher education under apartheid. And I’m willing to bet that it’s still not easy to obtain any kind of post-secondary education, even after apartheid’s end in 1994.

The Guardian argues that the issue is still one of race, one of class. The grip apartheid held on higher education opportunities has not been fully released. This incident was one that drew some of South Africa’s poorest students—the reason they were racing for seats in the first place was because they missed the first application deadline, which was only available online.

In a statement from the ANC Youth League, the serious gap in seats available and seats demanded at  universities like University of Johannesburg is considered a crisis.

To alleviate the stress between the number of qualified students and spaces available at universities, South Africa’s education minister, Blade Nzimande, suggests more students look at technical school, called Further Education and Training (F.E.T) colleges.

But there are students who spoke to the New York Times who said that a diploma from an F.E.T. college is not enough. Companies are simply not hiring.

In a nation crippled by high unemployment rates and wracked by poverty, it is no wonder how a matter like registering for a spot in a university has escalated into such an uphill battle for many. To think how easily I obtained university admittance in comparison is astonishing. My home state of Florida wants students to attend public universities so badly that it is willing to pay most of the tuition for students who fulfill a few simple requirements like GPA and community service involvement. Sure, the application process is unnerving for many students. Students don’t always get accepted to their first-choice college. But I am persuaded that my state– my country– has made opportunities for these students to attend a wide variety of universities or community colleges.

This unfortunate incident in South Africa is really a problem of the system. The nation has come a long way under the African National Congress, but it still has much progress to make, namely in the education sector. It is my hope that the change will happen quickly.