Monthly Archives: February 2012

Comparing Finnish and British Education: Does Diversity Matter?

Ilari Lovio from the Finnish Institute blogs about education and diversity, raising some questions that will also be tackled in forthcoming seminars.

Finnish education has recently gained substantial attention and interest among politics, policy makers, and the general public in countries such as the United Kingdom and USA. This interest is largely due to Finland’s success in the OECD’s PISA studies, where Finnish students have achieved top ranking results. Consequently, the questions frequently repeated during the last couple of years have been: How is it possible that this small northern nation came to be an educational superpower in just a few decades? And further: Is it possible for other countries to copy the magic recipe?


The educationalists have responded to the first question by pointing out few characteristics about Finnish education. First of all, the quality of teacher education gets always mentioned, as well as responsibility and prestige being the words associated with being a teacher in Finland. Secondly, the equality of the Finnish school system is usually brought up, as Finland offers free schools with free lunches to all pupils, and has concentrated on narrowing down differences between schools in order to make education as equal as possible. Private schools that charge tuition fees or are funded by private sector simply do not exist. Thirdly, the experts often point out, that in Finland students are evaluated much less and the emphasis is directed to cooperation, instead of competition.

The answer to the second question, instead, remains more contested. Despite the enthusiastic interest in Finnish education among policy makers around the world, many also remain skeptical whether the model could be copied and implemented in other societies, such as the UK. Some commentators have suggested that the distinctive characteristics of Nordic countries, especially the relative homogeneity of populations, might make the transfer of principles, policies and practices impossible. Are the countries, their populations and cultures just too different?

When it comes to cultural and ethnic diversity, it is undeniable that Finland and the UK differ. In Finland, foreign-born population makes up around 5% of the demography, whereas in the UK the corresponding number is around 11,5%. Finland was a country of emigration – not immigration – until the 1980’s, and even though, the same partly applies to the UK, due to tight connections to its former colonies, the UK has received immigrants for centuries, affecting the ethnic composition of its population tremendously. Consequently, whereas the UK has had significant ethnic minorities for several generations, in Finland researchers and policy makers are only now starting to systematically investigate the needs and prospects of the second-generation youth.

Therefore, as the Finnish educationalists travel abroad to talk about Finnish schools, they should of course simultaneously keep their ears open for learning something from others. In the UK, it could very much be the experiences and best practices related to education and ethnic or religious minorities.

The vast differences in the diversity of populations in Finland and UK, is a fact. However, it can be – and has been – questioned whether this has much to do with the success of education systems, or with the possibilities to transfer policy ideas from one country to another. In Finland, the number of foreign-born residents doubled during the last decade, but the country still performs well in education, at least in the light of latest PISA studies. Drawing from this and other results, experts have stated that it is the underlying principles of educational policy that rule more than the size or the ethnic makeup of a population.

In fact, last autumn, the Guardian went as far as praising Finland’s education system for setting now the example in educating immigrant children as well. Guardian pointed out how much resources Finnish schools direct to teaching immigrant children the Finnish language, as well as having state funding for Somali pupils to also develop their native language. At the same, the Guardian stated, in the UK, needs of non-English-speaking young immigrants are no longer adequately recognized on the level of policy and funding.

Also the first studies on second generation youth in the Finnish education system give reason for some cautious optimism. Elina Kilpi-Jakonen’s study shows that the equality of the Finnish educational system, and the late selection between upper secondary school and vocational school is advantageous for immigrant children. However, a concern is, that the difficulties adult immigrants encounter in the Finnish labour market – a problem Finland needs to address urgently – threaten to influence immigrant families to the extent that it might hamper the school success of the youngsters.

Either way, despite all the positive attention Finnish education has drawn, the Finnish cannot afford to be lulled into self-satisfaction. Having a longer history in ethnic diversity in the UK, it is for sure that Finnish educationalists should look into the experiences of the British. And in the end, it is enhancing dialogue what is important – and definitely more important than defining who should learn from whom.


Ilari Lovio
The Finnish Institute in London

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The differences and similarities of Finnish and British education systems, and issues related to teacher education and transferring policies will be tackled in a series of events during the spring 2012. The events are organized by the Finnish Institute in London, the Embassy of Finland in London, and their various partners. For more information, see: http://finnish-institute.org.uk/en/society/articles/37/365

Defining Open Design as an Open Knowledge Domain

Massimo Menichinelli of Aalto Media Factory writes about open design and the second Open Data meet-up in Helsinki.

As Kat Braybrooke wrote one month ago, the discussion about Open Knowledge has already started in Finland with a great involvement of people. During the first meet-up of the Open Knowledge Foundation held in Helsinki we had so many interesting ideas and discussions that we decided to organize at least another meet-up in January. Furthermore, we decided to focus this second meet-up on one specific topic of the Open Knowledge universe, Open Design.


The reason for this choice is that the Open Design idea has been around for a bit more than a decade, but only in the past 3 years it has finally bloomed into an ecosystem of initiatives, becoming thus a real phenomenon and not just a hypothesis. However, there is still a lot of work to be done for the development of Open Design: it is not yet clear how to deal with the intellectual property aspects; there is a need for new business models; the interactions between professional designers, companies and amateur designers are still to be understood. Furthermore, there is still not a clear and shared definition and vision of what Open Design is, beside the sharing of design blueprints and the use of more accessible fabrication technologies. Open Design could potentially be a useful strategy for developing more sustainable and user-centered products and services and for enabling more active citizens and bottom-up entrepreneurship in society, but we need to discuss it a bit more before it can have a full impact on society.

We then hosted this second meet-up on January 28th 2012 at Aalto Media Factory in Helsinki,  the platform for collaboration and development in media-related research and education within the Aalto University, where we are building the first Finnish FabLab, the Aalto FabLab. It’s really a pleasure for me that we were able to host this event and start facilitating a discussion about Open Design in the Aalto University and in the city of Helsinki!
 
Pictures:

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=109615


 
As you can see from the presentation below and the pictures above, during that event we started discussing the current situation in Open Design and then we moved towards possible projects to be developed in the following months, in order to further develop Open Design and the local Finnish Open Design community. The goal of the meet-up was to start a discussion and not necessarily to already start projects, however the participants are already thinking about further developing of the first ideas that were presented at the event. Furthermore, we focused especially on the situation regarding an eventual Open Design definition (which is still missing), since the Open Knowledge Foundation has been doing a great job in defining the different forms of Open Knowledge.


Presentation:
Why is this event so important? On one side, this event marks another small milestone in the development of local chapter of the Open Knowledge Foundation in Finland with a growing involvement in the local scene. Another reason is that with this event we started a collective and collaborative discussion about an Open Design definition: you will soon hear more information from the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Aalto Media Factory! Furthermore, this event is another step in the preparation of a big event that will take place in Helsinki next September: the Open Knowledge Festival. This year’s Open Government Data Camp and Open Knowledge Conference are joining to form a week-long celebration during 17th-22nd of September 2012. The event will include lectures, seminars, workshops, hackathons, coding jams and it will also highlight the different Finnish Open Knowledge communities. We hope that the collaborative discussion about the Open Design definition will grow and have a  place also during this event.

So far Open Design has been developed by a set of individuals and institutions that started individually but then gradually formed an ecosystem. This nature of distributed and collaborative network is actually what has been making Open Design so interesting and successful, and it is the proof that it could be a real promising perspective for society and not just some amateurs’ dream. With the Open Knowledge Festival we hope that the discussion about Open Design will be improved and that the international and local community of open designers will gather in Helsinki and collaborate in shaping Open Design’s future.

Massimo Menichinelli
Producer of Aalto Media Factory – Aalto FabLab

Broadband access is a human right. Then what?

 Burcu Baykurt and Minna Aslama Horowitz blog about the importance of a broadband access as a part of knowledge society.

German historian Gerhard Oestreich (1968) says one could see in every basic right the aims of the political and social ordering. As the global discourse on civil and human rights moves toward a more democratic direction, one can easily trace the evolution in communication rights starting with the emphasis on the freedom of expression in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to the more inclusive forms of communication such as the right to have access to information or the right to communicate. With the normalization of the Internet in daily life, the rights-based approach to ICTs becomes more critical on a global as well as national level. Not only the recent protests in Tahrir or Wall Street that use multiple and advanced tools of technology to challenge the established power, but also growing public interest and concerns about our rights in the so-called cyberspace (privacy, copyright, freedom of expression to name a few) confirm Oestreich’s view about the relationship between rights and the political/social order.

We live in a world filled with abundance of information and messages and not only our rights are more mediated by technology, but also our online experience either complicates existing issues or raise new questions in relation to rights and citizenship. Therefore it should not come as a surprise that there is an ongoing discussion about whether the Internet is a human/civil right or not. According to a BBC Poll in 2010, almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental right. Finland is reportedly the first country in the world to legalize broadband access as a human right in 2009. The government’s decision to guarantee every Finn a 1 Mb connection in July 2010 made news all around the world in online activist circles as well as mainstream media. Since then, the United Nations has joined the bandwagon in November 2011. Although the UK has not legalized the Internet access within a rights-framework yet, it highly advocates universal service principle in its broadband policy initiatives through the Digital Economy Act and projects like the Broadband Delivery UK as well as the eAccessibility.

On the one hand, putting the Internet access within a law/regulation context aims to emphasize the critical needs associated with this technology and puts greater pressure on governments and corporations to build the necessary infrastructure. On the other hand, there are some opposing views, sometimes from the least-expected sources – e.g., by one of the founding fathers of the Internet, Vinton G. Cerf, who argues against the focus on technology, i.e. means, rather than the end itself –civil rights in a democratic society. The essence of his argument not only points out the pitfalls of over-prioritizing technology, but also shows how complicated Internet access policies are. Getting connected to the Internet, or stepping into the cyberspace, neither solves the existing inequality issues in society – in defiance of both Finnish and British broadband policies that describe universal broadband access as a panacea for most economic and social problems- nor comes without its own intricacies.

Take Google’s blog services and Twitter – two online global mega platforms that have decided to engage in country-specific content censorship. As the CEO of Twitter notes — and many concerned media-activists debate — this is a complex issue. On one hand, this smells like restricting the freedom of expression in one of the most filter-less communication platforms there is. On the other hand, the country-by-country policy allows dissident voices to be tweeted beyond the borders of a country, even if their tweet would be censored in that country.

Another example: While writing this blog and simultaneously reading a techie activist list-serve, we encountered a case that could be discussed in connection to the UDHR Article 12 (“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence…”). A digital journalism student was searching for experts to interview on social network scraping. The topic was inspired by an incident that sounds like an urban legend (which it might be): The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had allegedly denied two young Brits entrance to the country at the LAX airport. The reason: DHS had discovered that these social-media-addicted tourists had tweeted they would “destroy America” (party in America, in the U.K. slang).

Yet, some might argue, was that an act of privacy interference, as Twitter is a public platform? Why should the DHS not engage in monitoring social media? More broadly, as the diplomatic and military leaks by the whistler-blower online collective and site Wikileaks has made us ponder, what is the right balance between national/global security and secrecy? What are our rights as citizens, on one hand, to privacy and, on the other hand, to information?

The last weeks have also witnessed global activism that created unholy alliances of Silicon Valley and grassroots actors. As documented in this blog, the Internet mega stars Google and Wikipedia went on strike, as did individual bloggers. The controversy populated Facebook statuses, YouTube videos, and tweets. People around the globe learned about SOPA and PIPA, legislation to counter online piracy and copyright infringements that were to be decided upon in the United Stated House and Senate. Similarly, in January 2012 the international Anti Counterfeit Trade Agreement evoked protests in Europe just as the EU officially joined Australia, Canada, Morocco, and the U.S. (among others) in combat against intellectual property rights violations.

This is surprisingly close to another old idea — the Right to Communicate — that was brought about by the Global South in the 1970s and 80s to counter Western cultural imperialism. The UN Universal Declaration (Article 24) does respond to the right of cultural identities — and in the same article, it addresses intellectual ownership: the right to moral and material protection of scientific and artistic authorship. SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA aim at protection of intellectual property. But the opponents of those regulatory initiatives argue that such laws and agreements hinder the openness, collaborations and innovation in the networked, borderless, global environments.

As those examples demonstrate, broadband and Internet policymaking is quite complicated. Different layers of networks (physical, content, service) are controlled by various stakeholders, there are always contested values at play, and it is a very decentralized system that cannot be solely governed by policies or regulation. It is every stakeholder’s, including users, responsibility to reshape how access is defined, measured, and put into action. Network(s), or networking, is not only a technical term but also a process of collaboration that is much needed to achieve effective Internet access for everyone. However, before embarking on this project, it is highly crucial to make sure we speak the same language of access that corresponds to the same complicated, yet more fruitful, picture for each of us.

Physical infrastructure and high-speed connectivity are a must, however making these two available only will neither provide equal access for everyone, nor deliver the promises envisioned in the policies. If the goal is to empower citizens and communities in society, access should be rethought along the lines of its multidimensionality, which is derived from using networks, knowledge, and modes of communication in various areas of life for different purposes in line with the diversity of needs and uses of various groups and individuals. Ensuring effective Internet access available for everyone is not only a difficult, but also a daunting task. However it is what policies of the 21st century to strive for to handle the complexity of networks and utilize the potential of the Internet.

Burcu Baykurt 
New York University’s Media, Culture and Communication Department. Prior to NYU, she studied Political Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London where she conducted research on broadband policies of Finland and the UK.

Minna Aslama Horowitz 

Assistant Professor at St. John’s University, New York.   Affiliated with the McGannon Communication Research Center, Fordham University, New York, and the University of Helsinki, Department of Social Research/Media and Communication Studies.

Open Data Monthly Review 01/2012

A review of latest news and blog posts in the field of open data.

  
IN THE NEWS:

For years, proponents of “government 2.0” have been calling for the liberation of public data. Gigabytes of information about crime, health, money and the weather are gathering dust somewhere, so why not release them so we can build civic and life-improving apps?

The most interesting thing for the European Commission is that so much can be done with so little when it comes to data. Opening up data that is already collected, that taxpayers have already paid for, is right for transparency, and is the cheapest way we know to unlock innovation potential. It’s the best way we know to help Europeans create the jobs and economic growth that we so desperately need.

The federal Data.gov repository experienced major gains in 2011 in the number of data sets added and downloaded and in the number of new applications and “mashups” created with data obtained from the site, according to a new report from the General Services Administration.

We are only one working day into 2012, and already two data startups announced funding rounds. Klout confirmed its Series C, and now social music data gatherer, Next Big Sound, is set to announce a $6.5 million Series A.  The TechStars startup (Class of 2009) just got backing from IA Ventures and Foundry Group. It will also be opening an office in New York City (it is headquartered in Boulder, CO).

The cabinet office data team looks at how public managers can make better choices with more information. No doubt many people will have made New Year’s resolutions for 2012 – and a number of people will already have succumbed to the temptation to temper their original goals or maybe even have decided they don’t really need to learn the bassoon.

One of the easiest targets for budget cutters in a recession is governmental initiatives to make data both accessible to the public and easy to work with. For example, the budget for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Electronic Government Initiatives was cut from $34 million in FY2010 to $8 million in FY2011. Recently Congress asked NOAA to consider charging other federal agencies for data that has historically been provided free of charge.

Making data easy to access will allow citizens to be creative with public data, which can help deliver economic benefits. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude recently argued that access to data can curb public spending; but it should also be an integral part of a more ambitious growth agenda for the UK.

The government has an impressive land and property portfolio, but is releasing figures an effective strategy? Public managers have been divided about the benefits of the government’s release of huge swaths of data. Can statistics alone effect change? The government hopes so. On 12 January, the Cabinet Office released data about the property owned by central government.

The Chinese government has stepped up efforts to make data on the country’s air quality more transparent, including allowing the public to tour the country’s pollution monitoring centre.

The Cabinet Office has appointed Tim Kelsey as its new executive director for transparency and open data within the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG).
  
The Cabinet Office open data team celebrates the release of more information than ever before about secondary school education.

Concerns about personal privacy appeared in a “significant” number of responses to the government’s consultation on transparency and open data, the Cabinet Office revealed today.

In the fall of 2011, a team of six IBM experts spent three weeks in Helsinki as part of IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge program. The program brings together an interdisciplinary team to focus on a challenge faced by a city. In the case of Helsinki, the City wanted to make the most of two opportunities. One was that Helsinki had just begun to implement an open data strategy to make city data available to its citizens. The second was Helsinki’s selection as the 2012 World Design Capital, a biennial event that promotes cities that are using design to improve their social, cultural and economic life.

Over the past years we have experienced an increased understanding for the importance of open data. We’ve seen governments, non-governmental organizations and even private and public companies open up their data repositories. Beside the open data champions inside these entities that pushed the idea through ignorance, bureaucracy and firewalls, there has also been a lot of work done to provide guidance, standards and tools. One important contributor of such things is the Open Knowledge Foundation. The globally-located and community-focused team that nurtures communities and builds tools to promote open knowledge, data and content. I think it’s time to show my appreciation by highlighting some of their initiatives.

We live in a connected society, where devices and data are being pulled together to profoundly change business, our personal lives, society and even nations. In this introduction to this PublicTechnology.net Agenda, I want to try to outline, in non-technical terms, some of the benefits to the sector (and ultimately the taxpayer) of extracting and linking data.

 IN THE BLOGS:

I am pleased to announce the following open content textbooks
Open Data Structures (in Java) Edition 0.1
Open Data Structures (in C++) Edition 0.1Beta
These books, and accompanying source code, are freely available at http://opendatastructures.org/

Last year during my Open Government Data Camp keynote speech on The State of Open Data 2011 I mentioned how I thought the central challenge for open data was shifting from getting data open (still a big issue, but a battle that is starting to be won) to getting all that open data in some common standards and schemas so that use (be it apps, analysis and other uses) can be scaled across jurisdictions.

By now, just about any city with a progressive outlook has conducted an open data apps contest–inviting hackers to create applications that make life better there. But Dublin, Ireland, is putting other places to shame. Next year, its HACK THE CITY exhibition and festival will present a slew of events, workshops, installations, and mass-participation experiments aimed at exploring ways to make cities work better. “We want to leave an imprint that inspires people to think differently about how we could an should live in cities,” says Teresa Dillon, curator for the festival at Science Gallery, an initiative of Trinity College Dublin.

While being most commonly known from the recent Linked Open Data movement, the concept of publishing data explicitly as Open Data has meanwhile developed many variants and facets that go beyond publishing large and highly structured RDF/S repositories. Open Data comprises text and semi-structured data, but also open multi-modal contents, including music, images, and videos. With the increasing amount of data that is published by governments (see, e.g., data.gov, data.gov.uk or data.gouv.fr), by international organizations (data.worldbank.org or data.undp.org) and by scientific communities (tdar.org, cds.u-strasbg.fr, GenBank, IRIS or KNB) explicitly under an Open Data policy, new challenges arise not only due to the scale at which this data becomes available.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, today delivered a complete coup de grâce for ICT education by accepting wholeheartedly that ICT education, and indeed the cross-curricular syllabus, was fundamentally broken. He accepted that traditional methods for mending a broken bureaucratic, micro-managed education system would not address the immediacy of the problem, and so he threw it open to the floor.

Remind me again: what’s the purpose of opening up all this public data?
Ah yes, that’s it. To create value. And you can’t get a much stronger example of real value in the real world than showing people how to save money when buying train tickets.
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