Monthly Archives: March 2017

New Zealand school where children are free to roam

Deep among the streams and Kauri trees of rural south Auckland, New Zealand’s newest and most alternative school is in session. The weather is fine so a bout of fishing is in order, followed by lunch cooked on an open fire. Homework and classes? Indefinitely dismissed.

“We are called a school but we look nothing like any school out there,” says Joey Moncarz, co-founder and head teacher at Deep Green Bush School, which is in term two of its inaugural year.

“We don’t do things like telling kids it is time to write or learn maths. When they are interested in doing it, they do it.”

Moncarz is an ex-mainstream teacher. After five, frustrating years in mainstream schools in New Zealand he quit to found Deep Green Bush school, which has a roll of eight, and no classroom walls, time-out chairs or tests.

Concerned that mainstream schools were not preparing children for the global problems of the future – such as climate change –Moncarz envisioned a radically different kind of education, rooted in the primal skills of hunting, gathering and survival.

If the weather allows, pupils spend the majority of their day outdoors, exploring the New Zealand bush, learning to fish and hunt, trapping possums (which are considered a pest) and learning about the flora and fauna of their home.

The more traditional school skills, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, are acquired at their own pace, after they begin showing an interest in them. Not, says Moncarz, when the teacher dictates it is time to learn.

 Joey Moncarz and children who attend the Deep Green Bush School in New Zealand. Photograph: Deep Green Bush School

“We don’t have what you’d traditionally consider problem kids,” says Moncarz .

“Our parents saw their kids were unhappy and stressed in mainstream education and they started questioning; is it normal or right for kids to come home stressed and unhappy? Having taught in a mainstream school, I’d say most kids are stressed and unhappy.”

Bush school is registered with the Ministry of Education as an independent school, and therefore does not have to abide by the standard New Zealand curriculum, although it is subject to ministerial oversight.

Loosely inspired by the Sudbury Valley School in the US, which in turn was inspired by A.S Neill’s Summerhill school in the UK, since launching in January Moncarz has been fielding requests from around New Zealand and abroad to open chapters of Bush School in places as far afield as China and Europe.

Dr David Berg, a senior lecturer in education at the University of Otago, says there is a growing precedent for alternative “bush” schools worldwide, especially in Scandinavia, where some kindergarten children go ice-fishing during the school day.

America University Rankings 2017

In calculating the top universities in Latin America, the Times Higher Education Latin America University Rankings 2017 use the same 13 performance indicators as the THE World University Rankings, but they are recalibrated to reflect the qualities of Latin America’s institutions.

The universities are judged across all of their core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook – to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available


The institution knocks previous champion and neighbour, the University of São Paulo, down to second place in the THE Latin America University Rankings 2017, thanks to a strong performance in terms of its research influence (citations) and industry income.

However, while Brazil dominates the ranking, claiming two-fifths of places – or 32 out of 81 – only 18 of these make the top 50, down from 23 last year. Overall, 20 Brazilian universities have dropped places.

Marcelo Knobel, rector of the State University of Campinas, said that the rankings results reflected long-term improvements that the institution has made to its research strategy and knowledge transfer efforts over the past 15 years.

He said that the university has a “very selective process in hiring new faculty” and works in close collaboration with businesses on research.

However, he said that the university is struggling financially because of Brazil’s economic crisis.

“Our budget is close to what it was in 2008, but the problem is that the university grew by about 30 per cent in that same period,” he said.

“We have to restrict our investment in new buildings. It will affect the research and the functioning of the university.”

The institution knocks previous champion and neighbour, the University of São Paulo, down to second place in the THE Latin America University Rankings 2017, thanks to a strong performance in terms of its research influence (citations) and industry income.

However, while Brazil dominates the ranking, claiming two-fifths of places – or 32 out of 81 – only 18 of these make the top 50, down from 23 last year. Overall, 20 Brazilian universities have dropped places.

Marcelo Knobel, rector of the State University of Campinas, said that the rankings results reflected long-term improvements that the institution has made to its research strategy and knowledge transfer efforts over the past 15 years.

He said that the university has a “very selective process in hiring new faculty” and works in close collaboration with businesses on research.

However, he said that the university is struggling financially because of Brazil’s economic crisis.

“Our budget is close to what it was in 2008, but the problem is that the university grew by about 30 per cent in that same period,” he said.

“We have to restrict our investment in new buildings. It will affect the research and the functioning of the university.”

Help students become better learners

Encouraging students to build awareness, understanding and control of their thought processes – also known as metacognition – has been identified by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Toolkit as one of the most cost-effective ways to improve learning. It’s also thought to help boost performance in subjects such as maths, science and English.

It’s all about about getting students to think critically about their own learning. As the EEF explains, learners can be given “specific strategies to set goals and monitor and evaluate their own academic development … the intention is often to give pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from during learning activities”.

Help students understand the importance of preparation and an effective approach to setting goals. For good goal setting, you need to include a combination of both short-term and long-term goals, focus on developing skills (instead of just desired outcomes) and consider potential obstacles. If students know what challenges may come their way, they should be better equipped to overcome them when the time comes.

It’s hard to manage our emotions and thoughts if we aren’t aware of what we’re thinking and feeling. Self-awareness doesn’t always come easily for students because their brains are going through a range of changes during their teenage years.

Research shows, however, that self-awareness can be developed by encouraging students to keep a diary. Evidence also suggests that writing a diary can actually improve physical health and mental wellbeing. It can help students to spot any trends and patterns, making it easier to manage emotions and choose effective thought processes before they get stressed about more difficult tasks.

If a task can be divided into the three stages of before, during and after then it’s possible to help students improve their metacognition by getting them to ask themselves good questions at each stage.

Before a task, this includes questions such as “Is this similar to previous tasks I’ve done?” and “What should I do first?” During a task, questions such as “Am I on the right track?’ and “Who can I ask for help?” ensure students monitor their performance and make adjustments if necessary. Finally, after a task, students can reflect and learn on their experiences by asking “What went well?”, “What do I need to improve on?” and “What would I do differently next time?”

Being exposed to a range of different thought processes gives students a larger variety of potential thinking strategies. Try modelling or talking through your thoughts when going through questions in a past exam paper, for example.

Evidence suggests that this strategy is currently under-used, with one studyfinding that “in 170 hours of observation, only one instance of a teacher modelling her thinking about reading or writing was recorded, and this was unplanned”. The approach may be effective because it avoids any ambiguity and allows students to tap into your expert knowledge and experience.

Turkish schools to stop teaching evolution

Evolution will no longer be taught in Turkish schools, a senior education official has said, in a move likely to raise the ire of the country’s secular opposition.

Alpaslan Durmuş, who chairs the board of education, said evolution was debatable, controversial and too complicated for students. 

“We believe that these subjects are beyond their [students] comprehension,” said Durmuş in a video published on the education ministry’s website.

Durmuş said a chapter on evolution was being removed from ninth grade biology course books, and the subject postponed to the undergraduate period. Another change to the curriculum may reduce the amount of time that students spend studying the legacy of secularism.

Critics of the government believe public life is being increasingly stripped of the secular traditions instilled by the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The secular opposition has long argued that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pursuing a covert Islamist agenda contrary to the republic’s founding values. Education is a particularly contentious avenue, because of its potential in shaping future generations. Small-scale protests by parents in local schools have opposed the way religion is taught.

There is little acceptance of evolution as a concept among mainstream Muslim clerics in the Middle East, who believe it contradicts the story of creation in scripture, in which God breathed life into the first man, Adam, after shaping him from clay. Still, evolution is briefly taught in many high school biology courses in the region.

The final changes to the curriculum are likely to be announced next week after the Muslim Eid or Bayram festival at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The draft changes had been put forth for public consultation at the beginning of the year.

The subject of evolution in particular stirred debate earlier this year after Numan Kurtulmuş, the deputy prime minister, described the process as a theory that was both archaic and lacking sufficient evidence.

Reports in Turkish media in recent weeks, based on apparent leaks of school board meetings, have also predicted a diminished role in the curriculum for the study of Atatürk, and an increase in the hours devoted to studying religion. Durmuş said that a greater emphasis would be placed on the contributions of Muslim and Turkish scientists and history classes would move away from a “Euro-centric” approach.

The changes were based on a broad public consultation in which parents and the public played a key role, he said.

The Islamist-secularist debate is just one of a series of divides in a country that two months ago narrowly approved a referendum granting President Erdoğan broad new powers.

Many in the religiously conservative element of the president’s support base admire his piety and see his ascension as a defeat of the elite “White Turks” – a westernised elite that used to dominate the upper echelons of society and was accused of looking down with disdain on poorer, more religiously inclined citizens.