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Friday, February 04, 2011

That 'Sputnik moment'

It may well be that I am too young but I was left highly bemused by the analogy with which Rhodri Morgan started his Plenary speech on education on Wednesday. It is not that I have never heard of Sputnik, just that I have never had a Sputnik moment:

Rhodri Morgan: I would like to compliment the Minister on his 40-minute Sputnik-moment speech this morning. Those of us who are old enough to remember Sputnik going up all remember why the phrase 'Sputnik moment’ came into being. It happened when American educators panicked to some degree at the thought that the Russians were ahead of them, and the American press was full of articles that were broadly entitled 'What little Ivan knows that little Johnny doesn’t’.

Was Rhodri saying that the Education Minister was panicking about his own poor performance? We never found out. There is no doubting the former First Minister's grasp of mental arithmetric however:

I remember taking a mental arithmetic test in the 11-plus and being asked the following question, which you would not be asked now: 'You have 49 cigarette butts. It takes seven cigarette butts to give you a smokable cigarette. How many cigarettes would you get from 49 butts?’ Of course, the answer for those who failed the 11-plus was seven, and the answer for those who could think ahead to what the teacher was looking for was eight. That is because you could reuse the seven butts that you got the second time around to give you a second extra cigarette. You would not be asked that these days. That is the application of a life skill to a mathematical problem that would not be usable today. This is about having a balance between pupils doing repeat exam papers and understanding the curriculum that they are being taught.

As Rhodri said, it is not the sort of question you would find in today's classroom, especially following the smoking ban that his administration oversaw.
It's kind of funny that the Welsh Assembly is into President Obama's use of the catch-phrase "Sputnik moment" in the context of a perceived innovation race with China et al.

As to innovation in Wales: "What's happening dudes?"

I haven't done another issued patent check on, e.g., Swansea University, but I seriously doubt if the Swansea University are patenting much of their innovation in the USA. In fact Swansea University seems to spend a lot of time blowing steam/rhetoric about this, that and the other thing.

So what's happening at Swansea University which is waving the innovation flag in support of its' new campus east of the city?

Well, Swansea University didn't make it into the top 100 world ranked universities, nor into the top 200... no sirree, and not into the top 300, and some argue that Swansea University is a world ranked university – well, it is, it’s ranked somewhere, just not in the top 300; in fact Wales still doesn’t have a single university in the top 100 tier whereas Scotland has three.

Innovation - Swansea University yaps on about it, yet its patent filing rate is ... where? Well, in the USA it’s down in the mud.

Oh, what about the millions spent on its' supercomputer - how many issued patents did that generate? Well, in the USA ... well ... not many...

But hey Swansea University could generate 10,000 jobs in partnership with Rolls Royce... and there will be 2,000 lectureships on the new campus...

Hang on, how many people does Rolls Royce employ at its Derby works? Ya know, the place where Rolls Royce actually makes the airliner engines? Oh, about the same number ... so Swansea University will be going ‘nose to nose’ with Rolls Royce's famous Derby works?

How many of those 2,000 lectureships will merely be transfers from its main campus?
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