A kid has to follow the footprints of Einstein

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This summer we had a short holiday in one of the loveliest coastal regions of Belgium: De Haan. One of the interesting facts of that place is its connection with Einstein. Back in 1933, the famous scientist came to De Haan and live in villa “Savoyarde” for six months, after leaving Nazi Germany. We took the kids there to visit the places where Einstein lived, and visited the sculpture in the nearby park to commemorate this part of history.

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This also brought back a lot of memories, because during this summer holiday of 2019, I read an interesting book about Soviet Russia, translated into Turkish by a dear friend of mine. That same friend of mine gave me a book back in 2006, and it was about Einstein. Coincidentally, the sculpture of Einstein in De Haan was placed in the park in 2006! Of course, 13 years ago I didn’t know anything about De Haan, and neither could I imagine being a father of two sons and taking them there, telling my 8-year-old some stories about Einstein.

As our time perception continues to be shaped by the experiences we live, people we come across, books we read, places we visit and art we experience, I wonder what kind of stories I’ll be sharing with my kids 13 years from now. But one thing for sure, I want to continue to follow the footprints of Einstein, and explore the history of science together with my children, enriching our collective memories.

Do we really want a data driven education system and are we ready to pay the price?

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finland-vs.-united-states-2009-pisa-results-from-ncee.orgWe are only a few months away from 2015 and even though my three-year-old son is yet to start the ‘serious’ part of his education, I cannot help but wonder what kind of a mental experience he will have during the next 15-20 years. According to the newspapers we are almost drowning in the world of abundant data, big data, so to say, but leaving aside the latest trends and buzzwords, are we really making the best use of our capabilities to enhance, deepen and widen the learning experience of our children?

For example, take this very interesting article from The Washington Post: “Homework: An unnecessary evil? … Surprising findings from new research“. The main point of the article, that there is no correlation between homework and grades, as well as test scores, flies very much agaist the traditional educational patterns, isn’t it? But then I would expect very careful, data driven analyses from people who would argue against the findings discussed in the article. Shall I get such a treatment? I doubt so, because as usual, relying on ‘common sense’ is almost always easier than the painstaking scientific approach and as we all come to expect, experimenting on humans, especially toying with the education practices of children is a very sensitive area, it is always the children that bear the real costs, good or bad. Having said that, I cannot keep myself from thinking that if so much computing power cannot help us with a scientific and data driven approach to enhancing education, then what will? More

What will be the future of education in Belgium?

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grafiekenHaving a 3-year-old son makes me think about the future of education in Belgium. I try to keep an informed perspective, though it is difficult to be an optimist after reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century“. In this short blog entry, I wanted to take note of some recent facts, so that I might refer to them, maybe 15-20 years from now, when my son goes to university.

Fact 1: In 2014, there is an electrified debate regarding the raise in tuition fees for universities. For more information you can read “UGent valt verhoging inschrijvingsgeld aan” and “Wentel besparingen niet af op studenten“. Even though there is still visible and vocal opposition against putting students in a position where they will graduate with a lot of debt, the genie is already out of the bottle, and people who control the mainstream media continue to support discussions over this issue. More

Let me tell you what is difficult: Trying to find a school for your kid in Antwerp

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The process of finding a school for our son started in a very high-tech manner: The Ministry of Education had prepared a cool-looking website, and we have logged into it right after it was made online. We have answered tons of questions, and very carefully registered our preferences for 5 different schools, all of them conveniently close to us or where we work. Then we started to wait. Our reasoning was that, we would be able to register our son in one of those schools that we really liked. After all, if the first school was full, and the second, and the third… well at least the fifth choice would be available.

The time has passed and we have received the result, in the form of an official, formal letter, telling us that none of those schools had places for our son. We should go and find another school. We looked for some explanations in that letter, none to be found. After some inquiry, we were able to learn that, for example, in the first school our son was on the waiting list, as the 49. pupil. Again, we did not have any idea why he was 49th, and not, for example 10th.

Apparently having a nice web site, and spending parents’ time by forcing them to answer tons of demographic questions do not lead to a satisfactory result on behalf of them. And we are talking about a city, Antwerp,  whose population is only about 500.000 people, not millions of people. I suggest that, if the Ministry of Education is so keen on gathering data from us, it does some data science and statistics and calculate some trends about the growth of population growth and match this with the number of required schools so that parents do not face such frustration.

In our case, we are still searching for a school that is convenient for us and our son.

Are we overloading our kids with homework and killing their creativity?

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hwAccording to recent news (see Flanders Today and Klasse Leraren), in some countries, such as Belgium, children are overloaded with homework:

Secondary schools are overloading students with homework, according to Lyle Muns, chairman of the Flemish secondary school students organisation. Muns feels excessive homework assignments are obliging many students to stay home too much, with too little time to develop essential social skills. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Flemish 15-year-olds spend an average just over six hours a week on homework; their Finnish counterparts, for instance, spend 3.7 hours a week on assignments but achieve better results.

Personally, I have nothing against working and studying hard, as long as it involves intrinsic motivation strongly coupled with spiritual satisfaction, but I have also started to get the impression that kids these days, at least a representative sample I generally come across, are really busy; busier than adults, if I may say so!

Finland, in this case, stands as the ultimate example of the worn out cliché “work smarter, not harder”. Nevertheless, I think we need to think more about the correlation (and the causality relationship) between the amount of homework given to the kids and their long-term success, because, well, in the long-term that’s what counts, and not some temporary test scores that helps the feelings of teachers and parents.

The first step of our son’s pre-school registration and linguistic issues of children in Belgium

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Meld je aan - school pre-registration website

Meld je aan – school pre-registration website

1 March 2013 was an exciting day for us because we completed the first step of our 1.5 year old son Arman’s pre-school registration. We were very much satisfied by the pre-registration website that the Flemish Ministry for Education prepared for parents: https://meldjeaan.antwerpen.be. They have even prepared a short video demonstrating the process, but I think having subtitles in a few different languages would be a very useful addition to this nice video.

The website requested that we select 5 different schools and now it is time to wait for about 1.5 months to see whether our first choice has enough places so that we can go and register Arman there. Among some schools that are at a convenient distance to us, we have also selected a Montessori school, and I’m curious about the experience, should Arman start attending there.

The surprising factor about the pre-registration web site was the questions they asked about the linguistic skills of our son, e.g. what language he used when speaking to his mother, what language with the father, what language with brothers and sisters, and what language when communicating with friends (apparently they forgot the valuable option of babbling ;-)) It would be very nice if the Flemish Ministry for Education publish this data anonymously and keep the spirit of free, open, and high quality data that is one of the pillars of the information age in which we are living.

Brieven aan Jonge Ouders (Letters to Young Parents) Magazine

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We have recently received yet another issue of Brieven aan Jonge Ouders (Letters to Young Parents) magazine and I wanted to say thank you to the Gezinsbond (Family Bond) organization in Belgium for this nice and useful publication. We’ve received this magazine on a regular basis since our son was born in 2011, and it contains a lot of useful information for parents and every issue focuses on babies at the relevant age , e.g. the most recent issue is for 19-20 month old toddlers (see the photograph below). During the first few months we have even received another magazine (from the same organization) for grandparents, describing things that they can do with their grandchildren 🙂 I truly appreciate the efforts of the editors and authors of this magazine.

Jonge Ouders

Jonge Ouders

 

How to register your toddler to preschool in Belgium: RTFM ;-)

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One of the things I have learned about Belgium is that almost every child starts his or her preschool education at the age of 2.5, which means that our 1.5 year old kid has only 1 year left before he starts his preschool education. I was curious about the process and asked a lot of questions to my wife. She said that the ministry of education would send all the required documents and information for the process, so we started to wait for it enthusiastically. Finally the big day came and we have received our mail recently.

Booklets and letter for preschool registration

Booklets and letter for preschool registration

I must say that I’m impressed by the contents of the mail. The booklets sent to us are not only very well designed graphically, but also contain all the necessary information, describing all the steps required to start and complete the registration for our son. It gave me yet another opportunity to exercise my Dutch reading skills, and thanks to the authors’ use of plain language, I was able to understand almost all the instructions. All in all, the process seems to be simple and straightforward: We’re going to log into a web site, pick up the first few school names that we prefer (they have sent us a detailed list of all the schools via mail), submit our choice and then wait for a few weeks, at the end of which we will be informed about the school, and go there to physically register our son by signing the relevant documents, thereby completing the process.

My heartfelt thanks go to everyone involved in designing those informative booklets, so far I’m very much satisfied by the way the government institutions handled the communication for the first steps of our son’s education. I’m excited and eagerly looking forward to the day of starting the first step of registration.

Yet another Scratch programming workshop for kids – TEDxYouth@Flanders 2012

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Long story short: The children were excited but I was probably more excited than them during the “Programming and creativity using Scratch” workshop series that took place at Koninklijk Atheneum Antwerpen as part of the TEDxYouth@Flanders 2012. Both the morning and the afternoon sessions went very well, and it was a unique experience exploring the fundamentals of computational thinking with children while helping them take their first steps into programming using Scratch. After this event, I have decied to publish my “Scratch Workshop Agenda” document under a Creative Commons license so that other people who would like to organize similar events could be able to take this as a starting point. It is also very nice to see that the previous version of this document had been used at the Devoxx4Kids events (held in Dutch and then French).

Programming and creativity using Scratch - 1

Programming and creativity using Scratch – 1

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Scratch programming workshop at TEDxYouth@Flanders 2012

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I get very excited whenever an opportunity presents itself to introduce computational thinking and creativity to children. This Saturday, together with our young participants, I’ll be leading an introductory Scratch workshop, similar to the International Scratch Day 2012 we did in Antwerp, Belgium a few months ago. This time, the Scratch event will be a part of TEDxFlanders Youth 2012. If you browse the program, you will see that in addition to my introductory Scratch programming workshop, there are other workshops related to Lego Robotics, 3D scanning, Mars Exploration, 3D printing and many other interesting, cool topics (why didn’t they do things like that when I was a kid? Sigh! :)).

So if you are living in Antwerp, or nearby and have a kid who is curious about the world, feel free to visit http://2012.tedxflanders.be/youth to register.  While your child explores many aspects of technology and creativity in a hands-on manner, you can enjoy the main TEDxFlanders event that is barely a few hundred meters away.

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