Monday, 1 April 2013

New curriculum teaches 'more cookery and horticulture than technology'

The chairman of one of the UK's biggest companies has attacked a key plank of the new national curriculum for teaching children more about horticulture and cookery than technology.

Dick Olver, whose firm BAE Systems has shown strong support for the government's education reforms by being a partner in a new technical school, warned that "something had gone very wrong" in drafting the design and technology curriculum.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published draft curriculums for 10 secondary school subjects. Teachers have until the middle of next month to suggest changes. They will be expected to teach the new curriculums from September 2014.

Olver, who is also chair of E4E, an organisation of 36 engineering institutions, said the draft proposals for design and technology did "not meet the needs of a technologically literate society".

"Instead of introducing children to new design techniques , such as biomimicry (how we can emulate nature to solve human problems), we now have a focus on cookery. Instead of developing skills in computer-aided design, we have the introduction of horticulture. Instead of electronics and control, we have an emphasis on basic mechanical maintenance tasks," he told a conference of educators earlier this month. "In short, something has gone very wrong."

Olver said the UK was at "crisis point". "We have to double our output of engineers from the education system now. We have to increase engineering graduates from 20,000 to 40,000 each year … for the economy to stand still. This is just to keep the lights on and the infrastructure ticking over."

Engineers' advice to the DfE on the design and technology curriculum had been "completely ignored", he said.

Olver is the latest in a long line of critics of the new curriculum. Last month, Steven Mastin, who stood as a Tory candidate in the last general election and is a history teacher, said the proposed curriculumfails to offer children a broad and balanced education. Presidents of the Royal Historical Society, the Historical Association, the higher education group History UK and senior members of the British Academy have also criticised the draft.

Olver's remarks come as teaching unions labelled the curriculum "a pub-quiz primer" with an "exhaustive list of topics and age-inappropriate concepts". Andy Stone, a teacher from Wandsworth, told the National Union of Teachers' annual conference in Liverpool that it left no opportunity for teachers to respond when pupils asked questions about stories their grandmother had told them about the war or the news story they had read on Richard III's skeletal remains.

Delegates adopted a motion stating that the curriculum would reduce "creativity and enjoyment at school, alienate young people and lead to more school absence … and disaffection".

Anne Swift, from the NUT's executive committee, said she feared teachers would be forced to make children learn facts by rote, with inspectors turning up to test the children's knowledge of the continents, chronological order of history and times tables.

"It will be … a test every week to check that the empty vessels are filling up with facts, facts and more facts, ready for the tests, tests and more tests. Why does Mr Gove want to return to a curriculum more reminiscent of yesteryear?"

A DfE spokesman said the draft national curriculum was "challenging and ambitious" and would give every child "the broad and balanced education they need to fulfil their potential".

A Department for Education spokesman said the draft design and technology curriculum would give pupils the "skills and expertise to develop the innovative and creative designs and products of the future".

"We will consider views on how we can create a curriculum that will embody high expectations and give every child the broad and balanced education they need to fulfil their potential," he said, adding that the government had engaged with academics and experts and carefully analysed the world's most successful school systems before "building a curriculum which embodies high expectations".

Friday, 4 November 2011

U.S. Report Accuses China and Russia of Internet Spying

American intelligence agencies, in an unusually blunt public criticism of China and Russia, reported to Congress on Thursday that those two foreign governments steal valuable American technology over the Internet as a matter of national policy.

Both China and Russia hide behind the anonymity of proxy computers and dispersed routers in third countries to pilfer proprietary corporate information to accelerate their own economic development, according to the new intelligence assessment.

They have also targeted the computer networks of government agencies and universities, the report said.

American officials have for years hinted that China and Russia were leading suspects in the Internet theft of economic secrets, and those accusations have appeared as scattered commentary in government reports. Google has accused China twice in two years of broad Internet intrusions targeting its users.

However, American officials, when pressed, have said that pinpointing the culprits remained difficult in cyberspace, and they also usually emphasized that specific complaints of computer-network espionage were best raised in private government-to-government channels.

In contrast, the new intelligence study, compiled as a report to Congress on foreign economic and industrial espionage over the past two years, presents a pointed case that China and Russia are the leading actors in the Internet theft of economic secrets.

“The computer networks of a broad array of U.S. government agencies, private companies, universities and other institutions — all holding large volumes of sensitive economic information — were targeted by cyber espionage,” the report said.

“Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage,” it added. “Russia’s intelligence services are conducting a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from U.S. targets.”

The governments in Beijing and Moscow, and their intelligence services, contract with independent hackers to expand their capabilities and cloak responsibility for the computer intrusions, the report said.

Even friendly nations spy on the United States via computers. The report warns that “some U.S. allies and partners use their broad access to U.S. institutions to acquire sensitive U.S. economic and technology information.”

In addition, some of the efforts to steal American economic, technical and trade secrets are conducted by foreign corporations, by organized criminal groups and by individuals.

Internet espionage exists within the United States, but it is subject to domestic criminal law, and intelligence officials underscored that the United States does not conduct economic espionage as a matter of national policy.

Senior officials in China also state unwaveringly that their government opposes computer-based espionage. In July, during a news conference in Beijing, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, “The Chinese government opposes hacking in all its manifestations.”

Most computer-network espionage against American economic targets has focused on these areas, according to the study: information and communications technology; assessments of supplies of scarce natural resources; technologies for clean energy and health care systems or pharmaceuticals; and military data, especially maritime systems, and air and space technologies.

The report is the collective assessment of 14 American intelligence agencies and was compiled by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, which reports to the director of national intelligence.

Although it described the theft of economic and trade information as a national security threat, the study says there are no reliable estimates of the monetary value of the losses. “Many companies are unaware when their sensitive data is pilfered, and those that find out are often reluctant to report the loss, fearing potential damage to their reputation with investors, customers and employees,” the study said.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations for strategies to determine how open a company needs to be on the Internet, programs for assessing threats from inside a company, efforts to manage data more effectively, and an emphasis on network security and auditing.

That last category could include real-time monitoring of computer networks for intrusions, muscular software to protect files, the encryption of corporate information as well as better programs to authenticate users.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Happy 30th Birthday, Computer Mouse!

Thirty years ago today, the first computer mouse to be used alongside a personal computer appeared. On April 27, 1981, the integrated mouse made its debut with the Xerox Star Information System.

First called "Computer-Aided Display Control," the term "mouse" referred to the tool's rounded shape and wire "tail" protruding out the back of the gadget that gave it a rodent-like look.

The mouse has come a long way in its 30 years. Most don't even have wires any more, especially in an era where so many tech companies are producing touch-screen technology with devices like Apple's iPhone or other smartphones and tablets. Additionally, most laptops use some sort of touchpad to navigate the screen, or a pointer stick.

The prototype for the first mouse was invented by Douglas Englebard in 1963 while he was working at Palo Alto's Stanford Research Institute. Before it morphed into the mouse that is commonly seen today, it went through many different forms. For example, one method was mounting a device on the user's head or chin. In 1972, wheels on the bottom of the mouse were replaced by a trackball, a feature that many mice don't even use today.

The device went through many revisions before Xerox released it with star in 1982. However, the mouse didn't get a lot of attention until it appeared with Apple's Macintosh three years later.

Can you imagine the computer without the mouse? PCMag's John Dvorak gives the mouse a lot of credit for the rise of the Internet. Computer mice have been an integral part of the tech age, and evolved quite a bit in the three decades since their debut.