World’s best education system – Additional Blog Post 2

Who has the best education system in the world? You will be surprised to know that it is none of the big superpowers – the USA, China or even Russia. The country of Finland was declared as “miracle of education” by World Bank recently this year.

The countries were ranked by Universitas 21’s assessment of the world’s top universities and Finland scored way above the other countries when GDP per capita was taken into account. The USA tops the rankings if absolute scores are considered but when the scores were measured relative to the national income levels or GDP per capita, Finland tops the list. Moreover, most of the high-income countries fell out of the top 10 when relative income levels were considered. Considering the income levels is important as it is a measure of cash inflow into the education system and in turn the quality of education. The different measures of ranking taken into consideration are expenditure on higher education, government policy, industry links, the diversity of the country’s institutions, enrolment rates, and research performance. The question is how is a small country like Finland able to provide such good quality education? A few things done by Finland are –

  1. Better standardized tests – Students in Finland only take one standardized test during primary and secondary schooling as compared to annual tests taken by students in countries like the USA. Students in Finland are still assessed on the different tests set up by individual teachers. But, these exams are for personal development rather than competition and the concept of pass/fail. Students in Finland are still assessed on the ability to cope with issues related to evolution, losing a job, dieting, political issues, violence, war, ethics in sports, junk food, sex, drugs, and popular music. I like the idea of one standardized test as Finnish teachers believe in understanding and teaching the students more closely rather than judging on the basis of exam results. There are options for district-wide exams but are optional and results are not publicized.
  2. Playtime – Finnish schools believe that playtime is as important as the teaching. They provide regular play intervals during classroom teaching (15 minutes during 1-hour class). The Finnish students spend less time on homework as compared to an average U.S. student. I like the idea of not becoming test-takers and to be fresh while studying.
  3. Free higher education – Finland remains one of the few countries to provide bachelors, masters and doctoral programmes at zero cost to all the citizens and students from the European Union.
  4. Teaching is a respected profession – Teaching is one of the most selective and highest paid profession in Finland as opposed to developed countries like the U.S.A. The teachers are expected to work fewer hours and are respected too. One needs to have at least a master’s degree and complete the equivalent of a residency program in the U.S.A. Teachers in Finland are allowed to create their own mini laboratories if it helps in teaching.
  5. Political influence – Schools in Finland are all government schools but the education policy is solely based on effectiveness. They try a change, implement it if it works without any political influence.

In my view, the above points are really some good and different initiatives taken up by a small country trying to make a difference. This is why Finland is one of the leading destinations for teacher training in the world. The simplicity, honesty, mindfulness and no political influence makes it one of the emerging education systems in the world. It provides a learning lesson for other countries on how to impart good quality education to everybody at low prices.

References

https://www.masterstudies.com/article/why-does-finland-have-one-of-the-worlds-best-education-systems/

Finland has the best higher education system in the world – rankings

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/why-finlands-education-system-puts-others-to-shame

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-finland-beats-america-on-education-2016-11

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/why-are-finlands-schools-successful-49859555/

Life of a new faculty – Additional Blog Post 1

I am writing this week about the stressful and hectic early years of a new faculty. I came across several papers and articles that I want to summarize in this blog post. A few of the problems faced are –

  1. ‘Foot-in-the-door disease’ – According to a survey, 59% of new part-time faculty joined an institution believing that it would convert into a full time soon. But, the statistics show that this is just a myth. Only 20% of the respondents said that they shifted to full-time from part-time in the same institution according to a survey done by researchers at Seton Hall University.
  2. Mismatch in Teaching – According to recent surveys, there has been a gradual decrease in the time spent teaching and preparing the class. Most of the new faculty members are busy doing research and securing their position or tenured job.
  3. Stress – Leading cause of the stress among new faculty is the self-imposed high expectations, lack of personal time and working with underprepared students. Budget cuts and proposal approvals are second in line in terms of stress risers.
  4. Anonymous critics – Every process in a university involves anonymous critical review. Be it a grant proposal, journal paper review or even tenure committee approval. Anonymous nature of the reviews is good but sometimes can lead to personal petty feuds and even stress at work.
  5. University indirect costs – University always gets a share for indirect costs when a faculty gets a grant. These funds are necessary for utilities, facilities and maintenance, and safety and security functions but sometimes their usage and applicability is questionable.

Some of the suggestions for new faculty are –

  1. Colleagues – Seek help from colleagues in your early days. They are mostly well equipped with the functioning of the department and the academic world. This creates an environment of sharing and collaboration which can be good for further collaborative research and also for other new incoming faculties after you.
  2. Professional Development – Most of the universities have different seminars, resources, and workshop in order to prepare new faculty. This not only helps in teaching but also helps in connecting with people outside your discipline.
  3. Teaching – It is okay to not know the answer if a student or a colleague asks you a question. The best way to tackle this situation is to take your time, be truthful, go back and look for the answer if you do not know. Students and colleague are the best resource and help you grow professionally. You can always reflect upon your weaknesses and improve them by taking suggestions from students and fellow faculty.
  4. Research + Teaching – Integrate research into teaching. This not only makes it more interesting for you but also helps in finding students who have the same research interests and will be willing to work with you.
  5. Expenditure – Keep a check on the research expenditure so that you can achieve future goals easily.
  6. Teaching and class preparation – Teaching and class preparation is a really important part of the job. But it is necessary to have a great balance of time between research and teaching. New faculty are mostly teaching 1-2 classes and are busy preparing for the classes. It is best to not spend more than 2 hours every day on class preparation. Another basic tip for research would be to do at least 1 hour of scholarly writing. This can be done early in the morning or just before going to sleep.

These are some of the points that I liked. Feel free to comment and add anything. I am sure there is no limit to the problems and suggestions both.

References

Chronicle – https://www.chronicle.com/article/Todays-Faculty-Stressed-and/135276

Forbes – https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2013/01/05/top-10-reasons-being-a-university-professor-is-a-stressful-job/#2ea2a1e871c1

https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-careers/advice-for-new-faculty-six-lessons-from-the-front-lines/

http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Columns/Boice.html

Research Misconduct by John G. Pastorino

I chose the case study of Dr. John G. Pastorino for the second blog post. Dr. John G. Pastorino was an Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biology, Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine(RUSOM). The Office of Research Integrity(ORI) in 2016 found out that Dr. Pastorino intentionally falsified and fabricated research data in 8 published papers, 1 unpublished manuscript, and 1 National Institutes of Health(NIH) grant application. All the research papers and manuscripts have been retracted. The research paper references and the summary of the report can be found at –

https://ori.hhs.gov/case-summary-pastorino-john-g

As per ORI, “Dr. Pastorino falsified and/or fabricated Western blot data for a mitochondrial function related to cell/tissue injury, in 58 blot panels included in 42 figures in the different research papers, manuscript and grant application”. Dr. Pastorino falsified and/or fabricated quantitative data in various statistical graphs, figures, and text. Dr. Pastorino duplicated, trimmed/cropped and manipulated images and graphs from other sources to add to his research.

Dr. Pastorino has entered into a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement (Agreement) for a period of five years starting on April 27, 2016 according to which:

  1. He cannot hold any contract or subcontract with any agency of the United States Government.
  2. He cannot have his name on any application, proposal, or other requests for funds to the United States Government or any of its agencies.
  3. He cannot serve as an advisor to any committee of the U.S. Public Health Service(PHS).

My thoughts

I dug a little bit more to find out that six out of eight research papers were published in one Journal (Journal of Cell Science) which is another concern I feel as far as the authenticity and peer review process of the Journal is concerned. Secondly, Dr. Pastorino was fired from his job in RUSOM in May 2016 but there was no investigation ordered on his fellow researchers. Although Nataly Shulga (fellow researcher) resigned soon after Dr. Pastorino, I was surprised that there was no formal investigation on any of the fellow researchers who were either first authors or co-authors on the eight research papers.

Journals retracted the paper after the internal investigation by the university followed by ORI evidence. I also feel that the universities only take action once research integrity organizations find fraudulent evidence. There should be internal peer review by fellow researchers in the university and integrity office of the universities before submitting the manuscript for a paper. This might increase the time for publication but if stopped at the initial stage, this situation can be prevented. Also, some kind of counseling and more rigorous ethical training at the faculty level would be helpful.

If I see from the side of researchers, they did a big mistake probably under the pressure of a tenure, competition, money, fame and other factors. But, this falsification and fabrication should not be tolerated. It is very evident from this study that the researchers knew very well that they were going against the ethical measures set up by the research community. They not only wasted millions of dollars but also ruined the university’s reputation and their careers. They might never be considered for any promotions or tenure-track positions even if they eventually come back to work in the same field. It is just a big blotch on their careers.

Other newspaper reports –

https://www.nj.com/healthfit/index.ssf/2016/08/post_17.html

https://www.courierpostonline.com/story/news/2016/08/05/rowan-researcher-false-data/88034530/