Education Roundup

Article excerpt

Advertising makes kids fat

World Health Organization says that the marketing of fast foods is a "probable" cause of overweight and obesity among children around the world. Some U.S. doctors decided to test whether "branding" plays a major role in this.

They gave kids two versions of each of five types of food and drink. One was labeled McDonald's and the other had no label, but they were actually identical. The preschoolers in the test generally identified the ones labeled McDonald's as being the best. The effect was strongest among children with more TV sets in their homes.

The doctors suggested that since the branding effect is so powerful, that we should overcome the preference for fast foods by regulating marketing to children and also branding good things to eat. Nice idea, but who is going to match the McDonald's ad budget to brand veggies and tap water?

TV makes kids hyper

A study reported in Pediatrics Magazine claims that every hour preschoolers watch TV each day increases the likelihood of later attention deficit disorder by about 10%. The study suggested that TV has this impact by overstimulating and rewiring the developing brain with fast-paced visual images.

The study asked parents whether their child had attention problems and about how much TV the child had watched when he/she was one. Fourteen percent watched three or four hours daily and these children had a 30-40% greater increased risk of attention deficit than those who watched no TV.

By the time children were three, about 93% watched an hour or more of TV daily, with 10% watching seven or more hours a day.

TV makes kids smarter

Other studies say what a child watches makes a difference. A Harvard graduate course on "Informal Learning for Children" is based on the benefits of Sesame Street and other educational programs. The course was announced at a media conference, complete with Grover promoting the program.

A UBC psychologist, Tannis MacBeth, describes Sesame Street as putting children on "the upward spiral" that has led children who watched educational TV at age five to get better grades throughout high school. Some studies claim that TV stimulates both sides of the brain, making it easier to retain and understand information.

However, MacBeth says there is a big difference between educational programs and commercial entertainment. She told the Globe that "The vast majority of programs produced from young children are entirely profit driven. They don't do research and the main focus is on marketing and selling. On a lot of programs now they develop the toy they want to market first, then develop a program around that concept to help sell the toy." Insidious, she said.

PowerPoint dangers

The master of visual display of information, Edward Tufte, describes PowerPoint as "one damn slide after another" that elevates format over content and seeks to set up a speaker's dominance over the audience - "making power points with bullets to followers" - downright Stalinist, he suggests. Tufte is especially upset about the use of PowerPoint in classrooms:

"Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each side in a presentation of three to six slides - a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work."

Rolls-Royce education for England

Some might have hoped that the new British Prime Minister would reverse the neo-liberal education policies of Tony Blair's New Labour. It appears that the opposite is the case as Gordon Brown puts business at the centre of his "education nation. …