Friday, 29 March 2013
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
In the recently concluded test match between
New Zealand and England an event occurred which in
this writer's opinion once again questions the predictability of an lbw
decision as a method of dismissing a batsman and especially the DRS system
which is being touted as a scientific fact. On the last ball of the 99th over
in the England
second innings the ball, to quote Andy Zaltzman in Cricinfo:
The ball ricocheted from Prior's flailing bat/arms/head, and plonked downwards, in accordance the traditions of gravity, onto the timbers. It did not brush the stumps. It did not snick the stumps. It did not gently fondle the stumps. It hit the stumps. The bails, perhaps patriotically mindful of their origins in early cricket in
those years ago, defied all the conventional principles of science by not
falling off. England
If the stumps and bails had behaved as cricketing precedent and Isaac Newton would have expected them to behave,
would have been seven wickets down with 43 overs left. England
If the ball having hit the stumps fails to dislodge the bails then doesn't it introduce even more uncertainty into a DRS based lbw decision which its supporters claim to be irrefutable evidence? This incident requires that in an lbw appeal the DRS should not only predict whether the ball, if not impeded by the batsman illegally, would have gone on to hit the stumps but also if it would dislodge the bails.
Supporters of the DRS rely on the infallibility of scientific laws to promote their support for technology. Then, like true scientists they should admit the weakness of their science whenever an anomaly appears. Assuming for a moment that these scientific laws are infallible then how do they explain the reprieve that Prior obtained? Also, shouldn't the DRS have been used to declare Prior out since the ball had actually hit the stumps?
Hence I would like to make a suggestion which may unite the supporters and opponents of the DRS. I suggest that the LBW as a method of dismissing a batsman should be struck off from the laws of cricket. Instead, a run penalty should be imposed on the batsman every time the ball comes in contact with an 'illegal' part of his/her body. The DRS could be used to adjudicate on this decision. The penalty could be ten runs and increasing every time the batsman uses such illegitimate methods to stay at the crease.
I look forward to a debate.
Asked how he assesses his teachers, Mr Matti Koivusalo shrugs matter-of-factly that he has “no means” to do so. “There is no evaluation whatsoever for teachers. Everything is based on trust,” says the Principal of Haaga Comprehensive School in Helsinki.
Indeed, the “open” school culture means any feedback quickly reaches his ears, says Mr Koivusalo, who looks after 50 teachers and 600 pupils in grades one through nine (the equivalent of Primary 1 to Secondary 3 in Singapore).
It is easy to see how: Along the school’s hallway, pupils look up from their mobile phones and greet him as he walks past; some engage him in friendly banter. At the school cafeteria where free lunches are served daily — an established practice at all Finnish schools — teachers join him for lunch and chat about how their day has gone.
Said Mr Koivusalo: “If something bad happens, I’ll hear about it in five minutes … The atmosphere is such that (students and teachers) can come and talk about it freely without being afraid.”
Even so, sackings are rare in Finnish schools, say educators. Mr Vesa Valkila, one of the principals at Turku University teacher training school, tried to explain: “Finnish teachers have a lot of freedom and are trusted … that really motivates a lot of them to do their best.”
LEFT TO TEACH
In Finland, a small country of 5.4 million people, its education system operates on this singular principle of trust.
The country’s model shot to global attention after Finnish pupils repeatedly excelled in international tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment — despite having practically no mandated standardised exams, rankings or competition.
Schools take in students of all varying abilities, including those with learning disabilities, under one roof. The curious result is that, the differences between its weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to a Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) survey.
School leaders across Finland tell TODAY the same thing: “We trust our teachers”.
There are no national examinations in the first nine years of Finnish formal schooling, and schools and teachers are pretty much left on their own to educate their charges.
As Ms Armi Mikkola, counsellor of education at the Ministry of Education and Culture put it: “The administration is for support and not for inspection … Trust is part of Finnish society, it is a culture.”
Nevertheless, “with trust, there are some risks”, admitted Professor Jouni Valijarvi, Director of the Finnish Institute for Educational Research.
To mitigate risks of having underperforming teachers in schools, a stringent teacher selection process and rigorous teacher training is integral to the system, he said. “It is very important that we can say all schools are good schools,” added Prof Valijarvi. “Because in every school, we’ve highly-trained and qualified teachers”.
SELECTING THE VERY BEST
Yearly, 7,000 teaching aspirants apply to be class teachers (teaching the equivalent of Primary 1 to 6). Typically, there are just 800 spots available.
To teach secondary and upper secondary students (Secondary 1 to Junior College equivalent), 6,000 vie for 1,500 subject teacher positions yearly. Universities cherry-pick from this large pool of applicants, with two different selection processes for each category.
For class teachers, to prepare applicants for an entrance test, authorities will release study materials online on education-related topics such as pedagogical research studies. During the four-hour test, applicants answer about 100 multiple-choice questions. Even so, acing the entrance test does not guarantee a spot in one of the 11 universities offering teacher education.
In phase two, depending on the applicant’s university of choice (they are given up to three picks), there could be a psychometric test along with an interview, or an observed group activity. Some universities also select based on an applicant’s matriculation exam results — the only national examinations taken by Finnish pupils, at the age of 18.
Ms Anna Vaatainen, a student teacher at the University of Turku, is one who succeeded on her second try.
In her first attempt, she was invited by the University of Jyvaskyla for an interview but did not make it through. She went on to obtain a social work degree, and worked in an orphanage for four months, before deciding to give teacher education another go.
This time, after “studying very hard” for the entrance test again, she and three other applicants were tasked by the University of Turku to plan an imaginary school’s sports day. “I am better around people so this group activity might have worked for me,” she said.
Those hoping to be a subject teacher undergo a similar selection process, having to first pass an entrance test set by their subject faculty of choice. They will then apply to the faculty of education, which may require an aptitude test and interview.
The result is that you ensure true commitment to the job. Mr Jari Kouvalainen, a student teacher at the University of Eastern Finland, said: “Because we have to get through this really hard test, you have to be really motivated. With another five years of study, you’re really committed to this career”.
In the ’70s, Finnish officials moved teacher training under the universities, subsequently implementing a five-year master’s degree programme for all who want to become teachers. A combination of theory, practice and research was key to teacher education, they decided.
Class teachers major in the educational sciences and teach most subjects including Mathematics and Science at the primary levels. Teacher educators say that teaching younger children requires strong pedagogical skills to motivate and excite learners, and not just the transfer of academic knowledge at this stage.
By contrast, subject teachers major in their teaching subjects, while also having to complete pedagogical modules and teaching practicums. In-depth knowledge in their teaching areas is crucial, to give them the confidence to explain complex theories and tackle difficult questions.
Ms Anneli Rautiainen, head of professional development of teachers at the Finnish National Board of Education, thinks that research-based teacher education accounts for the high quality of teaching in Finnish schools today.
“The fact that we have a Master’s degree for teacher initial education is very important. As research-based teachers, they can analyse learning situations and know how to support their students better,” she said.
Student teacher Ms Tuula Hurtig agrees that conducting research has honed her critical thinking abilities and improved her teaching methods. Graduating as a history and civics teacher this year, her thesis involved research into how historical pictures impacted her students’ learning.
GETTING FIELD EXPERIENCE
Head of teacher education at University of Helsinki, Professor Jari Lavonen, calls research-based teacher education vital — it combines with field practice to keep student-teachers in touch with classroom realities and “thinking about their teaching methods”, he said.
All student teachers undergo multiple teaching practicums as part of their five-year programme. Each one lasts between two weeks and a year.
Guided by teacher mentors, student teachers are attached to teacher-training schools set up by the universities, where they plan, teach and observe lessons. These 12 teacher training schools across Finland function as normal schools, with pupils coming from nearby homes. These schools also partner regularly with universities to produce the latest research in education.
Final-year student teacher Mikko Honkamaki, from the University of Jyvaskyla, worked with different mentors during each of his four practicuums — which broadened his perspective on various teaching styles — and got advice before and after each lesson. He also got to observe and critique fellow student-teachers, and vice-versa.
“Watching my peers forced me to focus on my own way of giving instructions ... Receiving and giving feedback has also been crucial to my growth as a professional,” he said.
LEEWAY TO DECIDE
It was a cold winter’s morning when TODAY visited Maininki School in Espoo city, half an hour outside Helsinki, and Ms Rose-Marie Mod-Sandberg was conducting an English Language lesson with her eight-graders (Secondary 2 equivalent).
The classroom was quiet as some students had fallen ill; it was a smaller than usual group. Ms Mod-Sandberg, 55, decided to get her pupils to share about their favourite American cities and imagine what they would do if they got there. As the mood lightened, she gave out worksheets which each student completed on their own.
She has the leeway to tailor her lessons according to her students’ abilities or interests on that very day itself, she told us. For instance, if the children were keen on a topic that was meant only for next year, she could dive into it. And if they seemed more tired than usual — such as after a strenuous Physical Education lesson — she could choose to do something less demanding, and pick things up later.
“If I want to teach a topic, I can teach it anyway and anytime I like,” she said. “Finnish teachers undergo a long training, so (school leaders) can trust us to be professional and to act in the pupils’ interest”.
MORE THAN MONEY’S WORTH
In Finnish schools, teachers typically teach from 8am to 2pm before heading off to plan lessons or attend to parents’ queries. They are not required to take charge of after-school activities such as arts or sports clubs — usually run by private community organisations — and those who do so, are remunerated accordingly.
Schools leaders also said that a layer of stress is removed for teachers as there is no evaluation process linked to their salaries. In fact, the pay structure is relatively flat where pay increases with years of experience and teaching hours.
According to the latest OECD data, Finland’s average annual wage is S$59,852 or approximately S$5,000 a month. For those teaching at the primary level, annual salaries start at S$35,883 (about S$ 3,000 a month). After 20 years, their pay reaches a maximum level of S$64, 530 (S$5,400 a month).
Nevertheless, pay is not a main issue for Finnish teachers, said those TODAY spoke to. People are attracted to the career due to the high status that education is accorded in Finland and the autonomy given to teachers.
The government provides free education in the first nine years of a child’s school life, while schools receive funds to invest in slower learners. Teachers also hold a place in Finnish history, often cited as important figures alongside priests and doctors.
“Young people still see working as a teacher as very creative and independent, where teachers can make a difference in their pupils’ lives,” said Mr Olli Maatta, a teacher trainer at Helsinki Normal Lyceum, a regular Finnish school owned by the University of Helsinki for trainee teachers to serve their attachments.
At Haaga Comprehensive School, the school bell rings and children burst out of their classrooms into the snow-filled courtyard, throwing snowballs at one another and sledding down mini snow hills.
Starring out of his window as one of his teachers leads pupils back from a skiing lesson, principal Mr Koivusalo observes: “The role of an educator is very important. If a teacher loves his job, the children know it and they will want to come to school.”
Ng Jing Yng is a senior reporter with TODAY covering the education beat. She spent one and a half weeks visiting schools in three Finnish cities — Helsinki, Jyvaskyla and Turku — ranging from primary through to upper secondary (JC equivalent) levels. She spoke to students, educators, university faculty who train teachers and officials.
Tuesday, 26 March 2013
By Martin Hutchinson in Asia Times Online
In the past week, the detailed revelations from JP Morgan's grilling in the US Senate have combined with the Cyprus rescue blunder to generate one inescapable conclusion: public or private sector, European or American, there isn't a decent, competent banker among them. Truly almost 20 years of funny money and 30-40 years of misguided deregulation have drained the financial sector of the quiet competence it used to exhibit.
I wrote about JP Morgan's "London Whale" derivatives insanities of early 2012 a few weeks ago. It demonstrated two failings that appear to me unforgivable. First, in spite of the experience of 2007-08 Morgan was still using value-at-risk as a major element of its risk management.
Kevin Dowd and I pointed out the irretrievable flaws in this methodology in Alchemists of Loss, published in June 2010 - and we were by no means alone in doing so, though we may have had a "better mousetrap" than others in terms of an alternative risk management approach. A bank of Morgan's stature has a duty to keep up with the literature; it's as simple as that.
The second failing is even more fundamental, because it rests on what Morgan thinks a bank should be doing. Bruno Iksil, the London Whale, was attempting to "corner the market" in an obscure and artificial credit default swap (CDS) contract.
First, credit default swaps are not solidly based, because their settlement procedure can very easily be "gamed" - rather than the current procedure it would make more sense to select a random number between 1 and 100 as the percentage of the contract that was paid out on default. Second, index CDS contracts are doubly artificial, because the index itself is constructed as a basket of credit default swaps, none of which themselves trade with any liquidity; thus the index itself can be "gamed." Third, Iksil was trading in an "off the run" index, constructed five years previously, whose liquidity was even more restricted and whose relationship to any underlying reality was even more attenuated.
JP Morgan would have done better to put their capital on red in Las Vegas. The CDS index Iksil was trading was so far removed from reality it was a mere gambling chip, with no underlying economic meaning. His trading volumes were so large that he controlled the market, which enabled him to report spurious profits until the beginnings of responsible risk management forced him to begin unwinding the position. His activity bore no relationship to true banking; it served no legitimate financial purpose, nor did it serve the financing or risk management needs of any client.
This is the real problem of derivatives markets in general; the genuine client service they provide is minor, in some cases infinitesimal, compared with the gambling and manipulation activities they enable. If you are JP Morgan, and privy to a great deal of information about market movements to which less exalted institutions do not have access, you can make good money by exploiting others' ignorance. But make no mistake, the immense profits made in these markets are not secured by providing genuine service to clients, any more than Las Vegas casinos make money by providing investment opportunities to their foolish punters. In the final analysis, both activities are almost purely parasitic, and should be severely discouraged if not prohibited altogether.
The only problem with prohibiting these activities is that the prohibition would have to be designed and enforced by public sector regulators. Public choice theory suggests that they are not capable of performing this function adequately and the Cyprus imbroglio shows just how inept and conflicted they are in reality.
Legally, if US$7.2 billion was required for the Cyprus bailout beyond the European Union loan (the accuracy of that calculation is of course unverifiable), then the Cypriot banks' subordinated loans should have been wiped out, and the necessary amount taken from the banks' senior debt and uninsured depositors. (Any amount taken from insured depositors would have had to be made up by the Cyprus government, so would have added to the bailout need.)
Instead, the proposed bailout took a 9.9% tax from depositors above 100,000 euros (the deposit insurance limit) and a 6.7% tax from deposits below 100,000 euros, which were theoretically insured, while leaving the modest amount of senior debt untouched.
The Cyprus government rejected these terms, not because of the taxes' effect on small Cypriot depositors or on the Cypriot deposit insurance system, but because of their effect on the Russian mafia thugs who contribute about a third of the Cypriot banking system's deposits. One can only guess what inducements, positive and negative, the big depositors gave to the Cyprus legislature to take that position.
Legality seems to have been utterly irrelevant to those arranging the bailout. Instead, by arranging a "tax" that fell so heavily on small depositors, they blew a hole in deposit insurance schemes worldwide. Depositors in banks elsewhere in the EU, or indeed the United States, can no longer believe that the first $100,000 (or whatever figure is "insured") of their savings is secure.
Inevitably, calls upon the deposit insurance scheme will be made in times of financial stress, and at those times governments can use the depositors' funds to recapitalize the banks or indeed themselves. In 2008, depositors in Western Europe and the US could be reasonably confident that their governments were in decent financial shape, so would have no need to raid their citizens' piggy banks. In the next financial crisis, thanks to years of foolish, indeed evil, monetary and fiscal "stimulus" there will be no such assurance.
I wrote some months ago about the problems involved in going back to a world in which government bonds are no longer a reliable store of value, and suggested that such a change would reverse 350 years of financial history, taking us back to the time before the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694.
A world in which neither government bonds nor banks are to be trusted takes us back about 400 years further. After all, Samuel Pepys only occasionally buried his money in the back garden; most of the time he entrusted it to a reliable goldsmith, the precursors to the London merchant banks. The goldsmith-bankers were new in Restoration England, but as Edward, Earl of Clarendon wrote in his memoirs around 1670, before their time, the scriveners had been available for "money business''. A world without banks takes us back before the scriveners, before the first Italian banks (Monti dei Paschi di Siena, 1472) and even before the Lombard moneylenders of the fourteenth century.
Needless to say, pushing our financial system back close to the Dark Ages will do nothing whatever for global economic well-being. A world without banks is a world in which all trade must be financed by merchants themselves, in which investments must be financed entirely out of equity or ad hoc loans from those with money.
While much of Silicon Valley currently finances itself on close to this basis, it is unimaginable that business as a whole can do so; the needs of fixed assets, inventory and receivables are simply too great. A world with 13th century finance is more a less a world with 13th century living standards - and for only a 13th century world population.
We thus live in a world in which neither the managers of JP Morgan nor the financial wizards of the European Union have the slightest awareness of the basic needs of a sound financial system.
Admittedly the two problems cancel each other out: provided governments remain solvent both the need for deposit insurance and the speculative games of the trading desks can be eliminated by going back, not to the Dark Ages, but only to 1914. At that time, banks did not have deposit insurance, so depositors were forced to assure themselves that deposit institutions were soundly managed.
This pretty well put paid to speculative games: the Knickerbocker Trust of New York went bankrupt in 1907 through speculation in the copper market, and for at least the next two decades it was accepted that speculation had no place in a soundly run deposit-taking bank. (Investment banks existed, but they were separately capitalized and did not rely on the bank's depositors for funding.)
Without deposit insurance, banks would have to be properly capitalized, with a tangible capital base of no less than 20% of assets - calculated not on a "Basel" formula in which some assets are defined as "low risk" and discounted accordingly, but in which all assets and liabilities are fully reflected in the balance sheet. Only with such a heavy capitalization could depositors be sure the banks would stay in business.
What's more, derivatives, securitization and other off-balance sheet risks would have to be undertaken by separate companies that did not themselves take deposits; bank depositors would insist that all such risks be taken onto the bank's balance sheet, which would make them impossibly costly.
In order to discourage speculative activity further, it would also be necessary to return to a strict gold standard (or other commodity standard). The 1920s gold exchange standard, with the Federal Reserve able to increase credit at will, proved impossibly dangerous to the banking system after 1929, so a banking system with an active Fed would over time prove unable to attract depositors because of its risk.
I'm quite certain that both the management of JP Morgan and the EU bureaucracy would regard such an alternative as wholly unacceptable - it would, for one thing, restrict sharply the ability for self-remuneration of both bankers and bureaucracies (which would have to finance themselves in a bond market without bank lenders, strong intermediaries or fiat money).
However, by their ineffable folly, they have brought such a world (or the much worse dystopia where we lose 750 years of financial progress altogether) very much closer.
Martin Hutchinson is the author of Great Conservatives(Academica Press, 2005) - details can be found on the website www.greatconservatives.com - and co-author with Professor Kevin Dowd of Alchemists of Loss (Wiley, 2010).