Disabled get tech savvy at Stellenbosch Universty

Stellenbosch University has been plagued by questionable placement of ramps and road alterations for the disabled. Some say these resources have gone to waste.

Technology is changing the way disabled people function in our society and could lead to more efficient use of resources as well as a more fulfilled life.

Shot and edited by myself and Jaco du Plessis.

The death of degrees…and universities?

Parents save their hard earned cash for years to ensure that their children have the opportunity to attend university. Some scholar’s social lives and fingernails are in tatters from the strain to gain a scholarship or bursary, just to have the chance to study at places like Harvard or MIT.

The cost of a university education rules out millions of people from ever having the advantage of a degree. Should the socio-economic world we are born into dictate our future?

What if a university education was free AND top class?

Today we have massive resources online at our disposal. People across the globe can access this information through their cell phones or computers. With this vehicle, there are new ways to gain a quality education, free of charge.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have given a chance to those less fortunate to gain the skills required for higher learning and special skills.

According to the BBC, at Harvard University, more people signed up with MOOCs in a single year than have graduated from Harvard throughout its 378 year history.

Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have seemed possible. Today, institutions like Harvard and MIT have set up Edx, an online education platform offering Harvard lectures and short courses, free of charge, to anyone who has an internet connection.

The first online course offered by Harvard drew 155,000 students from 163 countries. That’s more than all the students that have ever graduated from MIT, all within the first week.

Is this the beginning of the end for universities and its ‘passport to life’ idea?

Much like in newspapers, the old school traditional approach has had to change rapidly in order to stay afloat. Many newspapers were casualties of not adapting fast enough.

Khan Academy is a famous non-profit educational organisation practicing online. Their mission statement is “Learn almost anything. Completely free, forever,” and they have already changed the way classrooms operate throughout the United States.

A ‘flipped-classroom’ approach has been adopted in many schools, where children use Khan Academy at home to learn new concepts, such as fractions or equations, through watching fun educational videos and playing math games. During school hours, the teacher will go through the exercises already completed by the students in order to focus on their specific areas of weakness.

Could university lecturers turn into tutors in a similar manner?

The socio-economic bias is somehow still present in the online model, with 80% of enrolled MOOC students already having a degree.

This is changing though. People from around the world are taking part on discussions and online forums, learning and benefiting from Ivy League schools. The chances of gaining a Harvard style education for those less fortunate have never been more exceptional.

Udacity.com have found an exceptional way of profiting from this new trend. Udacity have teamed up with Silicon Valley to offer courses made by Google and Facebook, specifically catering to the people they need in the industry. Completing these courses will dramatically increase ones chance of getting a job in this field.
These unique courses are offered at a fraction of the cost of a university course.

Added to this is the fact that you could do these courses in your own time, anywhere you want. You could gain work experience or get a job that still pays the bills while you are studying. No need to sit in classes or hand in assignments, everything is done online.

Obviously there are degrees and courses that will almost certainly require a University and the need to be physically present in class – Medicine being an obvious example – but the old models of three year degrees in philosophy and psychology for example, seem to be struggling to stay relevant in this new, unlimited world.

Universities are going through this crisis. They are facing some scary possibilities of economy redundant. Some might say that it is unfair towards these institutions of tradition and heritage…but then again, wasn’t it an unfair model in the first place?

The dark days of ghost parts and horse placenta

Diego Costa

Diego Costa

A mysterious woman in Belgrade, Serbia, massages ‘fresh’ horse placenta on sport stars injuries in her small apartment on the second floor. The treatment, rumored to cost thousands of Euros, is believed to accelerate the healing time.

Footballers such as Dutch striker Rob van Persie and Athletico Madrid’s Diego Costa have flown thousands of kilometers to attend Mariana Kovacevic’s practice.

Pseudoscience practices are prevalent around the world.

In Massimo Pigliucci’s book, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk”, Pigliucci discusses the blinding effects of pseudoscience and the lengths people will go to implement their beliefs.

In 2000, AIDS denialists from around the world were invited to Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS advisory panel. The consensus of the former president of South Africa’s panel deemed AIDS and HIV to be nothing more than a harmless passenger virus.

The panel decided, despite irrefutable scientific evidence, that this passenger virus required no anti-retroviral (ARV) medication. Instead herbal medicines and beetroot treatments were endorsed by the Minister of Health, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

This would be similar to telling a cancer patient that they actually didn’t have cancer; they just needed more fruit.

091216-Tasteless-Zapiro-Cartoon-on-Manto

This frightening and misguided decision doomed an estimated 330 000 people to an untimely death.

Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley was an integral part of Mbeki’s decision to shun Anti-retroviral medication. He himself was an AIDS denialist.

Pseudoscience, such as AIDS denialism, is any subject that “fails to meet the three criteria of naturalism, theory and empiricism. Yet even when all three of these checks fail, its supporters still insist there is no problem”, states Pigliucci.

Why did a respected scientist such as Duesberg play a role in this travesty of pseudoscience? Why did he not take into account the overwhelming scientific evidence?

Pigliucci, a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, states that “it is all too easy to find at least some ‘experts’ who will defend almost any sort of nonsense”.

This is pseudoscience at its worst.

In 2006, thanks to ongoing petitions of civic groups and 81 leading scientists, Mbeki implemented ARV treatment in South Africa.

The Human Services Research Council (HSRC) survey showed that over 2 million people were on ARV treatment by mid-2012 in South Africa.

Pseudoscience in education

The Dover School Board in Pennsylvania attempted to implement their religious beliefs into the school’s curriculum in 2006. Intelligent design (ID) was to be installed into the curriculum and taught as a science.

Intelligent design is a pseudoscientific view that believes there is an intelligent or guiding hand that created the universe. It is a form of creationism, which, in 1987, was ruled by the Supreme Court to be a belief system and not a science.

intelligent_design

“A field does not belong to science unless there are reasonable ways to test its theories against data,” states Pigliucci. In the case of ID, there is no way to test its theories therefore, it falls under pseudoscience.

The United States Constitution states that religion is not allowed to be taught in American public schools.

Against all odds, the Dover school board, fronted by Alan Bonsell, decided to push for the teaching of ID as a science. To promote their case, Bonsell recruited the help of the Discovery Institute, “a Seattle-based ‘think tank’ devoted to the promotion of intelligent design in public schools”, according to Pigliucci.

The Discovery Institute sent Bonsell an explanatory video that was “arranged to be shown to the teachers to ‘educate’ them about the real nature of ID”.

Bonsell and the Dover school board members were then taken to court. Judge Jones ordered the removal of ID from the science curriculum. The school board’s attempt to force their ideologies into education was denied due to laws protecting science from bunk. Judge Jones said, “To assert a secular purpose against this backdrop would be ludicrous”.

Ideological views tend to influence judgment and responsibility as was seen in the Dover case. Think tanks like the Discovery Institute have also become breeding grounds for bias.

Think tanks refer to “a specific kind of organization, namely, a private group, usually but not always privately funded, producing arguments and data aimed at influencing specific sectors of public policy”. Pigliucci goes on to say, “too often their political, ideological, and financial biases are not disclosed to the public, which gives them the misleading aura of being neutral, third-party experts.”

These factors make separating science from bunk that much more difficult.

Albino’s plight

In Tanzania, people from all walks of life pay large sums of money for Albino body parts, believing them to hold magical powers that will bring good fortune.

There is a common belief that “albinos are ghosts who are cursed but whose body parts can ward off bad luck and bring wealth and success”, according to the National Geographic.

Witch doctors sell Albino body parts as talismans to miners who “bury them where they’re drilling for gold and fishermen who weave albino hair into their nets”. This witchcraft in Tanzania kills thousands of innocent albinos, resulting in hundreds of albino children having to live under protection in guarded camps.

Albino camp in Tanzania. Photo: National Geographic

Albino camp in Tanzania. Photo: National Geographic

The title of astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark seems more apt than ever in Tanzania.

Sagan and Pigliucci both encourage people to learn critical or skeptical thinking to prevent pseudoscience tragedies such as these from happening.

Compared to the albino’s plight in Tanzania, the horse placenta treatment caused no serious harm to the footballers, except for their dignity. Diego Costa could only play for 7 minutes before having to come off after the ‘miraculous treatment’. On his departure from the field, one tweet read, “Horse placenta. Foal’s gold.”

Yet there are many who still swear by the treatment. There are even more who believe in dangerous, inhumane pseudoscience as mentioned in this article. Jumping on the band wagon is not an option and neither is sitting back. We should take inspiration from the truth seekers such as Pigliucci and Sagan, and remember the famous writer, Anatole France, who said, “If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

Anthony Molyneaux is a post-graduate journalism student and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

From Christian to Krishna A podcast documenting their transition

Monk in chair

Jacobus Van Breda du Toit grew up in an small, God-fearing, Afrikaans town called Vereeniging in South Africa. He is now “Kavi Karnapura Dasa”, a practicing Krishna monk and the senior monk of his ashram in Stellenbosch. Du Toit and 6 other Afrikaans Krishna devotees live in the ashram. They maintain a vegetable garden and live according to the Krishna principles.

Podcast of Afrikaner Krishna devotees <5m35s>

This radio feature called “AfriKrishna” follows what these monks find rewarding and unique about this eastern religion. A lecturer on world religions also gives an interesting insight into why this movement is occurring in South Africa.