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Obama ‘optimistic’ about sealing global climate agreement

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Photo: mayatoday.com

Washington: US President Barack Obama on Sunday said he was “optimistic” about sealing a global climate agreement at the upcoming two-week UN conference in Paris.

“What makes this gathering different is that more than 180 nations have already submitted plans to reduce the harmful emissions that help cause climate change,” Obama said in a Facebook post as he traveled to the talks.

Negotiators in Paris, he said, will try to put in place “a long-term framework for further emissions reductions” that includes “targets set by each nation, but transparent enough to be verified by other nations”, Xinhua news agency reported.

The UN climate talks will officially start in Paris on November 30, tasked with adopting a universal climate deal. More than 180 countries have submitted their action plans before the conference.

However, it is unclear whether these pledges are enough to prevent the temperature from rising above 2 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial level.

Obama said the UN summit will also “work to mobilize support to help the most vulnerable countries expand clean energy and adapt to the effects of climate change we can no longer avoid”.

Obama, who intends to cement his climate legacy, has acted mostly through executive power, including his push for emissions cuts from power plants.

Republicans, who controlled the US Congress, however, denied the reality of climate change and claimed that Obama’s climate policies may produce significant damage to the US economy.

Such intense opposition surely sowed doubts on the world stage about whether the US will honor its climate promises in the future.

Obama, who has just one year in office, rejected such claims.

“In fact, our businesses and workers have shown that it’s possible to make progress towards a low-carbon future while creating new jobs and growing the economy,” he wrote.

“Our economic output is at all-time highs, but our greenhouse gas emissions are down towards 20-year lows.”

Obama will only be attending on November 30 and December 1, the first and second day of the two-week event, during which he will have several bilateral meetings planned, including with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I’m optimistic about what we can achieve — because I’ve already seen America take incredible strides these past seven years,” he said.

With the terror attacks on Paris two weeks ago, the US president said the UN climate summit was an opportunity for the world to “stand as one and show that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children”.

(IANS)

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Can Use of Computers Enrich a Teacher’s Work and a Student’s Performance?

Use of technology in schools encourages personalized learning and it has been gaining popularity in recent years

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Jahiem Johnson, 13, left, helps classmate Kamya Saunders, 13, as they work on an English passage during class at the Washington Leadership Academy in Washington, Aug. 23, 2017. The school utilizes
Jahiem Johnson, 13, left, helps classmate Kamya Saunders, 13, as they work on an English passage during class at the Washington Leadership Academy in Washington, Aug. 23, 2017. The school utilizes "personalized learning." VOA
  •  The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that up to 10 percent of all America’s public schools have adopted some form of personalized learning
  • The economy needs kids who are creative problem solvers
  • The digital tool tells us: We have a problem to fix with these kids right here and we can do it right then and there

Washington, USA, August 28, 2017: In middle school, Junior Alvarado often struggled with multiplication and earned poor grades in math, so when he started his freshman year at Washington Leadership Academy, a charter high school in the nation’s capital, he fretted that he would lag behind.

But his teachers used a computer to identify his weak spots, customize a learning plan just for him and coach him through it. This past week, as Alvarado started sophomore geometry, he was more confident in his skills.

“For me, personalized learning is having classes set at your level,” Alvarado, 15, said in between lessons. “They explain the problem step by step, it wouldn’t be as fast, it will be at your pace.”

As schools struggle to raise high school graduation rates and close the persistent achievement gap for minority and low-income students, many educators tout digital technology in the classroom as a way forward. But experts caution that this approach still needs more scrutiny and warn schools and parents against being overly reliant on computers.

The use of technology in schools is part of a broader concept of personalized learning that has been gaining popularity in recent years. It’s a pedagogical philosophy centered around the interests and needs of each individual child as opposed to universal standards. Other features include flexible learning environments, customized education paths and letting students have a say in what and how they want to learn.

Also Read: US Public Schools are Teaching Arabic Language and Receiving Aid from Qatar Foundation International, But Why?

Personalized learning

Under the Obama administration, the Education Department poured $500 million into personalized learning programs in 68 school districts serving close to a half million students in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Large organizations such as the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation have also invested heavily in digital tools and other student-centered practices.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that up to 10 percent of all America’s public schools have adopted some form of personalized learning. Rhode Island plans to spend $2 million to become the first state to make instruction in every one of its schools individualized. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also embraces personalized learning as part of her broader push for school choice.

Supporters say the traditional education model, in which a teacher lectures at the blackboard and then tests all students at the same time, is obsolete and doesn’t reflect the modern world.

“The economy needs kids who are creative problem solvers, who synthesize information, formulate and express a point of view,” said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “That’s the model we are trying to move toward.”

At Washington Leadership Academy, educators rely on software and data to track student progress and adapt teaching to enable students to master topics at their own speed.

Digital tool finds problem

This past week, sophomores used special computer programs to take diagnostic tests in math and reading, and teachers then used that data to develop individual learning plans. In English class, for example, students reading below grade level would be assigned the same books or articles as their peers, but complicated vocabulary in the text would be annotated on their screen.

“The digital tool tells us: We have a problem to fix with these kids right here and we can do it right then and there; we don’t have to wait for the problem to come to us,” said Joseph Webb, founding principal at the school, which opened last year.

Webb, dressed in a green T-shirt reading “super school builder,” greeted students Wednesday with high-fives, hugs, and humor. “Red boxers are not part of our uniform!” he shouted to one student, who responded by pulling up his pants.

The school serves some 200 predominantly African-American students from high-poverty and high-risk neighborhoods. Flags of prestigious universities hang from the ceiling and a “You are a leader” poster is taped to a classroom door. Based on a national assessment last year, the school ranked in the 96th percentile for improvement in math and in the 99th percentile in reading compared with schools whose students scored similarly at the beginning of the year.

It was one of 10 schools to win a $10 million grant in a national competition aimed at reinventing American high schools that are funded by Lauren Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Also Read: New York City wants to be the Next American Tech Powerhouse by tripling its Investment in Programs for Computer Science Students

‘Female Bill Gates’

Naia McNatt, a lively 15-year-old who hopes to become “the African-American and female Bill Gates,” remembers feeling so bored and unchallenged in fourth grade that she stopped doing homework and her grades slipped.

At the Academy, “I don’t get bored ‘cause I guess I am pushed so much,” said McNatt, a sophomore. “It makes you need to do more, you need to know more.”

In math class, McNatt quickly worked through quadratic equations on her laptop. When she finished, the system spat out additional, more challenging problems.

Her math teacher, Britney Wray, says that in her previous school she was torn between advanced learners and those who lagged significantly. She says often she wouldn’t know if a student was failing a specific unit until she started a new one.

In comparison, the academy’s technology now gives Wray instant feedback on which students need help and where. “We like to see the problem and fix the problem immediately,” she said.

Still, most researchers say it is too early to tell if personalized learning works better than traditional teaching.

A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that personalized learning produced modest improvements: a 3 percentile increase in math and a smaller, statistically insignificant increase in reading compared with schools that used more traditional approaches. Some students also complained that collaboration with classmates suffered because everybody was working on a different task.

“I would not advise for everybody to drop what they are doing and adopt personalized learning,” said John Pane, a co-author of the report. “A more cautious approach is necessary.”

New challenges

The new opportunities also pose new challenges. Pediatricians warn that too much screen time can come at the expense of face-to-face social interaction, hands-on exploration, and physical activity. Some studies also have shown that students may learn better from books than from computer screens, while another found that keeping children away from the computer for five days in a row improved their emotional intelligence.

Some teachers are skeptical. Marla Kilfoyle, executive director of the Badass Teachers Association, an education advocacy group, agrees that technology has its merits, but insists that no computer or software should ever replace the personal touch, motivation and inspiration teachers give their students.

“That interaction and that human element are very important when children learn,” Kilfoyle said. (VOA)

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President Donald Trump’s administration Withdraws Stay Request in Texas Transgender Bathroom Case

President Donald Trump's administration is stepping back from a request in an ongoing lawsuit over bathroom rights for transgender students in public schools.

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FILE - A bathroom sign welcomes both genders at the Cacao Cinnamon coffee shop in Durham, N.C., May 3, 2016. VOA

President Donald Trump’s administration is stepping back from a request made by the Obama administration in an ongoing lawsuit over bathroom rights for transgender students in public schools.

The Department of Justice on Friday withdrew a motion asking that a temporary injunction blocking Obama administration guidance on the issue only apply to the states suing the federal government.

Texas and 12 other states are challenging the guidance, which directs public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. A federal judge temporarily blocked the directive nationwide last year.

The Obama administration asked that the directive only be put on hold in the 13 states while it appealed. A hearing on that request was set for Tuesday, but Friday’s filing asked that the hearing be canceled, saying the parties are “currently considering how best to proceed in this appeal.”

Meanwhile, a massive crowd energized in opposition to Trump and to a state law limiting LGBT rights streamed into North Carolina’s capital in Raleigh for an annual civil rights march on Saturday.

The “Moral March on Raleigh” was led by the North Carolina NAACP for an 11th year. Participants carried signs promoting issues from gerrymandering and immigration to public education.

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Raleigh police don’t provide crowd estimates. Event organizers predicted 20,000 people. The surface area that the crowd covered neared the march’s previous peak from 2014.

Saturday’s protesters also want to see a repeal of House Bill 2, which limits LGBT rights and which bathrooms transgender people can use. (VOA)

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US President Barack Obama orders Full Review of 2016 Election Cyber Attacks

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President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, Nov. 14, 2016. VOA

December 10, 2016: US President Barack Obama ordered a review of all cyber-attacks that took place during the 2016 election period, the White House said on Saturday because of the growing concerns over Russian interference.

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White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said, “Obama called for the review earlier this week, amid growing calls from Congress for more information on the extent of Russian interference in the campaign.”

White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said, “Obama called for the review earlier this week, amid growing calls from Congress for more information on the extent of Russian interference in the campaign.”

According to PTI, Schultz said, “We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections and this report will dig into this pattern of malicious cyberactivity timed to our elections, take stock of our defensive capabilities and capture lessons learned to make sure that we brief members of Congress and stakeholders as appropriate.”

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According to PTI, Schultz said, “We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections and this report will dig into this pattern of malicious cyberactivity timed to our elections, take stock of our defensive capabilities and capture lessons learned to make sure that we brief members of Congress and stakeholders as appropriate.”

Schultz said, “Obama wants the report completed before his term ends on January 20.”
“We are going to make public as much as we can,” he added. “This is a major priority for the president.”

The step is taken after Democrats in Congress pressed the White House to reveal the details to Congress or to public of Russian hacking and also disinformation in the election.
Not only that, US President-elect Donald Trump rejected the intelligence community finding of official Russian involvement.

According to PTI, “Confidential emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, a top advisor to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, were steadily leaked out via WikiLeaks in the months before the election, damaging Clinton’s White House effort.”
One month before the election, on October 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence announced, “The Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.”

They said, “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

In a recent interview with Time magazine, for its “Person of the Year” award, Donald Trump rejected those findings. And when asked if the intelligence was politicized, Trump replied, “I think so.”

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“I don’t believe they interfered,” he said. “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

by NewsGram team with PTI inputs