Iranian universities shut female students out of dozens of fields

Iranian universities are shutting female students out of dozens of fields this year, saying there aren’t enough jobs available for them after they graduate, according to Iranian media.

Three dozen universities across the country are not allowing women to study in 77 different majors, according to the Shafaf news website and Mehr News. The barred majors, which differ from school to school, reportedly include several fields in engineering, history and English.

“Some fields are not very suitable for women’s nature, such as agricultural machinery or mining, partly because of the hard work involved in them,” science ministry official Seyed Abolfazl Hassani told Rooz Online. “Past experience shows that women do not become professionally active in these fields after they are admitted to these subjects and even after they graduate.”

Iranian officials said a shortage of female dormitories also necessitated the restrictions, Shafaf reported, the first time such limits have been imposed. Education officials also stopped men from going into nursing this year, a decision lamented by the national nursing association.

The decision to stop women from studying certain fields is believed to be driven by a combination of factors, including women getting better marks than men on university exams, male students complaining that female scholars don’t have to worry about being breadwinners, and the difficulty in keeping male and female students segregated in classes.

In a letter to the United Nations agency for gender equality, Iranian Nobel laureate and attorney Shirin Ebadi charged that the government was trying to squelch the women's movement.

"It is pushing them back into the house in the hope that they abandon their demands and leave the government alone to pursue its wrong policies," Ebadi wrote.

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Future in electoral politics for Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo?

Camila vallejo student chile afpMEXICO CITY -- Camila Vallejo broke into the international limelight in May 2011 as the beautiful revolutionary who led hundreds of thousands of student demonstrators in a call for education reform in Chile, toppling government ministers in the process.

She was, on the surface, an unlikely leader.

Just 23 at the time, the geography student dazzled the public early on with her statuesque features, shiny nose ring, and her soft, soothing manner of speaking. More alluringly, Vallejo was often inaccessible to the press, surrounded by student bodyguards.

Underneath the image, she was clearly exhibiting sharp political skills, both on the street among the droves of students and workers who managed to frequently shut down the capital of Santiago, and also in negotiations with the government of President Sebastian Piñera.

A year later, the students' demands for a freer, more equitable education system have made some progress against Piñera's initial response that higher education in economically prosperous Chile was "a consumer good."

But overall, the movement appears to be in a state of transition, if not stalemate.

Vallejo, now 24, has also reached a point at which she must decide what her next political role might be. Could a next step be toward the electoral arena in Chile? 

Last week, Vallejo visited Mexico for the first time, to speak at a conference on higher education at a Mexico City university. The visit had been planned since late last year, explained a spokesman at the Metropolitan Autonomous University (known as UAM for its initials in Spanish), but by now Vallejo's presence in Mexico had acquired politically significant overtones.

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With dire South African schools, activists take to Twitter

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Education activists tried protest marches. They camped outside South Africa's parliament. They even went to court to try to force government action in a country where some children study outside in deepest winter, thousands more learn in shoddy huts of mud and twig and the school year can nearly reach its halfway point without the government delivering textbooks.

On Thursday, they took to Twitter with the hashtag #Questions4Motshekga in the leadup to a news conference by the minister for basic education, Angie Motshekga. The hashtag rapidly became a trending topic here, as angry South Africans piled onboard.

"For how long will the poor pupils from Limpopo be taught under trees in this cold weather Minister?" asked one user, Karabo Mokoena.

"The dropout rate is increasing. What are [you] doing about it?" one South African, Julian Maake, wrote.

Another was even blunter: "How did you survive the [Cabinet] reshuffle?" Lethabo Phala asked.

Their impatience is understandable. In 2006, a landmark report on South African schools found that 80% of high schools were "dysfunctional" -- but little has changed since.

The performance of 12-year-old students in basic literacy and mathematics is dismal compared to neighboring African countries, according to Equal Education, a lobby group that took Motshekga to court in a bid to force improvements in school infrastructure.

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Popular Chilean student leader to visit Mexico

Camila vallejo file photoMEXICO CITY -- The Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo confirmed on Wednesday that she will visit a Mexico City university and meet with members of the nascent student movement in Mexico known as "I am 132."

Vallejo, a popular figure, is among listed participants for a conference on public education that started Wednesday at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, or UAM.

She is scheduled to meet students in the #YoSoy132 movement  Thursday at the UAM campus in Xochimilco, in southern Mexico City.

A 24-year-old geography student, Vallejo became internationally known as an early and telegenic leader in the movement calling for education reform in Chile. The demonstrations that began in May 2011 to press for more public funding in higher education have put pressure on the administration of Chilean President Sebastian Piñera.

Mexico's student movement, meanwhile, held another string of large demonstrations across the country on Sunday, along with concurrent, smaller protests by supporters in cities around the world, including Madrid, Chicago and Washington.

Demonstrators are opposed to the possible victory of presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico's former ruling party in the July 1 election. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is leading in polls as the vote nears.

Demonstrators have declared themselves nonpartisan, but the "I am 132" movement has buoyed the campaign of leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in some polls.

The movement took a hit Monday when a video emerged of students claiming to be #YoSoy132 but who were announcing a split with the group. "I am 132" organizers said the people who appear in the clip were unknown to them and had never been at movement meetings. (One figure in the splinter group told reporters Tuesday that it had only 15 members.)

"These are guys just looking for attention and the news media are giving it to them to weaken the movement," said Ignacio Martinez, a 23-year-old communications student at the Ibero-American University, where protests began against Peña Nieto on May 11.

Meanwhile, as reports of physical confrontations between alleged Peña Nieto supporters and Peña Nieto opponents have trickled into news accounts, Lopez Obrador on Wednesday said during his daily news conference that his campaign did not support violence of any sort.

"We are not in any act of confrontation," said Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor and self-proclaimed pacifist. "We are in peace, peace, peace, peace."

Peña Nieto, former governor of the state of Mexico who has also disavowed any campaign violence, reaffirmed his position Wednesday to not attend an unofficial presidential debate being organized by the "I am 132" movement. The three other presidential candidates have agreed to participate.

"It's clear this is a movement that does not generate conditions for a neutral, impartial meeting," Peña Nieto said during a television interview.

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--Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo, pictured in 2011. Credit: Luis Hidalgo / Associated Press


South Korea school textbooks drop evolution examples

SEOUL -- Some major science textbook publishers for South Korea's secondary schools have deleted examples of Darwinism, bowing to petitions by a group that calls evolution "an unconfirmed theory."

Of the seven major science textbook publishers in South Korea, three have agreed to remove or revise references to the evolution of horses, and six publishers  deleted or changed chapters related to avian evolution.

The decision was made after the Society for Textbook Revision, or STR, filed petitions in December and March with South Korea's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology  against the inclusion of the information.

Since its formation in 2009, the STR has continuously  challenged the teaching of the evolution in South Korea.

"We are an academic research society that aims to delete the errors [relating to] evolution, which is an unconfirmed theory," STR President Lee Gwang-won said. "It is important to revise the textbooks and teach the students that evolution is just one of the theories, as it affects how students form their view of the world. "

Lee denied his organization is affiliated with Christian groups or creationist scientists. But  Han Jungyeol, spokesman for the Korea Assn. for Creation Research, told the science journal Nature that the STR is an independent offshoot of his association.

South Korean academics expressed confusion over the publishers' decision, assigning some blame to the government's education ministry because it forwarded the petitions to the publishers without any academic reviews or expert consultation.

"It is hard to believe that such a one-sided petition was easily accepted like this," said Choe Jae-cheon, a scientist at Ewha Woman's University in Seoul. "The education ministry included 'science and technology' in their name, but it is not paying enough attention to the importance of rightful science education."

One of the publishers that revised its texts,  Kyohaksa, was quoted by local media as saying the fact that there was an apparent scientific controversy over the issue prompted its decision.

But Jang Dayk, a scientist at Seoul National University, said the publishers' position was not acceptable. He said the scientific community had ignored the STR up to now "because it was unworthy to confront them. The quality of their argument is sophomoric and based on distorted information."

But the latest move by textbook publishers, Dayk said,  has galvanized the scientific community, pushing it to act.  "We have formed a task force and will put out a statement to halt the textbook revision."

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 --Jung-yoon Choi



Londoners go to the polls in mayoral elections for Olympic city

Boris-johnson

LONDON -- London's voters went to the polls Thursday to choose their next mayor from among seven candidates in what has largely become a clash between two oversized personalities: extroverted Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson and his archrival, combative Labor Party politician Ken Livingstone, who became the city's first elected mayor in 2000.

Local elections were going on across Britain, but the eye-catching show was the fight for London’s leader. With the city this summer hosting the Olympic Games and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations amid rising prices, unemployment, housing shortages and social benefit cuts, the future mayor faces an uphill task. Among the challenges: regulating policies and budgets for the city’s police, transportation and emergency services, education, housing and business development.

Latest polls by market research company YouGov put Johnson ahead with 53% of the vote to Livingstone's 47%, a contrast to national polls that show the Conservatives under Prime Minister David Cameron lagging well behind the opposition Labor Party.

Results in London were not expected to be announced until Friday.

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Albert Einstein online archive puts a genius at our fingertips

Einstein private library

It’s the ultimate resource to Albert Einstein, the mighty brain behind E=mc2, and now it's all online.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has expanded its vast online Einstein catalog. The enhanced website “sheds light on every aspect of Einstein’s life and on his times,” the first half of the 20th century, the director of the university’s Einstein Center told The Times on Monday.

And it’s not only science, but also personal correspondence that may make readers consider Einstein in a new light.

With 80,000 documents "now listed, categorized, cross-linked and cross-referenced online," according to professor Hanoch Gutfreund, readers have a “panoramic view of the scope of topics and issues in which Einstein was involved.”

There’s a letter to Einstein's 24-year-old mistress, among other lovers; a postcard to his sick mother; even mail about his wild hairdo.

Einstein kept a missive from a 6-year-old girl that reads, in part: "I saw your picture in the paper. I think you ought to have your hair cut, so you can look better."

There also is a 1929 letter to the editor of an Arab newspaper suggesting a solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict: a “secret council” of Jews and Arabs that would hold regular meetings and debate shared issues.

Einstein, who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921, died in 1955 and bequeathed all his writings and intellectual heritage to the university. Einstein founded the school in 1918 with a group of individuals including the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud; Jewish philosopher Martin Buber; and Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel.

There’s also a California angle to the enhanced website.

It links up with the Caltech Einstein Papers Project. About 2,000 documents, Gutfreund said, can be seen “in high resolution and linked to the transcribed, annotated and translated version, which appears in the EPP.”

The online project is part of a longer-term effort by Hebrew University, along with Caltech and Princeton, to document scientific history by publishing “The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein,” a massive undertaking.

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-- Amy Hubbard

Photo: A small statue of Albert Einstein sits in his private library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. On Monday, the university unveiled its enhanced website, where original documents can be accessed. Credit: Menahem Kahana / AFP/Getty Images


Teachers in 'mega' protest march tie up Mexico City

Megamarch

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Another day, another demo.  In a megalopolis known for its traffic-twisting protest marches and political rallies, Thursday's did not disappoint. 

Tens of thousands of teachers tromped through city streets, converging on Mexico City's downtown Zocalo, or plaza, from three directions (link in Spanish).

Their beef? They oppose new rules that require them to be regularly evaluated to judge their competency.

This in a country where teachers often inherit their jobs from relatives and routinely fail entrance exams. Under government pressure, however, the super-powerful teachers union that preserves such perks reluctantly agreed to the evaluations as a way to improve the abysmal quality of education in Mexico.

But at least one faction of the profession was having none of it and staged Thursday's self-proclaimed "mega march" to make the point. "A teacher, silenced. Never!" read one of the banners they carried. The city's principal Reforma Boulevard had to be closed for several hours, and downtown traffic was at a standstill for periods.

A study by security officials once estimated that there are an average of five protest marches a day in Mexico City, as The Times' Marla Dickerson reported a few years ago.

"Marches are so commonplace that radio reporters include them in traffic reports," she wrote. "Businesses have fled regular parade routes, fed up with vandalism and falling sales. Traffic gridlock has sapped productivity, worsened the city's already lousy air and hurt the pocketbooks of poorer city dwellers who don't get paid if they can't get to work."

There are other costs, too. For Thursday's demo city officials said they deployed more than 17,000 police officers (link in Spanish).

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Campaign puts Mexico teachers union leader back in spotlight

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-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Mexico City police block a street in the Polanco district March 15, 2012, as demonstrators converge nearby.  Credit: Tracy Wilkinson / Los Angeles Times.

 


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