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English language tests for foreign students “unfair,” says Cambridge

LONDON—Britain’s largest provider of English language tests has expressed concern over government plans to impose strict English language tests for foreign students, saying such a move will not necessarily bring down the number of bogus students.

Cambridge ESOL, the world’s leading language assessor, said the British home ministry should ensure that “only tried and tested systems with high levels of security and quality control are recognised for this purpose.”

The exam board, which is a department of Cambridge University, warned that restrictions on foreign students announced by Home Minister Alan Johnson Wednesday may not reduce the number of bogus students applying for courses in Britain.

“We recognise the need for a well-regulated student visa system, but there is little evidence to suggest that the people who are abusing the system are predominantly those with a very low level of English-language skills,” Cambridge ESOL CEO Dr Michael Milanovic said.

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Ambidextrous children more likely to do badly at school, study finds

Ambidextrous children are twice as likely to do badly at school and suffer from attention problems as right-handers, a study published in the journal Pediatrics shows. One in 100 people are ambidextrous.

Researchers from Imperial College London tested 7,871 children's language, behavior and academic skills at the ages of seven or eight and again at 15 or 16. They asked the children's teachers to assess whether they were below average, average or above average in reading, writing and mathematics.

The research found that the 87 who were ambidextrous were twice as likely to have language difficulties and perform poorly at school aged seven or eight. By 15 and 16 they were twice as likely to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder—which affects up to 5% of children—and to continue to have more language problems than their right-handed peers.

The researchers suggested that the right hemisphere of ambidextrous children's brains was weaker than that of right-handed children's brains and that this could make them more susceptible to attention problems.

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ASEAN educators push shared curriculum during Cebu conference

Education officials from all over Southeast Asia yesterday vowed to develop curricula common to all Southeast Asian schools. They did so at the start of the 45th Southeast Asia Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Council Conference and 5th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Education Ministers Summit held at the Sangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort and Spa.

Philippine Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, who is also the incoming SEAMEO president, said it was important for ASEAN nations to “bond” in the face of global competition. He explained: “The European Union has a common curriculum and common currency. We need a common standard, common curriculum. We have 19 member-centers where we can tap to for their expertise. We have three in the country.”

The SEAMEO operates a Regional Center for Public Health, Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, and Regional Center for Education Innovation and Technology.

Thailand Education Minister and current SEAMEO president Chinnaworn Boonyakiat, in his opening remarks, said climate change lessons are expected to be among those included in the common curriculum for Southeast Asian schools.

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Study calls attention to speech disorders

A U.K. study finds that one in six children struggle with speech, due in part to busier parents, but the outlook may not be as bleak as it seems.

Children’s communication expert Jean Gross blames children’s increased TV-watching and video/computer game-usage, and less time spent with adults and parents, according to Rachel Williams in The Guardian. Research also revealed that “twice as many boys struggle as girls,” and that nearly a quarter of children with speech difficulties do not get any help, leaving them at risk for “mental health problems” or future run-ins with the law. Statistics were gleaned from a survey of 1,000 parents living in England, carried out by YouGov.

Gross said higher mortgages and other costs of living are preventing overworked parents from spending necessary time with their children. According to Williams, Gross offered this bit of advice: “Think about what children need. It's not expensive toys and big houses. It's you."

What are the solutions for busy parents?

The BBC posts a video of an interview with Gross, in which she says parents need access to expert advice before children begin school, and that “more speech language therapists” are needed in “the school setting.”

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Google News tool to allow online media opt out

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP)—Google News has launched a “news-specific crawler” that lets online media automatically keep stories, photos, or video out of its index.

The announcement comes a day after the California-based Internet giant said it is letting publishers limit the number of online pages people can view after being routed to their websites by Google’s search engine. Publishers have always been able to block Google from including their website content in the search engine index.

Google senior business product manager Josh Cohen said in a blog post that a new “web crawler” extends that option to Google News. Web crawlers are automated programs that scour the Internet for content and then index it in databases routinely mined for results to online search queries.

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Technology gives kids a window on world

OSAKA—Students at Mikanodai Primary School in Kawachi-Nagano, Osaka Prefecture, occasionally enjoy speaking English to their counterparts in Australia—without ever traveling out of the city. The public school takes full advantage of an Internet teleconference system as part of its English lessons.

On an early autumn day, for example, about 40 fifth graders gathered in front of a television screen that was displaying a live image of a girl at Wodonga West Primary School in Victoria, Australia.

Konnichiwa. Watashi no namae wa Anii desu. Tempura o tabemasu (Hello. My name is Annie. I enjoy eating tempura),” said the girl, who received a round of applause from the other side of the equator.

During the half-hour session, Mikanodai and Wodonga West students spoke to each other in English and Japanese. They introduced themselves and had a question-and-answer session, while also singing together and playing a paper-rock-scissors game.

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Number of institutions accepting TOEFL surpasses 7,300 worldwide

PRINCETON, NJ—Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced today that more than 7,300 institutions worldwide are now accepting the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test to assess English-language proficiency for both undergraduate and graduate applicants.

Of this number of educational institutions accepting the TOEFL test, about 5,175 are located in the United States and Canada, 1,000 in continental Europe, 200 in the United Kingdom, 600 in Asia, 100 in Australia and New Zealand, with the majority of the remaining institutions located in Africa and the Middle East.

Within the last year alone, an additional 383 institutions have become TOEFL score users and the number of institutions signing on to use TOEFL scores continues to increase at a fast pace, the ETS said.

In response to the growing demand for the TOEFL test by colleges and universities, ETS has increased the number of test administration sites to allow greater access and flexibility for test takers. Currently, there are more than 4,500 test administration sites globally.

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Children’s schooling should start at six, a British study recommends

Schoolchildren should not start formal lessons until they turn six, and Sats should be scrapped to relieve the damaging pressure England's young pupils face, the biggest inquiry into primary education for 40 years concludes today.

In a damning indictment of Labour’s education record since 1997, the Cambridge University-led review accuses the government of introducing an educational diet "even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools".

It claims that successive Labour ministers have intervened in England’s classrooms on an unprecedented scale, controlling every detail of how teachers teach in a system that has “Stalinist overtones.” It says they have exaggerated progress, narrowed the curriculum by squeezing out space for history, music and arts, and left children stressed-out by the testing and league table system.

The review is the biggest independent inquiry into primary education in four decades, based on 28 research surveys, 1,052 written submissions and 250 focus groups. It was undertaken by 14 authors, 66 research consultants and a 20-strong advisory committee at Cambridge University, led by Professor Robin Alexander, one of the most experienced educational academics in the country.

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