Sunday, December 30, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage In Maine: The First Wedding (PHOTOS)

Congratulations, Mainers!

The same-sex marriage law that voters passed in November went into effect at midnight on December 29th. Maine joins Washington, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut and the District of Columbia in enacting same-sex marriage laws; same-sex couples there may obtain marriage licences and get married.

To see what marriage equality looks like in the Pine Tree State, we found photos from the first legal marriage in Maine. The grooms were Steven Bridges and Michael Snell and they wed at about 12:25 AM on Saturday.

"It's historic. We've waited our entire lives for this," Bridges told the Associated Press.

See their journey to City Hall in Portland in the slideshow below.

  • Steven Bridges, left, and Michael Snell, a couple for nine years, arrive at City Hall in Portland, Maine.

  • Snell and Bridges speak to a reporter before obtaining a marriage license under the state's new law. Bridges and Snell held a commitment ceremony six years ago.

  • Steven Bridges receives a wedding ring from Michael Snell early Saturday. "We finally feel equal and happy to live in Maine," <a href="">Bridges told the Bangor Daily News</a>.

  • Steven Bridges and Michael Snell right after making history as the first same-sex couple to be married in the state.

  • A crowd cheers at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, as the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Maine departs City Hall in Portland, Maine.

Keep in touch! Check out HuffPost Weddings on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Embodied Cognition: Our Inner Imaginings of the World Around Us Make Us Who We Are [Excerpt]

Editor's note: This excerpt of a chapter from Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning by Benjamin K. Bergen (Basic Books, 2012)? relates that our brain?s capacity to both perceive a pig and then imagine what the animal is like, even one that flies, points to an essential cognitive skill that makes humans different from all other species.

Excerpted from Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning?by Benjamin K. Bergen. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group.? Copyright ? 2012.

Starting as early as the 1970s, some cognitive psychologists, philosophers, and linguists began to wonder whether meaning wasn?t something totally different from a language of thought [Call it Mentalese, whichtranslates words into actual concepts: a polar bear or speed limit, for instance]. They suggested that?instead of abstract symbols?meaning might really be something much more closely intertwined with our real experiences in the world, with the bodies that we have. As a self-conscious movement started to take form, it took on a name, embodiment, which started to stand for the idea that meaning might be something that isn?t distilled away from our bodily experiences but is instead tightly bound by them. For you, the word dog might have a deep and rich meaning that involves the ways you physically interact with dogs?how they look and smell and feel. But the meaning of polar bear will be totally different, because you likely don?t have those same experiences of direct interaction.

??? If meaning is based on our experiences in our particular bodies in the particular situations we?ve dragged them through, then meaning could be quite personal. This in turn would make it variable across people and across cultures. As embodiment developed into a truly interdisciplinary enterprise, it found footholds by the end of the twentieth century in linguistics, especially in the work of U.C. Berkeley linguist George Lakoff and others; in philosophy, especially in work by University of Oregon philosopher Mark Johnson, among others; and in cognitive psychology, where U.C. Berkeley psychologist Eleanor Rosch?s early work led the way.

???? The embodiment idea was appealing. But at the same time, it was missing something. Specifically, a mechanism. Mentalese is a specific claim about the machinery people might use for meaning. Embodiment was more of an idea, a principle. It might have been right in a general sense, but it was hard to tell because it didn?t necessarily translate into specific claims about exactly how meaning works in real people in real time. So it idled, and it didn?t supplant the language of thought hypothesis [Mentalese] as the leading idea in the cognitive science of meaning.

???? And then someone had an idea.
???? It?s not clear who had it first, but in the mid-1990s at least three groups converged upon the same thought. One was a cognitive psychologist, Larry Barsalou, and his students at Emory University, in Georgia. The second was a group of neuroscientists in Parma, Italy. And the third was a group of cognitive scientists at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, where I happened to be working as a graduate student. ?There was clearly something in the water, a zeitgeist. The idea was the embodied simulation hypothesis, a proposal that would make the idea of embodiment concrete enough to compete with Mentalese. Put simply:

  • Maybe we understand language by simulating in our minds what it would be like to experience the things that the language describes.

???? Let?s unpack this idea a little bit?what it means to simulate something in your mind. We actually simulate all the time. You do it when you imagine your parents? faces, or fixate in your mind?s eye on that misplayed poker hand. You?re simulating when you imagine sounds in your head without any sound waves hitting your ears, whether it?s the bass line of the White Stripes? Seven Nation Army or the sound of screeching tires. And you can probably conjure up simulations of what strawberries taste like when covered with whipped cream or what fresh lavender smells like. You can also simulate actions. Think about the direction you turn the doorknob of your front door. You probably visually simulate what your hand would look like, but if you?re like most people, you do more than this. You are able to virtually feel what it?s like to move your hand in the appropriate way?to grasp the handle (with enough force to cause the friction required for it to move with your hand) and rotate your hand (clockwise, perhaps?) at the wrist. Or if you?re a skier, you can imagine not only what it looks like to go down a run, but also what it feels like to shift your weight back and forth as you link turns.

???? Now, in all these examples, you?re consciously and intentionally conjuring up simulations. That?s called mental imagery. The idea of simulation is something that goes much deeper. Simulation is an iceberg. By consciously reflecting, as you just have been doing, you can see the tip?the intentional, conscious imagery. But many of the same brain processes are engaged, invisibly and unbeknownst to you, beneath the surface during much of your waking and sleeping life.? Simulation is the creation of mental experiences of perception and action in the absence of their external manifestation. That is, it?s having the experience of seeing without the sights actually being there or having the experience of performing an action without actually moving.

???? When we?re consciously aware of them, these simulation experiences feel qualitatively like actual perception; colors appear as they appear when directly perceived, and actions feel like they feel when we perform them. The theory proposes that embodied simulation makes use of the same parts of the brain that are dedicated to directly interacting with the world. When we simulate seeing, we use the parts of the brain that allow us to see the world; when we simulate performing actions, the parts of the brain that direct physical action light up. The idea is that simulation creates echoes in our brains of previous experiences, attenuated resonances of brain patterns that were active during previous perceptual and motor experiences. We use our brains to simulate percepts and actions without actually perceiving or acting.

??? Outside of the study of language, people use simulation when they perform lots of different tasks, from remembering facts to listing properties of objects to choreographing a dance. These behaviors make use of embodied simulation for good reason. It?s easier to remember where we left our keys when we imagine the last place we saw them. It?s easier to determine what side of the car the gas tank is on by imagining filling it up. It?s easier to create a new series of movements by first imagining performing them ourselves. Using embodied simulation for rehearsal even helps people improve at repetitive tasks, like shooting free throws and bowling strikes. People are simulating constantly.

??? In this context, the embodied simulation hypothesis doesn?t seem like too much of a leap. It hypothesizes that language is like these other cognitive functions in that it, too, depends on embodied simulation. While we listen to or read sentences, we simulate seeing the scenes and performing the actions that are described. We do so using our motor and perceptual systems, and possibly other brain systems, like those dedicated to emotion. For example, consider what you might have simulated when you read the following sentence... :

  • When hunting on land, the polar bear will often stalk its prey almost like a cat would, scooting along its belly to get right up close, and then pounce, claws first, jaws agape.

???To understand what this means, according to the embodied simulation hypothesis, you actually activate the vision system in your brain to create a virtual visual experience of what a hunting polar bear would look like. You could use your auditory system to virtually hear what it would be like for a polar bear to slide along ice and snow. And you might even use your brain?s motor system, which controls action, to simulate what it would feel like to scoot, pounce, extend your arms, and drop your jaw. The idea is that you make meaning by creating experiences for yourself that?if you?re successful?reflect the experiences that the speaker, or in this case the writer, intended to describe. Meaning, according to the embodied simulation hypothesis, isn?t just abstract mental symbols; it?s a creative process, in which people construct virtual experiences?embodied simulations?in their mind?s eye.


??? If this is right, then meaning is something totally different from [a given] definitional model ... If meaning is based on experience with the world?the specific actions and percepts an individual has had?then it may vary from individual to individual and from culture to culture. And meaning will also be deeply personal?what polar bear or dog means to me might be totally different from what it means to you. Moreover, if we use our brain systems for perception and action to understand, then the processes of meaning are dynamic and constructive. It?s not about activating the right symbol; it?s about dynamically constructing the right mental experience of the scene.

??? Furthermore, if we indeed make meaning through simulating sights, sounds, and actions, that would mean that our capacity for meaning is built upon other systems, ones evolved more directly for perception and action. And that in turn would mean that our species-specific ability for language is built up from systems that we actually share in large part with other species.

??? Of course, we use these perception and action systems in new ways. We know this because other animals don?t share our facility with simulation?The capacity for open-ended simulation is something much more human than ursine, not just in language, but pervasively throughout what we do with our minds. You can simulate what you would look like if you covered your nose with your hand, just as easily as you can simulate what you?d look like if you had two heads or if you had a pogo stick in place of your right leg. If simulation is what makes our capacity for language special, then figuring out how we use it will tell us a lot about what makes us unique as humans, about what kind of animal we are, and how we came to be this way.

??? One of the important innovations of the embodied simulation hypothesis?and one way in which it differs from the language of thought hypothesis [Mentalese]?is that it claims that meaning is something that you construct in your mind, based on your own experiences. If meaning is really generated in your mind, then you should be able to make sense of language about not only things that exist in the real world, like polar bears, but also things that don?t actually exist, like, say, flying pigs. So how we understand language about nonexistent things can actually tell us a lot about how meaning works.

??? Let?s consider the case of the words flying pigs. I?d wager that flying pigs actually means a lot to you, even without thinking too hard about it. Over the years, I?ve asked a lot of people what flying pigs means to them, informally. (One of the luxuries of being a university professor is that people tend to be totally unsurprised when you ask questions like How many wings does a flying pig have?) According to my totally unscientific survey, conducted primarily with the population of individuals with time on their hands and a beverage in their glass, when most people hear or read the words flying pigs, they think of an animal that looks for all intents and purposes like a pig but has wings. The writer John Steinbeck imagined such a winged pig and named it Pigasus. He even used it as his personal stamp. What do you know about your own personal Pigasus? It probably has two wings (not three or seven or twelve) that are shaped very much like bird wings. Without having to reflect on it, you also know where they appear on Pigasus? body?they?re attached symmetrically to the shoulder blades. And although it has wings like a bird, most people think that Pigasus also displays a number of pig features; it has a snout, not a beak, and it has hooves, rather than talons.

??? There are a couple things to draw from this example. First, flying pigs seems to mean something to everyone. And that?s important because there?s no such thing as an actual flying pig in the world. In fact, part of the meaning of flying pigs is precisely that flying pigs don?t exist. What all of this means, not to be too cute about it, is that the Mentalese theory that meaning is about the relation of definitions to real things in the world will only work when pigs fly.

??? Second, if you?re like most people, what you did when you understood flying pigs probably felt a lot like mental imagery. You might ask yourself, did you experience visual images of a flying pig in your mind? Were they vivid? Were they replete with detail? Of course, consciously experiencing visual imagery is just one way to use simulation?you can also simulate without having conscious access to images. But where there?s imagined smoke, there may be simulated fire. If you?re like most people, when you simulate a flying pig, you probably see the snout and the wings in your mind?s eye. You may see details like color or texture; you might even see the pig in motion through the air. The words flying pigs are not unique in evoking consciously accessible visual detail. The same is true for lots of language, whether the things it describes are impossible like flying pigs or totally mundane like buying figs or somewhere in between, like the polar bear?s nose.

??? Third, and I don?t expect that this occurred to you because it only became clear to me through my extensive research?flying pigs doesn?t actually evoke something of the genus Pigasus for everyone. For some people, flying pigs don?t use wings to propel themselves, but instead conscript superpowers. If your flying pig is of this variety?let?s call it Superswine?then it probably wears a cape. Maybe a brightly colored spandex unitard, too, with some symbol on the chest, like a stylized curly pig tail or, better yet, a slice of fried bacon. And what?s more, when it flies, Superswine?s posture and motion are different from those of winged flying pigs. Whereas winged flying pigs hold their legs beneath their body, tucked up to their bellies or hanging below them, Superswine tend to stretch their front legs out in front of themselves, ? la Superman.

??? I?ll be the first to admit that the respective features of Pigasus and Superswine are not of great scientific value or vital public interest in and of themselves. But they do tell us something about how people understand the meanings of words. People simulate in response to language, but their simulations appear to vary substantially. You might be the type of person to automatically envision Superswine, or you might have a strong preference for the more common Pigasus. We observe individual variation like this not only for flying pigs, but equally for any bits of language. Your first image of a barking dog might be a big, ferocious Doberman, or it might be a tiny, yappy Chihuahua. When you read torture devices, you might think of the Iron Maiden or you might think of a new Stairmaster at your gym. Variation in the things people think words refer to is important because it means that people use their idiosyncratic mental resources to construct meaning. We all have different experiences, expectations, and interests, so we paint the meanings we create for the language we hear in our own idiosyncratic color.


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Friday, December 28, 2012

America&#39;s Freedom of Religion Doctrine is Under Threat ...

EVANSTON, Ill. --- ?The American law of freedom of religion is in trouble, because growing numbers of critics, including a near majority of the Supreme Court, are ready to cast aside the ideal of religious neutrality.?

That is the opening sentence of ?Defending American Religious Neutrality,? the provocative new book by Andrew Koppelman, an influential Constitutional scholar who is the John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University.

In the book, set for publication on Jan. 1, 2013, Koppelman takes on critics of the First Amendment?s ?establishment? clause who increasingly are branding its freedom of religion doctrine as both ?incoherent and substantially unattractive.? Their solution would be to replace it with ?a new set of rules far friendlier to official endorsement of religion.?

Those proposals, Koppelman argues, would ?lead to heightened civil strife, corruption of religion and oppression of religious minorities.? He goes on to mount a rigorous legal defense of the view that American religious neutrality is in fact both coherent and attractive.

?If the state gets to discern God?s will,? he writes, ?we will be told that God wants the reelection of the incumbent administration.? The First Amendment?s leading framers believed strongly that religion can be corrupted by state support, he says.

America?s religious neutrality has become more vague over time as the country became far more religiously diverse, but Koppelman contends that is a strength, arguing America has been ?unusually successful? in dealing with religious diversity. He points out the U.S. has achieved ?civil peace? in these matters far beyond the capabilities of other democracies, such as those in Europe, to do so.

Koppelman acknowledges there are inconsistencies that appear to stem from American law on religious issues. For instance, how do we reconcile the ban on official prayers and Bible reading in public schools while still having ?In God We Trust? printed on U.S. currency or beginning many legislative sessions with prayers? And how do we justify making Christmas a holiday or explain the confusion over faith-based social services, public financing of religious schools and the teaching of ?intelligent design??

The key for Koppelman in resolving these puzzles is the concept of religious neutrality and the need for the state to distance itself, to keep ?some degree of abstraction away from controversial conceptions of the good.?

The book explains the fundamental wisdom of the First Amendment doctrine that treats religion as a good thing, and as such, ?holds that religion?s value is best honored by prohibiting the state from trying to answer religious questions.?

Following is an edited transcript of a recent interview with Koppelman about his new book:

Q: What is the central Constitutional theme of your book??

A: Discussions of the religion clauses of the Constitution tend to represent two broad views: ?Either the people who want government to be able to endorse any religious proposition that it wants, to declare that the U.S. is a Christian nation or to authorize the government to embrace whatever religious propositions it sees fit, or the ones who think government is to be a religion-free zone which is completely blind to any value associated with religion.?

What I try to show in the book is that American law is not a member of either of those camps. What American law actually does is regard religion as a good thing but insists that its value be understood at a very high level of abstraction, so that government takes no position on any controversial religious question.

Q: But there are many inconsistencies in the law as it applies to religion, aren?t there?

A: This is theoretically untidy and is made worse by the fact that American law grandfathers in a huge number of practices that violate this rule about taking no position on any religious question. The rules are that these practices are OK, but, for instance, the Supreme Court decided that the Ten-Commandment display is OK if it has been around for 50 years, not if it has been put up last week. That?s just how American law goes. There are all kinds of untidiness about this.

Q: Is this approach something uniquely American?

A: The U.S. is the most religiously diverse society in the history of the planet. And we do a better job of managing our diversity than other high functioning rich countries. If you compare the status of our religious minorities with what?s going on in France or in Germany we look pretty good. So, I think that it?s worth taking the trouble to understand how the Americans actually do it. And if you understand how the Americans actually do it, then maybe there?s something to be said for doing it our way.

Q: What about separation of church and state, doesn?t religion still strongly influence our politics?

A: There is a misconception that is shared by people with very different views that says if you are in favor of a very strong separation of church and state, you must be hostile to religion. People on the left and right, people who are and aren?t hostile to religion, share this view. But when the framers put this strong separation in place, they did it because they valued religion so much and they thought that religion would be corrupted by state control.

Q: You single out the views of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the book as a leading thinker who fails to appreciate the unique kind of religious neutrality you are defending.

A: The sheer diversity of religions is something that Justice Scalia, who purports to be an Originalist, doesn?t really get. Scalia suggested being friendly to religion means you embrace the idea of monotheism, and the Ten Commandments. It?s as if he?s never heard of Hinduism or Buddhism. It?s very strange.?


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Mars-Like Conditions Sufficient to Sustain Earth-Bound Microbes

Yes, the Sun is getting hotter as it evolves across the main sequence of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. However, this is happening on a time scale of hundreds of millions of years. You are right that it has absolutely no effect on our climate today, but it will over the next 200 million years or so. Water vapour does not escape into space, but it will become a larger part of the atmosphere as the Earth heats up, and water vapour is a very potent greenhouse gas. Eventually the water vapour will be lost. First, as the atmosphere heats up the random motion of water vapour molecules will increase, so more of them will end up in the high-velocity tail of the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution, and thus have enough speed to escape. Second the changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere will make it easier for water molecules to chemically dissociate (and cosmic rays will contribute too). The net effect is that water vapour will be lost, but on time scales of hundreds of millions of years. Plate tectonics are driven by convection currents in the mantle, but they are lubricated by water. If there are no oceans it is much harder for plates to subduct. Once the oceans are gone plate tectonics become much more difficult. This is thought to be the reason that Venus, a planet with essentially the same mass and internal composition as the Earth) shows no evidence for having plate tectonics. My understanding is that this is still somewhat hypothetical, but that there is an emerging consensus in the the geological community that oceans play a major r?le. Finally, plate tectonics do not drive geological CO2 emission, vulcanism does. While it is true that plate tectonics does cause vulcanism volcanos can happen without it, as we see on Venus, and in Hawaii. So, when plate tectonics stop there will still be CO2 emission from vulcanism. However, the carbonate-sillicate weathering cycle will have stopped, and this is the primary geological way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The net effect will be CO2 being added by volcanos, but with nothing to remove it the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase. Unless if we buy some Puppeteer world-moving technology Earth is in for a hot time around its 5,500,000,000th birthday.


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5 Ways to Improve Your Point-of-Sale Security

Many business owners think that meeting the basic requirements of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) protocols will keep their point-of-sale systems from being hacked. But here?s the truth: hacking into retailer POS systems is a recurring problem worldwide, even for retailers who meet PCI DSS standards.

In just the last couple of years, several high-profile cases have received media coverage:

  • In late 2011, a scheme was discovered that involved hackers from Romania stealing credit card data from hundreds of POS systems, including those from 150 Subway franchises. More than 146,000 cards were compromised, and losses have been estimated at up to $10 million.
  • In September 2012, hackers got into POS systems in 63 Barnes & Noble stores in nine states. The company removed POS card readers from all its stores while the incident was investigated.
  • In December 2012, an Israeli security firm found a strain of malware infecting hundreds of POS systems in 40 countries. By injecting malware into a system?s iexplore.exe file on Windows servers, the malware hijacked data that could be used for cloning credit cards.

Countless other cases of POS ?hacking? come from insiders: your employees. Keeping on top of POS security is essential for every business. Here are 5 ways to improve your POS security.

1. Know Your Enemy

Awareness is the first step toward POS security. Key methods for hacking a POS system include:

  • Targeting systems that lack firewall protection between hackers and terminal or Windows RDP services
  • Gaining remote system access using tools like PCAnywhere on ?back of house? servers
  • Finding systems using default vendor-supplied credentials for OS and remote applications

Systems are frequently hacked by criminals who are employed seasonally or temporarily, particularly in restaurants and bars. Dave Marcus, security research director at McAfee Labs, said in an interview with Ars Technica, ?This is the crime of the future. Robbing a retailer won?t involve holding up a cash register at gunpoint, but rather root[ing] them from across the planet, and steal[ing] digitally.?

2. Assess Your Risks

PCI DSS Requirements version 12.1.2 requires organizations to develop formal processes for identifying vulnerabilities that reduce security of cardholder data. A customized risk assessment can help businesses determine which specific controls are best suited for protecting cardholder data for their business. Not only should organizations have a formal risk assessment methodology suited for its particular vulnerabilities, it? should treat risk assessment as an ongoing process so that information about emerging threats can be addressed through preventive measures. Risk assessments are important, but they are not a substitute for implementing all applicable PCI DSS requirements.

3. PA-DSS Validate Applications

PA-DSS stands for Payment Application Data Security Standard. Validation under PA-DSS can help merchants protect customer data by improving security controls and supporting PCI DSS compliance, as well as securing maintenance and updating capabilities. When properly installed and maintained, PA-DSS validation gives retailers a long-term solution to POS security issues. But if PA-DSS validation isn?t installed, configured, and maintained correctly, it won?t provide much (if any) benefit.

4. Consider Training Under the Qualified Integrators and Resellers Program

The PCI Council now has a Qualified Integrators and Resellers (QIR) program for improving POS security. Eligible professionals in qualifying organizations can receive training about secure installation of PA-DSS validation applications to boost PCI DSS security compliance. QIR training educates retail professionals on guiding principles and procedures for securely installing and maintaining payment applications to maximize PCI DSS compliance.

5. No Default Passwords

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman learned how to crack safes while working on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. Like any good scientist, he tried out the simplest methods first: checking safes with the written original factory combinations on the gamble that nobody bothered to change them. And, in several instances, he was right. A surprising number of POS systems use the factory passwords because retailers don?t bother to change them, and this is a huge security risk. Not only should factory passwords be changed, subsequent passwords should be changed regularly. Often, cracking a POS system relies on the retailer being lazy about password implementation and changes.

Whether you?re implementing your first POS system, or are upgrading with a new one, cardholder security should be a top priority and should be an ongoing ? rather than a one-time ? concern.

Photo Credit: Gilbarco Veeder-Root

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Document drop: Another Obama ICE memo sabotages homeland security (Michellemalkin)

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Video: Showing some love for a holiday classic

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Democrats Seek the Holy Grail of Gun Control (Powerlineblog)

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An Introduction To The Environmental Pest Control - News and Society

Every year millions of homes and businesses are exposed to toxic chemicals in an effort to fight insect and rodent infestations. More than a billion pounds of chemicals are used every year in the United States to fight vermin. Before heading to the store to pick up some insect spray or before picking up the phone to call the exterminator, it is important to know the facts about pest control. One can visit for more details.

The first thing to know about pest control is the kinds of chemicals used. The three most commonly used chemicals in pest control were created to attack the nervous systems of vermin. These chemicals were synthesized from the template of nerve agents that were designed during the fighting in World War II. Therefore, they are highly toxic and should be handled with extreme care. These chemicals do not just attack the nervous systems of pests. They will also attack the nervous systems of human beings and pets as well. They will not likely have a lethal effect, because they are designed to attack much smaller animals. However, the smaller the child or pet is, the greater the danger to them when they are exposed to these poisons.

With that in mind, it is important to be very cautious when the exterminator comes to visit. If you have pets or children, you should send them to another place for the duration of the exterminator?s visit. It is also highly advisable to keep them away from the house for at least 48 hours after the chemicals have been sprayed. Some experts will even recommend keeping them away as long as a week after the pest control spray has been applied. This advice is especially important to heed in regards to children. One can also check out for the details.

Children?s nervous systems are still developing, so they are highly sensitive to any amount of toxin in the environment. Minute amounts of toxins that would have little to no effect on adults, can have devastating results in the nervous systems of children. These results can range from the mild, such as dizziness or nausea, to the severe, such as long-term developmental disorders. For that reason, it is extremely important to use every precaution when using these kinds of poisonous substances in the home.

The same kinds of precautions should be applied. Never use the pest control or fly control chemicals in areas frequented by pets and children. Because children and pets spend much of their time on the floor, they are more apt to come in contact with these toxins than adults. This applies to pieces of pest control equipment like roach traps as well. Make sure never to use them in areas that pets or children inhabit.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

paris scarred: Kaitam: LoveOnTheNet: Relationship Enhancement ...

http://www/ David Church is the president and founder of the Smart for Love relationship enhancement program. David created Smart for Love because he wanted to help couples experience greater happiness and success in their love relationships.

More info... Relationship Enhancement Kelowna


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Education in Thailand - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - loulkru&#39;s ...

Education in Thailand is provided mainly by the Thai government through the Ministry of Education from pre-school to senior high school. A free basic education of twelve years is guaranteed by the constitution, and a minimum of nine years' school attendance is mandatory.

Formal education consists of at least twelve years of basic education, and higher education. Basic education is divided into six years of primary education and six years of secondary education, the latter being further divided into three years of lower- and upper-secondary levels. Kindergarten levels of pre-primary education, also part of the basic education level, span 2?3 years depending on the locale, and are variably provided. Non-formal education is also supported by the state. Independent schools contribute significantly to the general education infrastructure.

Administration and control of public and private universities are carried out by the Office of Higher Education Commission, a department of the Ministry of Education.

School system

Primary school students in Thailand

The school structure is divided into four key stages: the first three years in elementary school, Prathom 1?3, are for age groups 6 to 8; the second level, Prathom 4 through 6 are for age groups 9 to 11; the third level, Matthayom 1?3, is for age groups 12 to 14. The upper secondary level of schooling consists of Matthayom 4?6 for age groups 15 to 17 and is divided into academic and vocational streams. There are academic upper secondary schools, vocational upper secondary schools and comprehensive schools offering academic and vocational tracks. Students who choose the academic stream usually intend to enter a university. Vocational schools offer programs that prepare students for employment or further studies.

Admission to an upper secondary school is through an entrance exam. On the completion of each level, students need to pass the NET (National Educational Test) to graduate. Children are required to attend six years of elementary school and at least the first three years of high school. Those who graduate from the sixth year of high school are candidates for two decisive tests: O-NET (Ordinary National Educational Test) and A-NET (Advanced National Educational Test).

Public schools are administered by the government. The private sector comprises schools run for profit and fee-paying non-profit schools which are often run by charitable organisations ? especially by Catholic diocesan and religious orders that operate over 300 large primary/secondary schools throughout the country.[3] Village and sub-district schools usually provide pre-school kindergarten (anuban) and elementary classes, while in the district towns, schools will serve their areas with comprehensive schools with all the classes from kindergarten to age 14 and separate secondary schools for ages 11 through 17.

Due to budgetary limitations, rural schools are generally less well equipped than the schools in the cities. The standard of instruction, particularly for the English language, is much lower, and many high school students will commute 60?80 kilometres to schools in the nearest city.

School grades

The school year in Thailand is divided into two semesters, and for primary and secondary schools generally runs from the middle of May to March, and from June to March for higher education. It has a two or three week break between the two terms in September. The short summer break coincides with the hottest part of the year and Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year celebrations. Schools enjoy all public and Buddhist religious holidays and Christian and international schools usually close for the Christmas-New Year break.



Uniforms are compulsory for all students with very few variations from the standard model throughout the public and private school systems, including colleges and universities.

The dress code in primary and secondary grades for boys comprises knee-length dark blue, khaki, or black shorts with a pale white open collar short-sleeved shirt, long socks and brown or black trainers. Girls wear a knee-length dark blue or black skirt and a pale white blouse with a loosely hanging bow tie. The bow tie is dropped in favor of an open-necked pale blue shirt from Matthayom 4. The girls' uniform is complemented by white ankle socks and black school shoes.

The student's name, number, and name of the school are often embroidered on the blouse or shirt. Some independent or international schools have uniforms more closely resembling British school uniform standards, and boys in senior high school grades may be allowed to wear long trousers.

The standard dress for children in kindergarten is a red skirt and white blouse for girls and red short trousers and a white shirt for boys. In all Thai schools, one day per week, usually Thursday, is dedicated to scouting, when beige scout uniforms for boys and dark green guide uniforms are the rule, both wearing yellow neckerchiefs. Many schools have some color variations of the scout uniform such as blue uniforms with blue neckerchiefs for girl scouts at Wattana Wittaya Academy. The use of accessories is prohibited for males, while females are sometimes allowed to use simple accessories. All students are prohibited from coloring their hair or having tattoos anywhere.

University uniforms are standard throughout the country and comprise a white blouse and plain or pleated skirt for females, and long black trousers, a white long sleeved shirt with a dark blue or black tie for males.


As in all branches of the civil service at lower grades, teachers and staff in government schools wear a military style uniform. The female teachers and administrators of independent schools may be required to wear discreet, attractive uniforms, while staff in universities generally wear trousers.


Formal education has its early origins in the temple schools, when it was available to boys only. From the mid-sixteenth century Thailand opened up to significant French Catholic influence until the mid-seventeenth century when it was heavily curtailed, and the country returned to a strengthening of its own cultural ideology. Unlike other parts of South and Southeast Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia and the Philippines which had all benefited from the influence of countries with centuries of educational tradition, Thailand has never been colonised by a Western power. As a result, structured education on the lines of that in developed countries was slow to evolve until it gained new impetus with the reemergence of diplomacy in the late nineteenth century.

Early education

It is possible that one the earliest forms of education began when King Ram Khamhaeng the Great invented the Thai alphabet in 1283 basing it on Mon, Khmer, and Southern Indian scripts. Stone inscriptions from 1292 in the new script depict moral, intellectual and cultural aspects.[4] During the Sukhothai period (1238?1378), education was dispensed by the Royal Institution of Instruction (Rajabundit) to members of the royal family and the nobility, while commoners were taught by Buddhist monks.

In the period of the Ayutthaya kingdom from 1350 to 1767 during the reign of King Narai the Great (1656?1688), the Chindamani, generally accepted as the first textbook of the Thai language, collating the grammar. The prosody of Thai language and official forms of correspondence was written by a monk, Pra Horatibodi, in order to stem the foreign educational influence of the French Jesuit schools It remained in use up to King Chulalongkorn's reign (1868?1910). Narai himself was a poet, and his court became the center where poets congregated to compose verses and poems. Although through his influence interest in Thai literature was significantly increased, Catholic missions had been present with education in Ayutthaya as early as 1567 under Portuguese Dominicans and French Jesuits were given permission to settle in Ayutthaya in 1662. His reign therefore saw major developments in diplomatic missions to and from Western powers.

On Narai's death, fearing further foreign interference in Thai education and culture, and conversion to Catholicism, xenophobic sentiments at court increased and diplomatic activities were severely reduced and ties with the West and any forms of Western education were practically severed. They did not recover their former levels until the reign of King Mongkut in the mid-nineteenth century.


Through his reforms of the Buddhist Sangha, King Rama I (1782?1809), accelerated the development of public education and during the reign of King Rama IV (1851?1865) the printing press arrived in Thailand making books available in the Thai language for the first time; English had become the lingua franca of the Far East, and the education provided by the monks was proving inadequate for government officials. Rama IV decreed that measures be taken to modernise education and insisted that English would be included in the curriculum.

King Rama V (1868?1910) continued to influence the development of education and in 1871 the first relatively modern concept of a school with purpose constructed building, lay teachers and a time-table was opened in the palace to teach male members of the royal family and the sons of the nobility. The Command Declaration on Schooling was proclaimed, English was being taught in the palace for royalty and nobles, and schools were set up outside the palace for the education of commoners? children. With the aid of foreign - mainly English - advisers a Department of Education was established by the king in 1887 by which time 34 schools, with over 80 teachers and almost 2,000 students, were in operation and as part of the king?s programme to establish ministries, in 1892 the department became the Ministry of Education. Recognizing that the private sector had come to share the tasks of providing education, the government introduced controls for private schools.

In 1897 on the initiative of Queen Sribajarindra, girls were admitted into the educational system. In 1898, a two-part education plan for Bangkok and for the provinces was launched with programmes for pre-school, primary, secondary, technical, and higher education. In 1901, the first government school for girls, the Bamrung Wijasatri, was set up in Bangkok, and in 1913, the first teacher training school for women was set up at the Benchama Rajalai School for girls. Further developments took place when in 1902 the plan was remodeled by National System of Education in Siam into the two categories of general education, and professional/ technical education, imposing at the same time age limits for admission to encourage graduation within predetermined time scales.

The first university is named after King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), and was established by his son and successor King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in 1917 by combining the Royal Pages School and the College of Medicine.[5] In 1921, the Compulsory Primary Education Act was proclaimed.


The bloodless revolution in 1932 that transferred absolute power from the king to democratic government encouraged further development and expansion of schools and tertiary institutions. The first National Education Scheme was introduced formally granting access to education regardless of ability, gender, and social background.

In 1960, compulsory education was extended to seven years, and for the first time special provisions were made for disabled children, who were originally exempted from compulsory education. In 1961, the government began a series of five-year plans, and many of the extant purpose-built school buildings, particularly the wooden village primary schools, and the early concrete secondary schools date from around this time.

In 1977, the key stages of primary and secondary education were changed from a 4-3-3-2 year structure to the 6-3-3 year system that is in use today.


From early 2001, under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Ministry of Education began developing new national curricula in an endeavour to model the system of education on child, or student-centred learning methods.[citation needed]

The years from 2001 to 2006 showed some of the improvements in education, such as computers in the schools and an increase in the number of qualified native-speaker teachers for foreign languages. Experiments had also been tried with restructuring the administrative regions for education or partly decentralizing the responsibility of education to the provinces. By 2008, however, little real change had been felt, and many attempts to establish a clear form of university entrance qualification had also failed due to combinations of political interference, attempts to confer independence (or to remove it) on the universities, huge administrative errors, and inappropriate or mismatched syllabuses in the schools.



Almost all villages have a primary school, most sub-districts tambon have a school providing education from age 6 through 14, and all districts amphoe have secondary schools of age 12 through 17, and many have vocational colleges for students from age 15.

The government is not able to cope with the entire number of students, thus the private sector, which is supervised by the government, provides a significant contribution. The level of education in the private sector is generally, but not always, higher than that of the government schools. Expensive, exclusive private and international schools provide for an exceptionally high level of achievement and a large number of their students continue their education at renowned International universities.

Charitable organisations (missionary societies or diocesan), and other religions provide the backbone of non-government, low-fee, general education and some established universities, and the standard is relatively high. Cheaper, newer and individual private schools, are occasionally run more for profit and government subsidies, than for results, and are often indistinguishable from government schools in terms of quality of buildings, resources, teaching competency, and overcrowded classrooms; the only real benefit is the prestige afforded to the parents for schooling their children in the private sector - academic superiority is sometimes barely measurable.

In rural schools absenteeism of both students and teachers is high due to family and farming commitments -in fact some schools close down during the periods of rice planting and harvesting.

Over 400 government vocational colleges accept students who have completed Matthayom 3 and the campuses are usually located within daily commuting distances, although some may offer limited dormitory accommodation on the campus. Many specialised vocational schools offer training in agriculture, animal husbandry, nursing, administration, hospitality and tourism.


The complexity of administration of Thai education gives rise to duplication among the many ministries and agencies providing education and establishing of standards. In 1980, under the recommendation the Minister of Education, Dr. Sippanondha Ketudat, a Harvard scholar, responsibility for basic primary education was moved from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Education. Both the Ministry of University Affairs and the Ministry of Education have been actively involved in teacher training. In the early 21st century devolution of some responsibility to newly created educational regions is intended to increase the awareness and ability to address different regional needs.[6]


In comparison with the public expenditure of other countries, (especially developing countries): China 13%, Indonesia 8.1%, Malaysia 20%, Mexico, 24.3%, Philippines 17%, United Kingdom and France 11%, the Thai GDP and national budget allocate considerable funds to education. By 2006 it represented 27% of the national budget. Although education is mainly financed by the national budget, important local funds, particularly in urban areas, are being released to support education. In the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, up to 28.1% of the education budget has been provided by local financing. Loans and technical assistance for education are also received from Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the OECF.[7] In December 2008 Education Minister Jurin Laksanawisit announced the intention to provide Thai children with free textbooks and learning materials throughout the 15 years of government-sponsored free education and implemented this policy in May at the start of the 2009 academic year. In 2011, a new elected government has delivered a proposal in congress to offer electronic computer notepads for students of which targeting trail group is mainly for primary school students. As regards of technological innovation which has been moving fast, young students are urged to prepare.


Systematic educational research began in 1955 when the International Institute for Child Study was established in Bangkok. The Institute has now become the Behavioral Science Research Institute and has conducted both basic and applied research. In the 1960s, the Ministry of Education and the National Education Commission, a division of the Office of the Prime Minister, began programmes of Educational research. In-depth research, particularly that of the ONEC, contributed to the education reform initiative of 1999-2002, and extensive research is provided by the country's universities, especially in faculties of education. The Department of Curriculum and Instructional Development of the Ministry of Education also conducts research into testing, curriculum, and content. The National Library, university and other libraries around the country are electronically networked in order to facilitate research.

Primary and secondary levels

At primary levels, students follow eight core subjects each semester: Thai language, mathematics, science, social science, health and physical education, arts and music, technology, and foreign languages. At age 16 (Matthayom 4), students are allowed to choose one or two elective courses. The science program (Wit-Kanit) and the mathematics-English language program (Sil-Kamnuan) are among the most popular. Foreign language programs (Sil-Phasa) (Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and German) for example, and the social science program (sometimes called the general program) are also offered. Both primary and secondary level have special programs for students called English Program and Gifted Program. In English Program students can learn almost every subject in English except for Thai and Social Study. The Gifted Program is the Mathematics-Science program.

Vocational Education

Currently 412 colleges are governed by the Vocational Education Commission (VEC), of the Ministry of Education with more than a million students following the programs In 2004. Additionally, approximately 380,000 students were studying in 401 private vocational schools and colleges.[8]

Technical and vocational education (TVE) begins at the senior high school grade where students are divided into either general or vocational education. At present, around 60 per cent of students follow the general education programmes. However, the government is endeavouring to achieve an equal balance between general and vocational education.

Three levels of TVE are offered: the Certificate in Vocational Education (Bor Wor Saw) which is taken during the upper secondary period; the Technical Diploma (Bor Wor Chor), taken after school-leaving age, and the Higher Diploma on which admission to university for a Bachelor degree programme may be granted. Vocational education is also provided by private institutions.

Dual Vocational Training (DVT)

Essential to DVT is the active participation of the private sector. In 1995, based primarily on the German model,[9] the Department of Vocational Education launched the initiative to introduce dual vocational training programmes which involve the students in hand-on training in suitably selected organisations in the private sector.

DVT is a regular element of the DoVE "Certificate" and "Diploma" program. The training is for a period of three years with more than half of the time devoted to practical training on-the-job, spread over two days a week, or for longer periods depending on the distance, throughout the semesters.

Two levels of DVT are offered: the three-year certificate level for skilled workers where students and trainees are admitted at the age of 15 after completing Matthayom 3 (Grade 9); and the two-year diploma technician level for students who have graduated with the Certificate of Vocational Education after 12 years of formal education.

In the scheme, vocational, unlike regular internships, where students may be assigned to work on unpaid irrelevant jobs, the cooperative education programme enables the students of the vocational schools to do field work while benefiting from an allowance to cover living expenses or free accommodation, and compensation for their contributions made towards the company's income and profits as temporary employees.

Schools collaborate directly with the private sector in drafting action plans and setting goals for students to meet. Generally, the company will offer permanent employment to the trainees on graduation and successful completion of the programme. Conversely, companies that recruit trainees from among young people who have completed a minimum of nine years at school may enroll their employees with a technical or vocational college where they are taught vocational subjects as the theoretical background to the occupational field in which they are being trained.[10]


The Office of Vocational Education Commission showed student attendance for the 2005 academic year as follows:[11]

Technical colleges 290,058; industrial and community colleges 137,377; business administration and tourism colleges 3,480; commercial colleges 16,266; arts and crafts colleges 2,214; polytechnic colleges 36,304; vocational colleges 89,703; agricultural and technology colleges 34,914; Golden Jubilee Royal Goldsmith College 525; industrial and ship building colleges 2,391; fishery colleges 1,510; agricultural engineering training centres 806; with a further 340,000 in private vocational schools.

Tertiary and higher education

The established public and private universities and colleges of higher education are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of University Affairs in both the government and private sectors offer excellent programmes especially in the fields of medicine, the arts, humanities, and information technology, although many students prefer to pursue studies of law and business in Western faculties abroad or in those which have created local facilities in Thailand. During the first years of the 21st century, the number of universities increased dramatically on a controversial move by the Thaksin government to rename many public institutes as universities.

In the Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings 2004, Chulalongkorn University was ranked 46th in the world for social sciences and 60th for biomedicine. In September 2006, three universities in Thailand were ranked "excellent" in both academic and research areas by Commission on Higher Education. Those universities are Chiang Mai University, Chulalongkorn University and Mahidol University. Over half of the provinces have a government Rajabhat University, formerly Rajabhat Institute, traditionally a teacher training college.

For a full list of universities and higher education institutions in Thailand see: List of universities in Thailand.


On graduating from high school, students need to pass the CUAS (Central University Admission System) which contains 50% of O-NET and A-NET results and the other half of the fourth level GPA (Grade Point Average). Many changes and experiments in the university admissions system have taken place since 2001, but by late 2007 a nationwide system had yet to be accepted by the students, the universities, and the government. On return to democracy in early 2008, after the December election, the newly formed coalition led by the People's Power Party (a party formed by the remnants of deposed Taksin Shinwatra's Thai Rak Tai party) announced more changes to the national curriculum and university entrance system. At present, state-run universities screen 70% of their students directly, with the remaining 30% coming from the central admission system. The new system gives 20% weight to cumulative grade point average, which varies upon a school's standard. Some students have voiced distrust of the new system and fear it will encounter score counting problems as happened with the A-NET in its first year. The new aptitude test, to be held for the first time in March 2009 and which will be supervised by the National Institute of Educational Testing Service, will replace the Advanced National Education Test (A-net), Students can sit for the aptitude test a maximum of three times, with their best scores counted. After the first tests in March 2009, the next two are scheduled for July and October. Direct admissions are normally held around October. The new test comprises the compulsory General Aptitude Test (GAT), which covers reading, writing, analytical thinking, problem solving and English communication. The voluntary Professional Aptitude Test (PAT) has a choice of seven subjects.


Most bachelor's degree courses are programmes of four years full-time attendance. Exceptions are education and architecture that require five years, and the doctor of dental surgery, medicine, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine that comprise six years of study. Master's degree programmes last for either one or two years and the degree is conferred on course credits with either a thesis or a final exam. On completion of a master's degree, students may apply for an admission exam to a two to five year doctoral programme. The doctorate is conferred on coursework, research and the successful submission of a dissertation.

International schools

By government definition: ?An international school is an educational institution providing an international curriculum or international curriculum which its subject?s detail has been adjusted or a self-organised curriculum, which is not the Ministry of Education?s. A foreign language is used as the medium of teaching and learning and students are enrolled without restriction or limitation on nationality or religion or government regime, and are not against the morality or stability of Thailand.?[12] The curriculum is required to be approved by the Ministry of Education and may be an international one, an international curriculum with modifications, or a curriculum established by the school itself. Thai language and culture constitutes a core subject and is mandatory at every level for all Thai students registered as Thai nationals. Non-Thai citizens are not required to study Thai language or culture. International schools must operate within a framework of requirements and conditions established by the Ministry of Education, that stipulates the ownership, location and size of the plot, design and structure of buildings, ratio of students to classroom surface, sanitary installations, administration and educational support facilities such as libraries and resources centres.Within one year from their commencement, primary and secondary schools must apply accreditation from an international organisation recognised and accepted by the Office of the Private Education Commission and accreeditation must be granted within six years. Managers and head teachers must be of Thai nationality though frequently there will also be a foreign head teacher to oversee the international curriculum and implement school policy.

Currently 90 international schools operate in the Kingdom, of which 65 are located in the Bangkok area.[13] (provinces 2003)[14]

Distance learning support by TV

Established in 1996, DLTV currently broadcasts a total of 15 educational channels from Klaikangwon Palace School, Hua-Hin, providing educational benefits and equal opportunities to Thai students nationwide especially in the remote and far-reaching areas of the country where the lack of teachers is still a major challenge to the educational system. It broadcasts via the Ku-band beam on the THAICOM 5 satellite to more than 17,000 schools across the country and also to other viewers who subscribe to satellite providers of commercial television. In December 2008, the Thaicom Public Company Limited, Asia's leading commercial satellite operator and the operator of the IPSTAR satellite broadband system, announced it has renewed a 10-year contract with the Distance Learning Education via Satellite Foundation of Thailand (DLF) for three-quarters of one Ku-band transponder on the Thaicom 5 satellite to broadcast DLTV channels.

Teacher training

Teacher training is offered either in universities by the Ministry of University Affairs or in teacher training colleges administered by the Ministry of Education?s Department of Teacher Education. The university programmes are now commonly influenced by child-centred learning methods and several universities operate a Satit demonstaration primary and secondary school staffed by lecturers and trainee teachers.

Primary and lower secondary school teachers

The mainstay of the teacher output is provided by the government Rajaphat Universities (formerly Rajaphat Institutes), the traditional teacher training colleges in most provinces. Programmes include courses in teaching methodology, school administration, special education, optional specialisation, supervised practical teaching experience, and the general education subjects of language and communication, humanities, social science, mathematics, and technology. Completion of upper secondary education (Mathayom 6) is required for access to basic teacher training programmes and primary and lower secondary school teachers are required to complete a two-year program leading to the Higher Certificate of Education, also known as the Diploma in Education or an Associate?s Degree.

Upper secondary school teachers

To teach at the upper secondary school level, the minimum requirement is a four-year Bachelor of Education degree through government programmes provided either at a teacher?s training college or in a university faculty of education. Students who have acquired the Higher Certificate of Education are eligible to continue their studies at a university or teacher's training college for two additional years of full-time study for a bachelor's degree. Prospective teachers with a bachelor's degree in other disciplines must undergo an additional one year of full-time study to complete a Bachelor of Education degree.

Teacher development and associated problems

On the government's own admission, general education is of a low academic standard compared to the development and modernisation of the country as a whole: Dr. Kasam Wattanachai, Privy Counselor to the King, August 10, 2002 "Ability of students down to the level of Laos ? other countries are taking the lead."

The shortage of teachers and the overcrowding of classes in the public schools are exacerbated by the fact that many teachers who have qualified through the university system will obtain employment in the better-remunerated private sector. Many of the places in the faculties of education are taken up by students who enroll not with the intention of pursuing a teaching career but to benefit from the superior quality of the foreign language instruction.

The acquired knowledge and competency of newly graduated teachers from the Rajaphat Universities at is often comparable to the level of an American senior high school graduation, a British A-level, a French Baccalaur?at, or a German Abitur. Apart from the security of being a civil servant with guaranteed employment and a pension, and the extraordinary cultural respect for the profession, there is little incentive to choose a future as a teacher in a government school. As a result, most classes in secondary schools are overcrowded with often as many as sixty students in a classroom, a situation that continues to favour the rote system that is firmly anchored in Thai culture as the only method possible.

As teaching by rote requires little pedagogic skill, once qualified ? apart from weekend seminars which are considered to be part of the reward system ? teachers tend to resist attempts to encourage them to engage in any forms of further training to improve their subject knowledge and to adopt new methodologies which will require them to use more initiative and to be more creative.

Students are not encouraged to develop analytical and critical thinking skills, which is clearly demonstrated by their inability to complete a cloze test, or to grasp a notion through context. The teachers will avoid introducing dialogue into the classroom or eliciting response from the students ? to give a wrong answer would be to lose face in the presence of one's peers, a situation that in Thai culture must always be avoided.

Dr. Adith Cheosokul, professor, Chulalongkorn University, September 1, 2002: "Thai kids have no courage to question their teachers? foreign students are very eager to communicate with their teachers. The Thais are usually silent in class. I think it's the culture. Our students tend to uphold teachers as demi-gods" ? a perception that is reinforced by the celebration of wai khru (literally 'praise the teacher') day, in all schools and colleges shortly after the beginning of the new school year, where during a festive general assembly, the students file before the teachers on their knees and offer them gifts, usually of real or hand-crafted flowers.

The essence of education therefore still hinges first and foremost on the traditional values of Buddhism, respect for the king, the monkhood, the teachers, and the family (in that order) through the rote method. Whilst indisputably very noble, these features are the main hurdle to the implementation of modern educational methodology and the development of a Western cultural approach to communication.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, August 18, 2002: "Teachers must radically change their way of thinking ? I'm not sure they can do this."[citation needed]

Primary and secondary school teachers do not enjoy the same long breaks as the students and are required to work through the vacations on administrative duties. Many of these tasks concern their familiarisation with the frequent improvements to the National Curriculum; indeed, changes often occur faster than authors and publishers can update the textbooks and the teachers must improvise without support material and have to design their own tests and exams ? neither of which is conducive to an improvement in quality.

The frequent changes in policy can cause confusion. Often one department of the Ministry of Education is not aware of the work of another, and the principals and the teachers in the schools are always at the end of the information chain.

English language education in Thailand

The use of English in Thailand, while far from being as developed as in the Netherlands, Germany, the Scandinavian countries or the Philippines, is nevertheless slowly increasing through the influence of the media and the Internet. Thailand was ranked 54th out of 56 countries globally for English proficiency, the second-lowest in Asia.[15]

The government has long realised the importance of the English language as a major core subject in schools, and it has been a compulsory subject at varying levels for several decades. Since 2005 schools are being encouraged to establish bilingual departments where the core subjects are taught in English and to offer intensive English language programmes.

Notwithstanding the extensive use of and exposure to English in everyday life in Thailand, the standard of correct English in the schools is now the lowest in Southeast Asia. In 1997 Thailand was still in the forefront, but by 2001 Laos and Vietnam had caught up, and by mid 2006 were clearly ahead.[16]

Thai teachers

Following the announcement of the University of Cambridge to launch a new course[17] and qualification for non-native speaker teachers, a survey was carried out in February 2006,[18] with the collaboration of the University of Cambridge as part of a field trial, by one of the country's largest groups of independent schools of its 400 or so teachers of English.

The project reported that in over 60% of the teachers, the knowledge of the language and teaching methodology was below that of the syllabus level which they were teaching. Some teachers for age group 11, or lower, in the language were attempting to teach age groups 15, 16, and even 17. Of the remaining top 40%, only 3% had a reasonable level of fluency and only 20% were teaching grades for which they were qualified and competent.

Within the group of over 40 schools representing nearly 80,000 students in primary and secondary education, random parallel test groups of primary school pupils often scored higher in some tests than many of the teachers in other schools of the same group. The schools resisted the initiative of the central governing body to provide intensive upgrading programmes for the teachers. In spite of the evidence, the schools doubted the results and, to save face, argued that their teachers had qualified through their universities and colleges and either had nothing more to learn or could not afford the time.

In the government schools the standards are similar and many primary teachers freely admit that they are forced to teach English although they have little or no knowledge of the language. A debate began in academic circles as to whether teaching English badly during the most influential years is better than not teaching it at primary level. Whatever results that any formal research may provide, there clearly exists room for much improvement.

The situation is further exacerbated by a curriculum, which in its endeavour to improve standards and facilitate learning, is subject to frequent change, and thus misinterpreted into syllabuses by the teachers themselves at levels often far too advanced for the cognitive development of the students.

Native-speaker teachers

Several thousand native-English speakers are employed in public and private schools throughout the country. This is being encouraged by the need to develop students' oral expression and knowledge of foreign culture; much of their time, however, is taken up with remedial teaching: putting right any grammar, orthography, pronunciation and cultural background that has been wrongly taught and which leads to great misunderstanding ? they see this as a greater priority.

The official version of English, although not always practical in its dispensation, is British. Qualified native teachers with a background in linguistics may ensure that students are exposed to both major variations of the language and understand them and their differences, whichever version the students choose to speak.

Language classes, sponsored by the governments of English-speaking countries such as those provided by the British Council, enjoy an excellent reputation for quality, both for general English, and for the preparation for international exams such as the American English TOEFL and the British English IELTS, which are prerequisites for the entry into many professions, particularly aircrew and tourism. There is no shortage of cramming schools, usually franchise chains, in the capital and larger cities; although they are staffed mainly by highly motivated, qualified native speakers and have excellent resources, they are often branded by cynics as 'the McDonalds of English language'.

There has been a dramatic increase since 2000 in the number of Thailand-based TEFL/TESOL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language / Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher-training institutions. Some dispense internationally recognised teaching certificates and diplomas that follow the courses of established universities, and some provide courses and certification franchised from other organisations and universities. Still others dispense their own courses and certification.

Currently, to teach English in licenced schools, public or private, the minimum academic qualification for native speakers is a bachelor degree in any subject. However, the government is in the process of exercising greater control, particularly to combat the use of bogus certificates or degrees issued by diploma mills and to prevent access to schools by persons with doubtful motives. In 2008, the government announced plans to improve requirements for native-speaker teachers in mainstream schools. They now require academic qualifications in either education or linguistics, in addition to their bachelor's degrees, and to complete a government course in Thai culture and language.

In 2008 applications for TESOL posts in Thailand experienced a significant drop, and many posts are being taken up by second-language English speakers from Asian countries where the use of English may be of a high standard and officially recognised, but not as a first language. Parents, particularly those with children in fee-paying schools, believe that native English speakers should have Western ethnic origins.

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Nasty weather threatens Gulf Coast for Christmas

NEW ORLEANS (AP) ? Nasty weather, including a chance of strong tornadoes and howling thunderstorms, could be on the way for Christmas Day along the Gulf Coast from east Texas to north Florida.

The storms held off long enough, though, to let Christmas Eve bonfires light the way for Pere Noel along the Mississippi River, officials said.

Farther north, much of Oklahoma and Arkansas were under a winter storm warning, with freezing rain, sleet and snow expected on Christmas. A blizzard watch is out for western Kentucky. And no matter what form the bad weather takes, travel on Tuesday could be dangerous, meteorologists said.

The storms could bring strong tornadoes or winds of more than 75 mph, heavy rain, quarter-sized hail and dangerous lightning in Louisiana and Mississippi, the National Weather Service said. The worst storms are likely from Winnsboro, La., to Jackson and DeKalb, Miss., according to the weather service's Jackson office.

"Please plan now for how you will receive a severe weather warning, and know where you will go when it is issued. It only takes a few minutes, and it will help everyone have a safe Christmas," said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.

In Alabama, the director of the Emergency Management Agency, Art Faulkner, said he was briefing both local officials and Gov. Robert Bentley on plans for dealing with a possible outbreak.

Forecasters said storms would begin near the coast and spread north through the day, bringing with them the chances of storms, particularly in central and southwest Alabama. No day is good for severe weather, but Faulkner said Christmas adds extra challenges because people are visiting unfamiliar areas. Also, people are more tuned in to holiday festivities than their weather radio on a day when thoughts typically turn more toward the possibility of snow than twisters, he said.

"We are trying to get the word out through our media partners and through social media that people need to be prepared," Faulkner said

Meteorologists also recommended getting yards ready Monday, bringing indoors or securing Christmas decorations, lawn furniture and anything else that high winds might rip away or slam into a building or car.

"Make sure they're all stable and secure ? that there's not going to be any loose wires blowing around and stuff like that," or bring them inside, said Joe Rua, with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, where storms were expected to roar in from Texas after midnight.

In the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Timothy J. Babin said the 10 or so wire Christmas sculptures in his yard and more than 180 plastic figures in his mother's yard are staked down.

Dozens of toy soldiers, a nativity scene, Santa and nine reindeer (don't forget Rudolph), angels, snowmen and Santa Clauses fill the yard of his mother, Joy Babin.

"From a wind standpoint, we should be fine unless we're talking 70, 80, 90 miles an hour," Timothy Babin said.

On Christmas Eve, more than 100 log teepees for annual bonfires are set up along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, which is a bit more than halfway from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, and about 20 in St. John the Baptist Parish, its downriver neighbor, parish officials said. Most are 20 feet tall, the legal limit.

Fire chiefs and other officials in both parishes decided to go ahead with the bonfires after an afternoon conference call with the National Weather Service.

The bad weather was expected from a storm front moving from the West Coast crashing into a cold front, said weather service meteorologist Bob Wagner of Slidell.

"There's going to be a lot of turning in the atmosphere," he said.

In California, after a brief reprieve across the northern half of the state on Monday, wet weather was expected to make another appearance on Christmas. Flooding and snarled holiday traffic were also expected in Southern California.

Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned at least one Christmastime tornado with winds of 113 mph or more (F-2) in the South, Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman in Washington, said in an email. The most lethal were the storms of Dec. 24-26, 1982, when 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32; and those of Dec. 24-25, 1964, when two people were killed and about 30 people injured by 14 tornadoes in seven states.

Farther north, some mountainous areas of Arkansas' Ozark Mountains could see up to 10 inches of snow, the weather service said Monday. Precipitation is expected to begin as a mix of rain and sleet early Tuesday in western Oklahoma before changing to snow as the storm pushes eastward during the day. The weather service warned that travel could be "very hazardous or impossible" in northern Arkansas, where 4 to 6 inches of snow was predicted.

Out shopping with her family at a Target store in Montgomery, Ala., on Christmas Eve, veterinary assistant Johnina Black said she wasn't worried about the possibility of storms on the holiday.

"If the good Lord wants to take you, he's going to take you," she said.


Associated Press writer Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Ala., and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, Okla., contributed to this report.


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