Singapore teens have social skills as well as smarts, study suggests

Hong Kong (CNN)Singapore’s teens can add another feather to their caps.

Not only are they the best in the world when it comes to science, math and reading, a new international education assessment suggests they have the best social skills.
The findings on students’ collaborative problem-solving skills were released Tuesday and are part of the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
    The survey, which assessed half a million 15-year olds, also found that girls have better social skills than boys and the United States ranks better on this measure than the country’s academic standings would suggest.
    What’s more, the survey indicated, after school activities matter– students who played video games scored lower in social skills than those who did not.
    The report is the first international assessment of students’ social skills, according to Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education and skills,who says that the report addresses a growing demand in the workforce for individuals with strong social skills and an ability to work in groups.
    “In today’s schools, students typically learn individually, and at the end of the school year, we certify their individual achievements. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more it needs great collaborators and orchestrators,” he said.

    US outperforms China

    Broadly speaking, students who have stronger reading, science and mathematics skills also tend to be better at collaborative problem solving.
    Singapore, long considered an education superpower, came top, matching its performance in PISA’s individual academic rankings released in December last year. But it’s not necessarily always a direct correlation.
    Japan ranked second while four other East Asian economies scored above average: South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. However, Chinese studentsdid far less well in social skills, coming 26th, compared with 10th in individual academic performance.
    “The results are really interesting, and for some countries they tell a very different story than what we see from individual academic skills. And it is more than culture: Japanese students do well in individual skills but they do even better in social skills,” Schleicher said.
    The United States was just outside the top 10 — much better than its average performance in reading and science and below average math ranking.
    Other countries where students performed above the average were Canada, Estonia, Finland, New Zealand, Australia and Germany, Denmark, UK, Netherlands, Sweden and Austria.
    Despite the high value placed on social skills by employers, the report noted that these skills aren’t usually explicitly taught in schools.
    Yet, workplaces are beginning to place a premium on sociability, and the increase in the number of jobs requiring a high level of social skills has been paralleled with an increase in wages for such jobs, it added.
    PISA assessed students in a number of ways. These included jigsaw tasks where each group member is given different information or skills; consensus building tasks, where groups must come to a decision after considering everybody’s opinion and negotiation tasks, where not all group members share the same individual goals.

    Girls outperform boys

    In every country and economy that participated in the survey, girls scored far better than boys in collaborative problem solving.
    These differences were most exaggerated in Australia, Finland, Latvia, New Zealand and Sweden, where girls score over 40 points higher than boys, on average.
    Girls also reported more positive attitudes towards relationships, suggesting that they were more interested in other people’s opinions, and wanted others to succeed. Boys, on the other hand, were more concerned with the instrumental benefits of teamwork, and the ways in which collaboration could work to their advantage, Schleicher said.
    “It is all very well for boys to understand that teamwork can bring benefits, but in order to work effectively in a team and achieve something in a collaborative fashion, boys must be able to listen to others and take their viewpoints into account,” he said.

    After school activities matter

    The report also found that students who played video games typically scored lower than students who didn’t play them, even after accounting for social and economic factors.
    However, students who used the internet, and communicated via chat rooms or social networks demonstrated higher collaborative problem solving.
    Students in every country and economy seemed to have a generally positive attitude towards collaboration.
    On average, 85% of students surveyed agreed with statements such as “I am a good listener,” “I enjoy seeing my classmates be successful,” “I take into account what others are interested in,” “I enjoy considering different perspectives,” and “I enjoy co-operating with peers”.
    All countries need to invest far more resources towards equipping their students for the jobs of the future, the report said.
    “In world that places a growing premium on social skills, a lot more needs to be done to foster those skills across the school curriculum,” said Schleicher.
    “Strong academic skills will not automatically also lead to strong social skills.”

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    Edith Windsor, Plaintiff in Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, Dies at 88

    Edith Windsor, the Manhattan resident whose love affair formed the basis for the 2013 Supreme Court decision establishing federal rights for same-sex married couples, has died. She was 88.

    She died on Tuesday in Manhattan, the New York Times reported, citing her wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, whom she married in 2016.

    United States v. Windsor, the court case that struck down part of a law denying federal benefits for same-sex spouses, stemmed from Windsor’s four-decade relationship with Thea Spyer and the $363,000 in estate taxes Windsor owed at Spyer’s death.

    The tax bill was due because, though married in Toronto in 2007, Windsor and Spyer were not considered spouses under U.S. law, so Windsor couldn’t inherit their New York apartment and summer cottage tax-free. The Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, defined marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman.”

    As Windsor noted, she wouldn’t have owed the estate taxes “if I had been married to a man named Theo” rather than a woman named Thea.

    Represented by New York-based law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and by the American Civil Liberties Union, Windsor filed suit in 2010. In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ruled 2-1 in her favor. The Supreme Court took up the case, and she was on hand to listen to oral arguments in March 2013.

    On June 26, 2013, by a vote of 5-4, the high court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act for putting “same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage,” as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. That decision was followed two years later by the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry nationwide.

    Windsor, known as Edie, celebrated her win with her lawyers at a press conference at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York, where her lead lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, told reporters:

    “It is important to recognize that today’s court victory never would have happened without the tenacity and courage of a five-foot-tall, 100-pound lady by the name of Edie Windsor.”

    She said Windsor “is now a hero to millions of Americans because she personifies the meaning of fundamentally American concepts like courage, devotion, citizenship, equality and justice.”

    Windsor told the assembled reporters that the case marked “the beginning of the end of stigma, of lying about who we are. It’s a different level of dignity than we’ve had.”

    Edith Schlain was born on June 20, 1929, in Philadelphia, the youngest of three children of Russian-born Jews, James and Celia Schlain. Her father lost his candy and ice cream store, then his house, in the Great Depression, she said, according to a 2012 article in the New York Times.

    After graduating in 1950 from Temple University in Philadelphia, she married Saul Windsor, a friend of her brother. She said she knew the relationship was not right for her within a year, and they divorced.

    She moved to New York City, “to let myself be gay,” she recalled in an interview with the New York Times. She also began graduate studies in mathematics, receiving a master’s degree from New York University in 1957.

    She began a 16-year career at Armonk, New York-based International Business Machines Corp. in systems architecture and operations. On a company fellowship, she spent two semesters studying applied mathematics at Harvard University. In 1968, she was promoted to senior systems programmer, the highest technical position at IBM.

    In 1963, at a lesbian-friendly restaurant in Greenwich Village called Portofino, Windsor met Spyer, a clinical psychologist, and they “danced together all night,” she recalled. Their attraction was rekindled two years later at a party in the Hamptons on Long island. In 1967 they became engaged, with Spyer giving Windsor a diamond pin.

    Spyer was diagnosed in 1977 with multiple sclerosis and had to use a cane, then crutches, then a wheelchair, as her paralysis worsened.

    With Spyer’s health continuing to deteriorate, the two women traveled to Toronto with friends in May 2007 to marry under Canada’s more-permissive laws. Justice Harvey Brownstone of the North Toronto Family Court officiated at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel, according to their wedding announcement in the Times.

    They shared their wedding day and their story with filmmakers for a documentary, “Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement” (2009).

    Spyer died on Feb. 5, 2009, less than two years after the wedding. Windsor said she almost died as well, suffering total heart stoppage while hospitalized for stress cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome.

    In 2016 she was married again, this time to Kasen-Windsor, a vice president at Wells Fargo Advisors.

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      Janet Yellens Long, Personal Speech on Women and Work

      It really does make a difference when the chair of the Federal Reserve is a woman. On Friday, Janet Yellen gave a detailed, 18-page speech at her alma mater, Brown University, making clear just how important the topic of women and work is to her. Without taking anything away from her predecessors at the Fed, it’s hard to imagine Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, or Paul Volcker giving such a talk.

      In the text of the speech posted on the Fed’s website, Yellen reached back to 1891, the first year women were admitted to what was then called the Women’s College of Brown, to trace the history of women at work in America. Woven through her speech is the story of Elizabeth Stafford Hirschfelder of the Class of 1923, an aunt of Yellen’s husband, George Akerlof (himself a Nobel Prize-winning economist and by all accounts, a supportive spouse).

      Betty Stafford, as Yellen called her, “grew up in Providence, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Brown in mathematics, and then rather adventurously headed west, teaching at two universities in Texas in the 1920s before completing her Ph.D. and then teaching at the University of Wisconsin.”

      But Stafford's gender seems to have held her back, Yellen recounted. “After earning her Ph.D. at Wisconsin, Betty married a fellow student and over the next decade coauthored five important papers with him and a well-regarded reference work. But, while her husband progressed from instructor to professor at Wisconsin, Betty worked as an instructor on an ad hoc basis. During World War II, while he worked for the government in Washington and New York, Betty stayed in Madison, teaching math to servicemen. When he took a job teaching in California after the war, they divorced, and it was only then that she was a given a position as assistant professor.”

      Stafford appeared for a third time later in the speech, by which time it was clear that things didn’t work out for her the way they should have: “After the war, and then single, my relative Betty Stafford remained an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin despite an enviable body of research. She married another Wisconsin professor, an eminent chemist, and collaborated with him on his research. But, in 1954, she gave up her assistant professorship, she said, to be able to accompany her husband on his frequent international travels. Betty later moved with her husband to California, and after his death, she endowed a graduate fellowship in the sciences and a prize in theoretical chemistry. Although Betty’s accomplishments were considerable, against the backdrop of increasing opportunity for women over her lifetime, I believe that Betty Stafford Hirschfelder was denied opportunities and greater success simply because she was a woman.”

      Yellen’s speech is titled “So We All Can Succeed: 125 Years of Women’s Participation in the Economy.” Yellen explained that the title was inspired by Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for advocating for girls’ and women’s education. Malala said, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”

      Yellen’s story begins at the end of the 19th century, when most women were deprived of a good education. Only 54 percent of those aged 5 to 19 were even in school in 1890, she said. The largely young and uneducated women who worked outside the home “mostly toiled as piece workers in factories or as domestic workers, jobs that were dirty and often unsafe.”

      Women who sought higher education a century ago could be met with outright hostility. Said Yellen: “Ruth Pederson, a member of the Class of 1919, said some professors didn’t want to teach women and prohibited women from taking their classes. Margery Leonard [Class of 1929] remembered one Boston University professor who urged her to drop out of law school. When she refused, this professor punished her by forcing her to recite the details of rape and seduction cases before her jeering, stomping classmates.”

      By the 1930s more women were working, but they tended to drop out as soon as they got married. The labor force participation rate was almost 50 percent for single women in 1930 but only 12 percent for married women.  Women’s participation continued to rise as they became more educated and there were more clean, safe jobs—such as clerical work—that were considered suitable for them. In the 1970s, access to birth control made it easier for women to plan their children around school and work. There were new legal protections against sexual harassment. By the early 1990s, 74 percent of women from 25 to 54 were in the labor force, vs. 93 percent of men of the same age.

      Lately, unfortunately, progress has stalled. The participation rate of women in the labor force peaked in the 1990s and has actually fallen since. Women working full-time still earn 17 percent less per week, on average, than men working full-time. Some of that is due to differences in the jobs they do and their credentials, but Yellen said that “even when we compare men and women in the same or similar occupations who appear nearly identical in background and experience, a gap of about 10 percent typically remains.” Women are also under-represented in the highest echelons of business. In her own field, she noted, “women constitute only about one-third of Ph.D. recipients, a number that has barely budged in two decades.”

      Personal bias is obviously one factor, but the one that Yellen focuses on is the structure of society itself—particularly the fact that women “continue to bear the lion’s share of domestic and child-rearing responsibilities.” This isn’t breaking news to women in the workplace, nor is it something that the head of the world’s most powerful central bank typically spends a lot of time on. 

      Yellen concluded with some mainstream suggestions: “For instance, improving access to affordable and good quality childcare would appear to fit the bill, as it has been shown to support full-time employment.” And, “Recently, there also seems to be some momentum for providing families with paid leave at the time of childbirth.”

      Yellen herself broke the glass ceiling as the first woman to head the century-old Fed. Her speech seems to be an effort to help other women break through.

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      New science and technology program wants to engage more women in STEM

      Superstar in STEM ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith at the Australian Astronomical Observatorys 3.9m Anglo-Australia Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory.
      Image: Lisa Harvey-Smith/supplied

      Superstars of STEM is a new program by Science and Technology Australia that aims to smash the stereotypical portrait of people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).The plan is to identify 30 superstar women currently in STEM, and work with them to create role models for young women and girls, and thus move towards equal representation in the media of men and women in STEM.

      As the new ambassador and a mentor for Superstars of STEM, my role is to encourage broad participation, which we hope will elevate the visibility of women STEM professionals in public life.

      Encouraging more women in STEM

      There are already some programs that support female scientists and technologists in a bid to break down systemic obstacles. These include the Science in Australia Gender Equity program. Others aim to inspire women to study STEM subjects, such as Code like a Girl or to help young women build their techno-confidence, such as SheFlies and Robogals.

      Adding to this picture, Superstars of STEM aims to address public perception and is founded on the principle that visibility matters in achieving equality.

      Rather than simply attempting to shoehorn women into the public eye, this new program will work with 30 women in STEM to equip them with the skills, confidence and opportunities to become role models. This approach will build on the work being done to address systemic issues facing female scientists and technologists.

      Have our young, modern-day

      Marie Curies


      Ruby Payne-Scotts


      Ada Lovelaces


      Isobel Bennetts

      passed up on science as a subject in favour of more conventional choices?

      A recent European study by Microsoft found that most girls became interested in STEM at around the age of 11, but their interest began to wane at 15. This is an important age, as girls are starting to make decisions that will set the trajectory of their academic life.

      The lack of role models in STEM was identified as the key factor that influenced the girls in the study, as well as a lack of practical experience with STEM subjects at school. On Twitter, 92% of the most followed scientists are male. When women scientists are mentioned in the media, they often tend to be described by their appearance rather than their achievements.

      The need for more female STEM role models has also been echoed in similar reports and programs in Asia, the UK, Africa and the United States.

      In Australia, more than half of all undergraduates and half of PhD students are female. Almost 60% of junior science lecturers are women. But women comprise just 16% of top-level science and technology researchers, professors and professionals.

      Role models

      As a young kid gazing at the stars, my role models were pioneering astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and eccentric types such as the late, great astronomy broadcaster Sir Patrick Moore.

      I thought that was enough for me, until as a 16-year-old I met Britains first astronaut, Helen Sharman, at Space School UK. At that moment I suddenly realised that every one of my role models in the fields of astronomy and space science had been male.

      Meeting this real-life STEM superstar had a transformational influence on me. It even spurred me on to apply for the European Astronaut Program in 2009.

      As someone who is passionate about astrophysics and science education I have inadvertently become a role model myself. But the continued lack of diverse role models in STEM makes me wonder how many missed opportunities and how much unrealised potential continues to be lost. Have our young, modern-day Marie Curies, Ruby Payne-Scotts, Ada Lovelaces and Isobel Bennetts passed up on science as a subject in favour of more conventional choices?

      The new superstars

      In its first year, Superstars of STEM is placing 30 women in the public eye, by equipping them with advanced communication skills. This will include media training, meetings with decision-makers, and opportunities to showcase their work.

      Participants will also be supported to speak with girls directly at local high schools and public events, along with establishing a public profile online.

      There are too few transformational and brilliant women in the public eye. Every success in science and technology in Australia is built on the work and contributions of people across the genders. For the sake of our girls, we need to celebrate these outstanding scientists and their work.

      I imagine a time when we ask children to draw a scientist and they draw somebody who looks like mathematician Nalini Joshi, molecular biologist Suzanne Cory, or astronomer Karlie Noon.

      The measure of the success of Superstars of STEM will be whether young Australian women can turn on the television, read a newspaper or engage with social media and see women experts presenting STEM as an exciting and viable career. I cant wait to witness the opportunities this change will bring.

      This article was co-authored with Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Science and Technology Australia.

      This article originally published at The Conversation here

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      Stephen Hawking Fast Facts

      (CNN)Here’s a look at the life of the world renowned theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astronomer and mathematician, Stephen Hawking.

      Birth date:
      January 8, 1942
      Birthplace: Oxford, England (grew up in and around London)
        Birth name: Stephen William Hawking
        Father: Frank Hawking, a doctor and research biologist
        Mother: E. Isobel Hawking
        Marriages: Elaine Mason (1995-2006, divorce); Jane Wilde (1965-1991, divorce)
        Children: with Jane Wilde: Timothy, Lucy and Robert
        Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1962; Cambridge University, Ph.D., 1966
        Other Facts:
        Stephen Hawking’s birthday (January 8, 1942) is the 300th anniversary of the death of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.
        He is the 17th Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, an academic chair at Cambridge University. From 1669 to 1702, the position was held by Sir Isaac Newton.
        Has guest-starred, as himself, on “The Big Bang Theory,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “The Simpsons.”
        Lou Gehrig’s Disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS), is usually fatal after three years. Hawking has survived it for 50 years.
        The disease has left him paralyzed and completely dependent on others and/or technology for everything: bathing, dressing, eating, mobility and speech. He’s able to move only a few fingers on one hand.
        His speech synthesizer has an American accent.
        1963 –
        Is diagnosed with the motor neuron disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
        1966 – Completes doctoral work in theoretical physics, submitting a thesis on black holes.
        1970 – Combines the theory of relativity with quantum theory and finds that black holes emit radiation.
        1979 – Becomes the 17th Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University.
        1982 – Awarded CBE – Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
        1985 – Hospitalized with pneumonia Hawking requires an emergency tracheotomy, causing permanent damage to his larynx and vocal cords. A keyboard operated electronic speech synthesizer is refined and adapted to his wheelchair by David Mason, an engineer married to Elaine Mason, one of Hawking’s nurses (and future wife).
        1988 – His book, “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,” is published.
        2004 – Reverses the 1966 theory that black holes swallow everything in their path forever and declares that black holes will never support space travel to other universes.
        April 26, 2007 – Becomes the first quadriplegic to experience zero gravity, aboard a Zero Gravity Corporation flight.
        October 2007 – “George’s Secret Key to the Universe,” the first in a series of children’s books to help explain the universe, written with daughter Lucy is published.
        November 30, 2008 – Is appointed by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario to be its first Distinguished Research Chair.
        May 19, 2009 – “George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt,” the second in the series of children’s books written with daughter Lucy, is published.
        July 30, 2009 – Is awarded the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
        September 30, 2009 – Steps down as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University after 30 years. Hawking will continue to work at the university.
        2009-present – Director of Research at the Institute for Theoretical Cosmology at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University.
        September 7, 2010 – “The Grand Design,” written with Leonard Mlodinow, is published.
        August 28, 2012 – “George and the Big Bang,” the third installment in a series of children’s books written with daughter Lucy, is published.
        December 2012 – Wins the Fundamental Physics Prize and is awarded $3 million for his theory on black holes emitting energy.
        September 10, 2013 – Hawking publishes “My Brief History,” a biography that looks at his life and the development of his intellect.
        June 5, 2014 – “George and the Unbreakable Code” the fourth installment in a series of children’s books written with daughter Lucy, is published.

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