Museum website says ‘homo-erotic’ is top 10 search

V&A museum
Image captionElevated thoughts? The Victoria and Albert Museum search data suggests a range of intentions

What are people thinking about when they visit museums? Maybe it isn’t always intellectual inspiration.

A team launching a project at the Victoria and Albert Museum have revealed the type of searches made on the London museum’s website.

And in the top 10 this summer, along with design-related searches such as “floral patterns”, was “homo-erotic”.

The museum has a gay history project this month as part of the Being Human humanities festival.

Being Human is the UK’s national festival of the humanities, run by the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, with 300 events staged around the country in November.

performance artist Bird la Bird
Image captionPerformance artist Bird la Bird is part of the museum project

At the launch at the Hunterian Museum in London, V&A assistant curator Zorian Clayton explained that the project would examine the hidden histories of the museum’s collection and its intersections with gay and lesbian culture.

He revealed the level of potential interest from people searching the art and design museum’s website.

Along with “ships”, “flowers” and “cinema”, “homo-erotic” was one of the most popular searches. There were also searches for “sepulchral monuments”.

The Being Human festival aims to look at the human condition from different perspectives and to promote work in the humanities.

V&A museum
Image captionThe Victoria and Albert Museum specialises in art and design

Among the work being promoted is Being Human/Being Animal, in which historians from King’s College London and the Royal College of Surgeons will look at how studies of human and animal health have overlapped.

Understanding the spread of diseases and problems such as vitamin deficiencies has been part of both human medicine and animal welfare.

This will include the story of Ming, a panda in London Zoo – and claimed as one of the first “animal celebrities” – whose health problems in the 1940s became a matter of public debate.

The National Archives is running a project on civil rights protests by black Britons in the early 1970s, focusing on the disputes around the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, which became a flashpoint for tension between the black community and police.

The University of Buckingham is promoting its “digital Dickens” project, which is bringing academic crowdsourcing and the digitising of texts to its study of the 19th Century author.

“By working together, thinkers from different disciplines can extend our insights into what it means to be human,” said Barry Smith, director of the Institute of Philosophy at the School of Advanced Study.

The science and technology questions parents could not answer

mother and son
Image captionIn a survey, many parents admitted giving incorrect answers to children’s science questions

Why do cats have tails? How can you hear the train arriving before it gets to the station? Why don’t wind turbines in the sea sink with the weight?

These are just a few of the questions posed by parents who took part in an online question-and-answer session run by Mumsnet and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) on Wednesday.

As part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, the organisations got to together to helpparents who were stumped when their children asked questions about science, maths and engineering matters.

The BBC News website has compiled some of the questions and answers.

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What is fog made from?

Tiny droplets of water float in the air and scatter light.

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catImage copyrightAlexandrum79

Why do cats have tails?

It is an extension of their spine. It helps with balance and aids communication.

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What causes lightning?

Hailstones bring driven up and down by strong winds in thunderstorms and crashing in to each other build up an electric charge. That eventually leads to a big spark of lightning (mostly between the top and bottom of the cloud but sometimes down to the ground).

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wind turbinesImage copyrightanderm

Why don’t wind turbines in the sea sink with the weight?

They are standing on the bottom of the sea.

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Are there any living organisms in the Earth’s core?

We know the Earth’s core is so hot it would be difficult for any living organisms as we know them to survive. However, in the outer crust of the Earth, there are some bacteria and organisms that live far below the surface.

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moonImage copyrightfirstpentuer

Why is the sky so light some nights and so dark on others?

Light bounces off clouds and makes the sky look less dark. On clear nights, it looks a lot darker.

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Will we soon have toys that can learn?

Engineers are developing robots that can learn from their experiences.

Open University staff to strike over job cuts and centre closures

Open University (OU) staff have voted to strike over up to 500 job losses and the closure of seven offices.

Regional centres in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford are to shut.

Members may also strike at OU offices in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Milton Keynes, Manchester and Nottingham.

The University and College Union (UCU), said managers were alone in thinking the plans were a good idea. The OU said it was disappointed over the vote.

It said it wanted to work with union members constructively.

‘Mandate for action’

A spokesman for the Milton Keynes-based university, said: “We do not believe industrial action will lead to anything positive, either for our staff or students.

“The proposals to replace seven smaller support centres in England with three larger centres would allow us to invest more in student support.”

UCU branch members will meet next week to decide when the strike will take place and how long they would walk out.

A spokesman also said the meeting would decide if all OU branches would walk out or whether it would be confined to those due to close.

Pauline Collins, of the UCU, said: “The only people who still seem to think that axing 500 jobs and closing down seven regional Open University centres is a good idea are the senior managers.

“The academic body at the university rejected the plans at its senate meeting and now the staff have given an overwhelming mandate for strike action for the first time in its history.

“We hope managers will now see sense and work with us to deliver changes that will not be so devastating for the staff, students or future of the Open University.”

Minecraft used to teach children molecular chemistry

Children playing Minecraft

Virtual world-building game Minecraft, played by tens of millions of children worldwide, could be used in schools to teach pupils chemistry.

A group of Hull University students created an educational version of the game that allows players to explore specially created molecular structures and understand chemistry.

The aim is to engage young scientists in a fun and interactive way.

Minecraft players use building blocks to create structure and landscapes.

They are also encouraged to collect treasure and many other items.

‘Fiendishly difficult’

The students developed the project with the help of the university’s Minecraft expert, Joel Mills, and senior lecturer in biological chemistry, Dr Mark Lorch.

Dr Lorch said: “Minecraft is a fabulous tool for exploring structures of buildings, landscapes and even anatomy.

“So why not molecules? We showed it to a class of children the other day and there were lots of wows and gasps.

“This just really grabs their attention. It is a really novel way of engaging them and delivering information to them.”

As well as structures and molecules to explore, the students have created a host of other surprises for children to roam around and find.

Dr Lorch said: “You can just explore and read the info about the molecules. But there are also a whole load of treasure chests dotted around filled with goodies, puzzles and quiz books.

“Some are easy to find, others are fiendishly difficult. If you locate them all then you’ll probably have learned a fair bit of chemistry on the way.”

Outreach

Dr Lorch, who also has a role to engage young people in science, added: “If I’ve given them this information in a Minecraft world and shown them how to access it, then they are much more likely to go and find out about it than if I have given it in a PowerPoint presentation.”

The Hull team is currently trialling the game, called MolCraft, in a number of secondary schools in London as part of various university outreach projects.

But it can also be used in primary schools to teach basic science such as how atoms form together to make molecules.

It is also available on Minecraft’s educational library with versions for both pupils and teachers.

This is not the first time Minecraft has been used to engage children with scientific topics.

A world has been developed to teach quantum physics and many schools in Northern Ireland are using an adapted version to inspire creative writing and engage young people in city planning.

Parents stumped by children’s tech questions offered help

Child and adult watch planes
Image captionAlmost two-thirds of parents admitted giving incorrect answers to children’s science questions

Questions on science and technology from children stump most parents, research suggests.

Some 83% of 1,000 parents polled said they had been unable to answer science, maths and engineering questions.

But, in an online session run by Mumsnet and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), experts will give parents answers to queries like: “How do planes stay up?”

The event is part of a week-long campaign to boost engineering careers.

IET president Naomi Climer said Tomorrow’s Engineers Week aimed to “inspire and nurture” future talent.

Expert help

Almost two-thirds (63%) said they had given a child an incorrect answer instead of admitting they were clueless, while 61% were so afraid of being wrong they avoided answering altogether.

Some 59% of parents admitted thinking their children knew more about engineering and technology than they did, while more than one in 10 (12%) referred the question to the other parent.

“The findings have given us some interesting insight into how poorly equipped UK parents are when it comes to tackling their child’s often tricky questions,” said Ms Climer.

Girl with electronics
Image captionMany parents believe their children know more about engineering and technology than they do

The IET has put together a top team of engineers to answer those questions, live on Twitter for an hour, starting at 13:00 GMT on Wednesday, including experts from fields as varied as computing, design, architecture, science, space travel, sound, lighting and engineering.

Muddled mums and dazed dads are asked to post their questions using the hashtag #AsktheEngineers – and wait for expert responses.

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week and the IET’s own Engineer a Better Worldcampaign hope to inspire teenagers to consider some of the “amazing careers” possible in engineering.

Events in the first week of November include a special Big Bang Fair at the Houses of Parliament on 5 November, where teenagers will demonstrate their science and engineering skills to MPs.

Elsewhere, workshops and demonstrations take place all week, with scientists, engineers and designers across the UK describing careers ranging from medical engineering, coastal defence and bridge-building to manufacturing processes, power production, energy saving and the arts.

David Cameron bids to speed up adoption process

Parent and child hands
Image captionChildren should be placed in loving homes as soon as possible, says Mr Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron wants to increase dramatically the number of children currently in care who move in with their adoptive families before the required legal work is completed.

Some 10% of adopted children are already placed with families early, according to his office.

But Mr Cameron wants these numbers to double as soon as possible.

Town hall bosses said it was also “vital” to address court delays and speed up legal proceedings.

The prime minister said too few councils were using early placement schemes and doubling the numbers would see 500 more children settled in new homes sooner.

The same set of figures suggests 68 of England’s 152 local authorities have no early placements ahead of adoption, say officials.

And he added: “I want to make sure that we do everything we can so children are placed in a loving home as soon as possible.”

‘Real progress’

Mr Cameron’s statement means all councils are now required to reveal how many children go to live with their adoptive families early.

These schemes can cut by half the time families have to wait for the legal process to be completed, ministers believe.

“It is a tragedy that there are still too many children waiting to be placed with a loving family. We have made real progress but it remains a problem,” said Mr Cameron.

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Media captionChildren’s Minister Edward Timpson: “We think councils can do much better.”

The government also plans tougher regulations to ensure councils carry out stringent assessments on special guardianship orders, where children go to live with relatives.

This is to avoid the risk of children being placed with “distant unsuitable relations they have never met”, in the words of the announcement by the prime minister’s office.

The announcement also includes plans to boost regional adoption agencies where councils merge to give children access to up to 10 times as many prospective adopters.

So far 140 councils have announced plans to merge, but the government says it will intervene to ensure they are all included by 2020.

Child on swing
Image captionAdoption rates fell back after court rulings said councils should also consider other options

Adoption organisations welcomed the plans.

“For vulnerable children who have been taken into care, there is nothing more beneficial than being placed as early as possible with a loving family,” said Carol Homden, chief executive of the Coram children’s charity.

Adoption UK chief executive Hugh Thornbery said any initiative that placed children in a secure family setting without unnecessary delay was clearly in children’s best interests.

But he warned families needed ongoing support once the process was complete.

“What is missing from today’s announcement is a guarantee of future funding for therapy to support adopted families,” he said.

The Local Government Association said councils were already merging and streamlining services to boost adoption rates and cut delays.

“Locally-led initiatives are far more effective than centrally-imposed structures and processes, and it is encouraging that central government is continuing to support the excellent work that is under way across the country,” said Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board.

“But a focus on social work practice is only one part of the solution, and it is vital that court delays are also addressed and legal proceedings sped up if we are to continue to provide much-needed homes for children.”

But adoption is not right for every child, warned Mr Perry.

“Local and national government must continue to strive to improve the experience of all children in care, whether they are being looked after by friends or family, in foster care or a special guardianship arrangement, or in residential care.”

Adoption rates rose after initiatives by the last government, but fell back after several court judgements said local councils needed to consider all options such as placements with birth relatives, before seeking adoption.

Poor support failing most vulnerable young people, say MPs

Young woman silhouette
Image captionYoung people leaving care often struggle, says the report

Too many of the most vulnerable young people in England are “cut adrift when they need help the most”, says the head of a powerful committee of MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee says there has been a “systemic failing” in support to young people leaving foster care or children’s homes.

Its chair Meg Hillier MP says young adults are “let down by the system that’s supposed to support them”.

The government says it is committed to improving the lives of care leavers.

The committee found outcomes for the 10,000 young people aged 16 or over who leave care each year are “poor and worsening”.

Its report says the quality and cost of support to care leavers “varies unacceptably” between local authorities.

Ofsted has rated two-thirds of council care leaver services inadequate or requiring improvement, say the MPs.

“The scale of variability in the quality and cost of support, and a lack of understanding of what causes this, show that this is a systemic issue, rather than a problem in just a few local authorities,” says the report.

Young people must leave local authority care by their 18th birthday “whereas 50% of all 22-year-olds still live at home” it notes.

These children have often had difficult lives with 62% in care because of abuse or neglect, it adds.

“Those leaving care may struggle to cope with the transition to adulthood and may experience social exclusion, unemployment, health problems, or end up in custody.”

Image captionCare leavers are almost three times as likely to not be in education, employment and training

Some 41% of 19-year-old care leavers were not in education, employment or training in 2014 compared with 15% of the age group as a whole, says the report.

It welcomes government initiatives to improve the lives of care leavers and acknowledges more good practice is emerging but says there is more still to do.

“It’s time the government reviewed its care leavers’ strategy to make sure these young people get the full support they need,” said Ms Hillier.

The Department for Education should take formal responsibility for improving the system, the MPs urge.

In particular they believe the DfE should improve care leavers’ access to apprenticeships and training, suitable accommodation and better advice.

Budget cuts

Town Hall bosses said 40% cuts to their budgets meant providing care leavers with adequate support was “becoming an increasing challenge” which councils could not handle alone.

“We urgently need to see the whole system properly funded and joined up to ensure children and young people receive the support they need, when they need it,” said Roy Perry, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People’s Board.

The Department for Education said its reforms would help care leavers make a successful transition to adulthood.

These include giving every care leaver a personal adviser and allowing young people to continue to live with their foster families after 18, though councils complain funding for the latter is “significantly underestimated”.

A DfE spokesman said the government was also funding apprenticeship programmes for care leavers and encouraging Ofsted to focus more on care leaver support.

“But we want to go further, which is why we’ve committed to update the cross-government Care Leavers Strategy to improve support for these young people,” said the spokesman.

Snake ‘not guilty of killing Cleopatra’

Cleopatra played by Elizabeth Taylor
Image captionElizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. The queen’s life and death have become part of popular legend

The story that Cleopatra, ancient queen of Egypt, was killed by a snake bite has been rejected as “impossible” by University of Manchester academics.

Egyptologists and snake experts have combined to examine the plausibility of the tale of the queen being killed by a cobra hidden in a basket of figs.

They believe a snake big enough to kill the queen and two maids would not have been small enough to be concealed.

They also challenge the credibility of three consecutive fatal bites.

Cleopatra, who died at the age of 39 in 30BC, was a ruler of Egypt who became embroiled in power struggles within the Roman empire.

But her story and her death have become part of popular legend, portrayed in fictional form from Hollywood epics to Carry On films and television comedy.

‘Infamy, infamy’

From Roman sources onwards, her death has often been attributed to a poisonous snake or “asp”, with the queen using the fatal bite as a way of ending her own life.

But Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley and Andrew Gray, curator of herpetology at Manchester Museum, say the supposed culprit – a cobra – would have been too physically big to be concealed in the way that has been portrayed.

Glenda Jackson as Cleopatra
Image captionGlenda Jackson and Eric Morecambe: Could a cobra really be concealed in a basket?

They are typically 5-6ft long and can grow to 8ft (2.5m), and the Manchester experts reject the idea such a snake could be hidden in the way suggested.

Even if such a snake had been smuggled in to Cleopatra, they say it would have been very unlikely that it could have killed Cleopatra and two of her servants in quick succession.

“Not only are cobras too big, but there’s just a 10% chance you would die from a snake bite: most bites are dry bites that don’t inject venom,” said Mr Gray.

“That’s not to say they aren’t dangerous: the venom causes necrosis and will certainly kill you, but quite slowly.

“So it would be impossible to use a snake to kill two or three people one after the other.

“Snakes use venom to protect themselves and for hunting – so they conserve their venom and use it in times of need.”

Dr Tyldesley, author of Cleopatra: Egypt’s Last Queen, is a contributor to a free online course – a Mooc – about ancient Egypt made by the university.

The course, A History of Ancient Egypt, is being launched next week and will study Egypt from before the pharaohs through the relationships with Greece and Rome and ending with Cleopatra.

Maharashtra schools to focus on better attendance, teaching skills

Maharashtra schools to focus on better attendance, teaching skills
Only schools that achieve 100% success will be termed progressive.
PUNE: Government schools in the state are up for an overhaul.Innovative teaching methods with toys and props, teacher training, biometric attendance and bringing drop-out rate to zero are on the cards.

Schools and directors of education have been given a year’s time to meet their targets as part of the state education department’s ‘Educationally Progressive Maharashtra’ programme.

Only schools that achieve 100% success will be termed progressive. The state government has set goals for teachers, education officers at state, district and block levels to help schools achieve 100% results. Administrative officers also must ensure that schools under their jurisdiction are completely digitised and part of the SARAL system.

State education secretary Nand Kumar said, “Teachers have been asked to visit schools that have been nominated ideal. Teachers believe that 100% literacy is not achievable but they have to visit schools in Kumthe and Vai in Satara and Miraj in Sangli to change their minds. These visits will help them in making their schools progressive as per the state government parameters.”

Kumar said that ever since the Right to Education Act (2010) came into effect, there has been widespread misconception that Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE), no-detention policy, no public or board exams till Std VIII, age-appropriate admissions come in the way of quality education.

To clear these misconceptions, tackle the problem of low learning levels and regional disparities, the state has rolled out a multi-year programme called Pragat Shaikshanik (Educationally Progressive) Maharashtra in June 2015. The main objective of the programme is to ensure age/grade appropriate competencies in all students by providing an environment for quality improvement in teachers, students and administrators.

Aparna Sivakumar of Change Agents for School Education and Research (Caser), said, “Focus on textbook content has promoted rote learning. The state is changing the way learning assessments are done, pushing concept understanding and competencies rather than theoretical knowledge.”

“The state is also planning to support multiple innovative programmes – digital schools, ISO 9000 schools, activity-based learning, and multi-lingual classroom (this will be particularly relevant for schools that have migrant children). Teachers will also be supported to integrate out-of-school children in classrooms and provide them special training,” said Kumar.

Plan of action

– With an aim of ensuring that by 2016-17, no child will be below grade level, efforts have been initiated to capacity build all the key players – resource persons, cluster- and block-level officers, teachers, community and supporting agencies

– Education officers will be entrusted to help teachers improve on subjects, pedagogy and child psychology

– To provide a supporting and empowering environment for teachers, communities of practice and networks of active teachers in various subjects are being formalised (digital and physical)

– Mentors who can support and motivate teachers in nearby areas are being identified; self- and peer- learning modules and resources for teachers who need additional support are being created

– Quality cells at the district level are being streamlined and professional development programmes are going to be driven by demand and need

– Departments will be made more accountable and increase synergy, job charts will be reviewed, teachers will be rationalised to reach underserved schools, a constructive performance review system for teachers will be instituted and manual, administrative tasks will be streamlined and digitised

Harvard to soon have Tamil chair

CHENNAI: Harvard University could soon house a department dedicated to Tamil if an initiative taken by two India-born doctors in the US bears fruit. The Ivy League university which has a 100-year-old Sanskrit chair has now shown interest in constituting a Sangam Tamil chair.

Harvard University, located at Cambridge in Massachusetts, has demanded a fund of $6 million (around 40 crore) to form the chair. Physicians in the US, Dr Janakiraman and Dr Thirugnanasambandam, who have together donated $1 million, are in the city to raise rest of the fund from Tamil-speakers. Thirugnanasambandam, born and raised in Kumbakonam, said, “There are more than 2 lakh Tamil speakers in the United States but no formal institution to teach the language. It is only taught in some private institutes within Tamil-speaking communities.”

Upon setting up of the chair, Harvard will institute an international search to find a Tamil scholar who would inspire and promote world-class research. A member of Harvard University Tamil Chair Foundation Committee, Dr Arumugam, said, “The chair will be a boon for graduates and research students of Tamil.” Research findings will be published in revered journals of the 380-year old institution, he said.

The Celtic languages, spoken by about 15 lakh people, have two chairs at Harvard. “Tamil is more than 2,000 years old and spoken by over eight crore people. We hope to raise the fund within six months,” Gnanasambandam said.

Dr A Jahir Husain, who translated the Thirukkural into Arabic on a Tamil Nadu government funding earlier this year, has welcomed the initiative to constitute a chair for Tamil. “The proposition is very significant for the development of the language and its distinct culture in the world stage,” he said.

The foundation committee members are also in talks with the state and the Central governments for support.

They have also set up a website, harvardtamilchair.com, to inform donors.