Thursday 11 October 2012


Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica, should be wearing a hazard suit as she surfs a wave of polluted water in the latter half of her term of office.
Declaring herself as 'firm and honest'  in her election campaign was tempting fate...and fate never resists temptation.
So we have had scandal after ministers who 'forget' to comply with tax laws....the whistleblowers threatened with legal proceedings...wives of ministers running lucrative consultancies which mysteriously always win the contracts awarded by...ministers....(so far just like Europe, but people make a fuss  about it here)....but most of all the stench arising from the building of the new road along the Rio San Juan which forms the border with Nicaragua.
Two committees overseeing official, the other, run by her totally unqualified brother, with more power than the first......Transport Ministry officials living suddenly high on the who think it's a good idea to fill low lying parts with container bodies covered with logs which promptly collapse once wieght is applied....and enormous environmental damage. 
Proclaimed as a means of securing the borders...and bringing electricity and communication to remote settlements....a cynical section of the population wonder if it was not rather to use public money to open up estates bought by politicians who think there's a fair bet that Nicaragua will succeed in building a transocean canal there.
So with all this going on, you wouldn't imagine that a little photocopying would bring more problems around her head.
No,she has not been photocopying parts best left private.....but she has exercised her veto on a law protecting intellectual property....with the exception made for copying material for educational purposes.
The firm and honest Presidenta will make no exception. No photocopying. None.
Coming from rural France where if a document had to be supplied in triplicate you were getting off lightly, I was not surprised to see so many general shops and specialists offering photocopying.
I was surprised at how cheap it was, though!
And then I noticed how many schoolchildren, students and teachers were in the queue.
Administrative demands for copies are few....their offices have photocopiers.
Educational need for photocopying is vast.
Forms, worksheets....and textbooks.
This was the subject of the allow photocopying for educational purposes, recognizing that schools...and universities...just don't have adequate supplies, and that the cost of books is prohibitive for all but the offspring of well off families.
The exception that the Presidenta vetoed.
And the students per photograph up top.
Unfortunately a peaceful protest was hijacked by those with other agendas, resulting in policemen being injured and one politician soaked when a bag of urine was thrown at him, but, luckily, everyone seems to realise that this was not the intention of the protest organisers and the debate is on.
A textbook author has worked hard to produce his tome.
His publisher has put money into printing, publicity and distribution.
Is it fair that students can profit from their efforts simply by copying it?
Will not authors and publishing houses just fold their tents if there is not an adequate reward?
But what of the students?
Even in my day, when university libraries were funded to the hilt, there would not be enough of certain texts to go if you had not bought your own you were jostling for a sight of it.
Students were even  known to get to the library as it opened as essay time approached!
But we either had money from parents or grants...or both... and I found it was perfectly possible to buy all the textbooks on the reading lists and a fair few others without breaking the bank or reducing the incidence of visits to the Student Union bar. 
I'm not sure what I would do now when the fees are high and the prospect of a student loan threatens to blight the rest of your relative youth., but I suspect I would do what I always used to do - something which appears to be a dying art among students.
Take notes.
Taking a note, reading it back and checking that you have all the elements is good training when using the information in essays and for having revision material for examinations.
It's not bad training for most things in your working life, either....but less and less students seem to be able to do it.
Instead they seem to cling to the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text, feeling that wholesale regurgitation is better regarded than a summary of the points.
From what I saw of education in France they might be right...I suspect it is similar here but don't know enough yet to say.
But even taking notes is not a solution if your library doesn't have copies.....and you don't know anyone with a book you can borrow.
I don't have a solution fair to both parties...though I think perhaps publishers could licence a reasonable amount of copies per year to educational if I have to plump for sides then I suppose I'd go with the students....
Or to suggest to the firm and honest President that it might be an idea to fund education properly...and transparently.
Though I could make that suggestion to leaders of countries far better off than Costa Rica, too, where it seems that feeding the faces of the your cronies is more important than feeding the minds of the young.


  1. I learnt shorthand at 6th form. I've forgotten it all now... which is something I much regret.

    1. Now that's something I wasn't taught...though my normal handwriting resembles it...

  2. I have never seen so much paperwork in my life that they have here in France, even the French complain about it as I am sure you well know!

    It is a pity when peaceful protests get bad names because of a few that seem to enjoy messing things up!

    How many people can actually take notes nowadays, it seems most people have forgotten how to write and they certainly cannot spell. I wish the people who type the news headlines would type English and spell correctly. Almost every headline has a mistake of some sort!! How are the students ans scholars meant to to learn.

    OK so I have deviated from the subject but I am tired and off to bed. Bonne nuit. Diane

  3. Oops as I sent that off I saw a spelling mistake, slap the back of my hand!!!!!

    1. You can't believe (you probably can) how relieved I am to be away from the paperwork...and people here complain about theirs!

      People don't seem to be able to get to the nub of things, either in making notes or in assessing what items are important....makes it all the easier for our masters to control us!

      I'm making repeated typing errors since getting the must be something about the way I'm sitting but I can't work out what it is.

  4. I don't have a solution either, just an observation. I'm enrolled on a free 15 week online course at Duke University. So far, so good. The cost of the three optional recommended textbooks is 250 quid! And that's just for a free short course. Imagine what the textbook costs are for degrees...

    By the way, I love the new coffee colour (very appropriate), but reading white (or even cream) on dark backgrounds is a strain on the old eyesight...

    1. I think I saw these courses...didn't Harvard and MIT start them up?
      I looked at one, priced up the textbooks and nearly dropped...though they did give links to a free internet source, but I couldn't work out how to use it.

      I'll change the colour tomorrow.

  5. I think the most straightforward solution for schools would be to receive sufficient funding so they can buy enough textbooks.

    Textbooks are not glamorous though so there is not much political gain to be had out of doing this.

    The greater good doesn't seem to come into things any more either. Personal profit is much more attractive.

    1. And these days they don{t even pretend it is on earth did this happen?

  6. "Wanting to be a politician, should automatically bar you from being one". Billy Connolly.
    If you think French paperwork is excessive - visit us here in Turkey. Papers, copies, stamps, notarized everything. Big bucks for every transaction. Turkey based its system on the French one and then embellished it.

    1. Whereas Costa Rica based its on post Napoleonic Spanish practice which should have made it worse...but somehow didn't!
      There is a lot of notarizing...whopping gold stars on everything...but it only costs a fortune if your lawyer is a crook.

  7. Note-taking - ah, I remember it well, Fly. Being at university in the mid-60s meant having enough money to buy textbooks (usually secondhand) and I'm not sure I'd ever seen a photocopier back then. At school too, there had been a storeroom with piles of books which were loaned out each year by our subject teachers. Sadly our eldest grandson, now in the 3rd year of high school, has barely handled a textbook since he went there. It's all work-sheets for him...

    If only the powers-that-be could realise that a good education for all children is the very best investment the state can make in the future of the nation.

    1. My experience too...I think photcopiers then were huge Xerox mchines which cost a fortune to hire and were guarded by ferocious office dragons...certainly not for student use!

      But it is a tragedy that the powers that be are only interested in their own survival at the top of the greasy else would generations of politicians have let education slide to its current mess!

      Work sheets...truly, the U.K. has become third world...

    2. Oh, and handouts from which the worksheets can be completed. Our daughter and son-in-law work really hard to try to fill the gaps in what is meant to be one of the better schools in the area.

    3. This is dreadful....and what happens to children whose parents cannot or will not fill the gaps....

  8. Another transocean canal, but in Nicaragua?? Competition then. Cool! There’ll be opening month special offers. Panama will kick off with what they think is a killer deal… like, ‘Saturday Morning Canal Special: Two Super Tankers for the price of one!’ Nicaragua will counter punch with something like: ‘Weekend Super Saver! All ships half price! No speed restrictions! Plus free Tequila, as much as you can drink! Fun for all the crew!!’ Excellent.

    As for the under supply/funding of course books, well it’s clearly a pretty sad state of affairs. Not least because those with the elected power to make the difference, don’t want to risk rocking the old crony boat. Sounds like a classic case of fortune favouring the affluent elite. The privileged student minorities on the green upper slopes of the playing field, and then all the masses scraping around in the mud for a foothold down the bottom end. And that’s before they start kicking balls up hill. Needs a ‘book tax’ levied at the upper end earners, although pigs will fly supersonic before that one ever takes off. Baron and Serf society models still sit sweetest amongst the ruling brotherhoods of this socially and economically decaying old rock of ours.

  9. It is alarming how the model of the banana republique has now become the model for European states....

  10. I can see both sides and like you I would probably come down on the side of the student. But I also think it's a shame that the art of taking notes has been lost. In my day, taking notes not only compensated for not having enough textbooks, but for me it really helped the content stay in my head. Many years ago when I did Open University courses, not only did I take notes from TV and radio programmes, but not having a computer or even typewriter, all my assignments were hand-written. Sadly, handwriting is also a disappearing art. I won prizes for mine when I was a child but it's dreadful these days.

    1. I agree...taking notes means you've thought about it which means that it's more likely to stick!
      I have to confess that my handwriting is and always was a disgrace...a spider crawling from the inkwell was one way it was accurately described....

  11. I'm with the authors and publishers. If a country wants to get its education on the cheap, there's better ways than robbing the providers of its educational material.

    1. You've put your finger on the nub of the problem, Mark.

      Governments just don't value long as their own kids are all right they don't make much effort for the mass of the population.

  12. I don 't write shopping lists, but I take notes all over the place.
    How the deuce do kids cope if they don't take notes!

    1. Goodness only knows...when I go out I return with a handbag stuffed with notes on the back of envelopes....