Hans and Ola Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

I found the video quite perceptive and interesting because the ideas that the video touches on are quite prevalent in today’s society.  I couldn’t believe the results of the survey conducted by Hans Rosling. It was a bit disappointing and I was shocked to see that so many people in first world countries had let themselves become convinced that they were suffering horribly, and that things were worse than they were decades ago. Ola Rosling stated that this was due to limited education and biased media that leaned towards sensationalism.

I was taken aback when Hans brought up education. I knew that it would play a significant role but it was in the back of my head, which again shows how strong schools have a hold on us. I just couldn’t imagine why schools would pass on biased knowledge of the world. But, he explained that teachers and faculty members can also use old, out-dated resources, or their own experiences when they teach us. So their personal knowledge becomes shared knowledge. Their experiences and own memories can alter the knowledge that they pass on to us, which can in-turn influence our knowledge. For example, a study conducted in early 2015 found that unexamined teacher biases are having a significant effect on girls’ education. Through thousands of hours of classroom observations, the researchers (Myra and David Sadker and Karen R. Zittleman) found that teachers spend up to two-thirds of their time talking to male students; they also are more likely to interrupt girls but allow boys to talk over them. Teachers also tend to acknowledge girls but praise and encourage boys. Evidence of such bias was seen in the rates of girls taking STEM-related advanced placement tests, which reached a record low. This illustrates that the way a teacher treats a student can actually have a significant impact on the student’s performance in that subject and overall learning.

I found this quite interesting and I started to realize that these statistics were quite similar at my school as well. For instance, in my Chemistry class, I am the girl. In my Physics class, there are only two girls. But, girls dominate the classroom in Biology and Psychology. I wondered why this was the case. After all, I thought that our teachers were quite encouraging. That got me thinking about the Indian society that I live in and how my parents reacted when I told them that I wanted to pursue Physics. My dad was thrilled because he was an engineer himself. My mom was happy for me too, but I remember that she subtly tried to warn me that there wouldn’t be many girls in the class. She wasn’t trying to dissuade me, but she wanted me to be aware of what I was getting myself into. Then, I realized that maybe these gender stereotypes had a cyclical nature. What I mean by this is that few girls joined the engineering programs because they thought there wouldn’t be many girls. As a result, there weren’t many girls enrolled in the program. So, fewer girls pursued engineering, and the vicious cycle continued.

Hans also spoke a lot about media and how it can also influence the way in which we acquire knowledge. They often opt for events that are more newsworthy because they know that they will get more number of views. This could be attributed to media sensationalism or journalist bias. The first thing that came to my mind when he spoke about such topics as the US presidential elections. The tremors of the presidential elections were felt all the way in India all because of the media. Newspapers and news websites were covered with articles about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Very few agencies reported anything else. This again added to the fuss of the presidential elections. In addition, an analysis of news coverage from the 2016 primary races found that mainstream media outlets engaged in “journalistic bias” that led to over-coverage of the Donald Trump campaign and under-coverage of Democratic candidates, in particular, Sen. Bernie Sanders. While some journalists wrote biased reports because they weren’t in favor of Trump, others wrote reports on Trump because he was controversial and unpredictable. So, since everyone heard his name in the news more often than Clinton or Sanders, they were overshadowed and this could be proved to be advantageous to Trump. This could have been one of the many factors that led to his victory.

It is disturbing to see how the media manipulates us when we look to it for information. More and more websites are being created for the basis of fact-checking. It is actually quite interesting that the video was posted in 2005, and you would think that such a powerful video would make a significant change. But, instead, whatever consequences that Hans mentioned for not knowing basic GK has come true. I think we should adopt his “global knowledge certificate idea for agencies, schools, and employers that is based on candidates taking a test on the fact-based worldview. I think this is an essential document, especially since Donald Trump is reigning. It will prove to students that fact-checking is important and using valid statistics to back up one’s claims is critical. This is perfectly exemplified by Ola, when he says, “if you have a fact-based worldview of today, you might be able to understand the future.“

Works cited:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/study-election-coverage-skewed-by-journalistic-  bias/


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