Monthly Archives: February 2016

Musical DNA Goes Everywhere Today

February 25th, 2016

James Brown’s 1968 hit “Say it Out Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” not only became a #1 R&B hit, the anthem for the Black Power movement, but also inspired new pride among countless Africans in newly-independent nations that had just become free of colonial power.  Hits like this were heard via the Voice of America radio, which broadcast from Gibraltar throughout Africa with the great Cameroonian host Georges Collinet, now @ Afropop Worldwide.

With social media and the internet, music travels around the world even faster.  Here are two examples of hit songs reaching artists and audiences far away:   a reggae cover of Adele’s “Hello” from the Solomon Islands:  never mind the bad lip synching:

An even better version is by this Korean student, for whom English is a second language,  but it’s weird that the guitarist isn’t showing.  Nevertheless, she really must have studied hard because she nails it:

Finally, a Peruvian teenager sings Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” in the Quechua language of indigenous Peruvians:

Finally, an Arabic version of the Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid, by two Lebanese artists, Jean Marie Riachi and Abir Nehme, who sings the lyrics).

Although some might consider such covers to be English-language musical hegemony, I feel that such covers help spread musical DNA all over, revealing some amazing young talent as well.


Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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5 Countries to Invade (or Emulate) for Ideas

February 18th, 2016

I recently saw the new Michael Moore film “Where to Invade Next,” and I can only say that here in the U.S. we have a lot to learn from our friends in Europe and even in North Africa. Moore takes us on a journey to Italy, Finland, France, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Iceland, and Tunisia and highlights one aspect of their civil society and its myriad of benefits. His mission in the film is to “invade” these countries not for their natural resources or to overthrow governments to spread democracy but to bring home to the U.S. one positive attribute. In all his encounters, those he interviewed, regardless of country, reminded him that they used the U.S. (e.g. our Constitution, Civil Rights Movement, etc.) as their model to emulate and perfect.

Since this is an education blog, I’m going to focus on those countries Moore visited to highlight the great strides they’ve made in cultivating their education system from curriculum, teaching methodology, assessments, to school meals.


Moore visited Finland where the country decided to overhaul its entire pre-K through high school public education after rating low on world education rankings in the mid 1990’s. Since then they have done away with testing, or standardized testing as we are so familiar with here in the U.S., scrapped homework and reduced classroom hours. Children get more time to socialize and play at home and with friends. Public schools throughout Finland receive equal funding and enjoy the same resources so children of different neighborhoods benefit from the same quality education and socialize and integrate with each other despite their socioeconomic backgrounds. It was also interesting to see that when Finns get their paychecks they receive a detailed breakdown of exactly where their taxes are going. Would we react differently if we saw that 56% of our taxes are directed toward military and defense instead of education and other social services?

Moore’s takeaway from Finland: Do away with the standardized tests and reduce homework and make teaching fun and engaging. And, include a detailed breakdown of exactly what percentage of taxes support which government programs!


The next country on Moore’s itinerary was France where he visited school lunchrooms to witness at firsthand what French children eat.  What he found was astounding. School chefs meeting with Ministry of Education-approved nutritionists to plan the monthly menus, refrigerators stocked with fresh produce, including varieties of cheeses and sit down lunches where children were served four course meals. You may be thinking that he had visited a private school. No, these were public schools, some in poorer neighborhoods and some in more affluent, but the one thing they had in common was healthy food, prepared with great attention to the ingredients to ensure the children received a balanced nutritious meal. Lunch was served on china, where children sat at dining tables covered with table cloth and were served by a member of the kitchen staff. They were not lining up cafeteria style with trays in hand and having mystery meat plopped on plastic plates. Children even helped serve each other and ate their meals using proper silverware: knives and forks. The point was not only healthy eating, but learning table etiquette and the ability to sit alongside fellow classmates and sharing a meal. In fact, these children were sharing their desserts and having conversations! And the beverage served? Water! Yes, water. No sugary sodas or artificially sweetened drinks. Plain, delicious, water. By the way, he also demonstrated how the cost to have healthy freshly prepared meals on site for the children at schools in fact cost far less than the mass produced nutritious deprived lunches at our school cafeterias. Moore also sat in a sex education class and when he asked the teacher and the students if there were also taught abstinence as is the case in U.S. schools, they looked at him in bewilderment. The teacher said studies show that including sex ed. classes in schools reduce teen pregnancies.

Moore’s takeaway from France: Incorporate a menu of healthy nutritious meals at our public schools using the French system as a model, though minus the scallops and coq au vin. And, worth returning sex ed. classes in our school curriculum that provide students honest and uncensored information.


Next was Slovenia where Moore interviewed students attending the University of Ljubljana where both domestic and international students benefit from free education. He spoke with two American students who had chosen to study there since they couldn’t afford the high cost of U.S. higher education. One student even said that she felt Slovenia’s higher education was by far more superior compared to U.S. undergraduate studies which she thought was more on a par to the country’s high schools. When Slovenia’s government had considered charging tuition, Slovenian students protested against it and they were so effective that they succeeded in having the political party in charge step down. When tuition goes up in the U.S. we seldom see students protesting and demanding any change.

Moore’s takeaway from Slovenia: Free higher education means access to a larger population of students and a graduating class unburdened by student loans and debt.


In Germany, besides meeting with worker’s unions where it is a law that workers have representation on the Boards of companies and any worker suffering from stress with a doctor’s note receives a two-week company-paid stay at a spa to rest and recuperate, Moore also visited a public school.  He sat in on a class where the students were taught about the atrocities committed by Germany during WWII under Hitler’s leadership. The students weren’t taught a simplistic view of what happened. There were no revisionist interpretations of history, no excuses or admonitions that since they weren’t alive then they are not required to assume responsibility. He also showed how Germany is acknowledging its past by commemorating those who were taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps with gold plaques bearing their names and signs throughout streets in towns and cities in the country.  It was a stunning look at how Germany is not trying to forget or ignore its past actions.

Moore’s takeaway from Germany: One lesson Moore wishes the U.S. to adopt is a full recognition of its treatment of the indigenous Native Americans and its use of African slaves in building its infrastructure. If our children are taught the facts without any censorship or sanitizing, then there most likely will be a deeper understanding of our country’s history and a greater sense of accountability. Another takeaway is protecting our unions and giving the workers a seat on the Boards of U.S. companies. A 2-week paid spa retreat isn’t a bad idea either!


Although Moore’s focus on visiting Tunisia was not related to its education system, I still think it’s worth sharing since it has much to do with the topic of women’s equal rights in a country that in 2011 experienced a revolution in what we’ve got to know as the start of the Arab Spring, Tunisia has been able to bring about sweeping changes that have elevated the role of women in society by including in its constitution a bill of rights for women. In Tunisia women have full rights concerning their reproductive systems, can run for political office can serve in parliament, and share the same rights and privileges as men. A Tunisian female journalist had a few poignant words of advice for Moore and I’m paraphrasing: America is very lucky to be a strong country but it is very ignorant of others in the world, while other people of the world know about America, its politics, its music, literature, art, film, fashion, and even speak its language, Americans don’t know and don’t seem to want or care about the rest of the world. Tunisia, she said, is small, but it too has a rich history. She reminded us that it was the U.S. that invented the best technology ever: the Internet.  She asked that we use this valuable resource, research, read, and learn about the rest of the world and stop watching mindless shows like the Kardashians.

Moore’s takeaway from Tunisia: Be curious and look outside and beyond our four walls.

The sign of an evolving and advanced society is not pulling down the shutters and closing our eyes, minds and hearts to the outside world. It’s also not looking at everyone that talks or dresses funny, practices a different religion, or eats food that look strange to us, as a threat and with fear but to be curious, ask questions, research, engage, have conversations, learn another language, experiment with food and listen to music and news from other parts of the world, watch their films and TV shows and see for our self that we are not all that different.

My takeaway from this film besides all those shared by Moore, was that everyone he met, from young children in schools in Finland, to the women in Tunisia, spoke English. Many spoke three or four languages fluently. Language, my friends, and knowledge of more than our own, is how we can connect and stay connected with our neighbors, community, and the world. We need to make the learning of a foreign language a core component of our school curriculum, consider incorporating study abroad as a required component in our undergraduate programs, and encourage students to travel and/or join the Peace Corps on graduation. These are just a few examples of how we can inspire our young to become exemplary citizens of the U.S. and the ambassadors to the world.

Frustrated Evaluator

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit

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A (frustrated) American student in Germany

February 12th, 2016


In this week’s blog, our study abroad student, Clayton Winston Johans, continues sharing his experience and frustration as he tries to get accepted into a university in Germany.

Keine Worte

After much delay I finally received the news I didn’t want to hear. Yes, the infamous quote of “No we have not received your transcripts” echoed from the loudspeaker on my cell phone.  If you are an international student or are planning to be these are words of dread. I reassured the admissions representative that over a week and half ago I received confirmation of receiving my transcripts with a signature of receipt by a school official. I even explained that I had emailed this confirmation but of course had not heard back any response. After a quick and succinct relay of questions and answers from the admissions office who has been handling my file at the school, I was instructed to resend my email that had the aforementioned confirmation. That night I double checked the emails I had sent and of course I was in the right and had provided all the accurate information to the school admissions office. A week goes by and no response addressing my resent confirmation email. I decided best to speak to the person in charge, so I called and was confronted with a messaging service to which I left two voice messages regarding my case. Another week starts to pass me by and I am all the while wondering as to why I am not getting a simple response to my email; even an acknowledgement of the communication would have calmed my nerves.

I wait another day and I call the international student office, whose staff has been completely helpful during this entire procedure and they explained that they will contact the individual responsible for school admission directly and that I would hear back from them the following day. At this point I thought, I’ve heard this all before, so long for my adventure, my future European education was coming to a halt even before it started, as my expectations were completely shattered.

The following night, I was headed to sleep and decided to check my emails once more. Lo and behold an email had been sent to me, not in the evening of course but had arrived in the inbox midday and somehow had been overlooked. Words of relief! “We have in fact received your emails and you will be contacted for an interview by our staff once the professors have reviewed your application and academic records.” (At this particular university the professors of the desired department gather and review the student’s records together and request a time from the future student to present to them their portfolio). I am now to wait further for the anticipated date to which I shall finally have my acceptance answer.

I have to say this admissions procedure is like climbing a ladder, every other rung breaks from under you but you are still able to move forward. Strange analogy I know, but this is a strange process to a stranger in a strange land.

That’s all for now, until next time!


Clayton Winston Johans

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Syria: Education in Crisis during a Time of Conflict

February 4th, 2016

Source: Telegraphy/UK 

On January 21, 2016 I listened to a webinar hosted by AACRAO concerning Syria and supporting refugee access to higher education. The presenters, Annetta Stroud, Senior Evaluator at AACRAO and Monica Ibrahim, EducationUSA Adviser, Syria, provided a thorough overview of the current state of Syria’s education system and the severe impact of the on-going conflict on the country’s infrastructure, including schools and universities. The picture is very grim and it is difficult to envision that there is an end in sight to the fighting between government forces and those of the opposition and ISIL/Daesh.  We have seen the images of the death and destruction and the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland to neighboring countries and Europe in search of safety and stability. The refugee camps in Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt have reached and exceeded their maximum capacity. UNESCO and NGOs have set up temporary schools for the children living in the refugee camps.  Alternative methods of teaching have been implemented and still some students risk their lives to return to Syria just to participate in their high school final examinations. The situation is grim to say the least and lives have been disrupted and an entire population of people traumatized and displaced beyond levels we can ever comprehend.

Drone image of Homs, Syria

The following are highlights of the information gleaned from the webinar as well as facts on refugees provided by UNESCO.

Brief History of Conflict

  • March 2011 Syrian crisis began when anti-government protests in Deir al-Zour and Damascus broke out.
  • July 2011 military defectors set up the Free Syrian Army.
  • 2013 Syrian Interim Government was formed and set up its own Ministry of Education.
  • 2014 ISIL had made huge gains in the region.

Status of Syria’s 7 Public Universities 

Source: Bahrain News Agency

Source: NY Times

  • Aleppo University – has 7 faculties in Idlib City which is under the control of the Assad Regime January 13, 2013 – 1st day of examinations at Aleppo University was disrupted by a bomb that killed 87 people, mostly students. The Ministry of higher Education suspended all exams at all higher education institutions.
  • Tishreen University – is under the control of the Assad Regime, was attacked in November 2015.
  • Damascus University & Syrian Virtual University – are both under the control of the Assad Regime. On March 28, 2013, Damascus University was targeted when mortar bombs landed in the College of Architecture killing 15 students, after which the University was forced to close.
  • Hama University in Hama & Al-Baath University in Homs as well as elementary and secondary schools in Hama and Homs are regularly disrupted because of ongoing conflict.
  • Al-Furat University in Deir al-Zour is under the control of the regime, but in the outskirts of the city ISIL/Daesh have control of region. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, one professor at the University was tortured and killed by Assad Government forces in 2014 and accused of being part of Al-Nusra Front.

Facts on Deaths and Refugees

  • The Syrian human rights group reports 1,629 students have been killed by government forces as of 2014/15 with estimates of 35,000 university students unlawfully detained.
  • UNHCR reports approximately 12,000,000 registered refugees from Syria scattered amongst refugee camps in Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

News on Ministry of Education 

  • There are 2 governments in operation at this time in Syria: the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) and the Syrian Interim Government.
  • Because of the conflict, the MOE in SAR has placed the entire curriculum of secondary education on-line to allow for students to self-study. In this case, students will not receive a report card or transcript for each year of study. The only document they will receive is the certificate for final exams for the Secondary Baccalaureate which provides them access to tertiary education at the universities in Syria.
  • SAR’s MOE makes available exam results for 2014-2016 on their website (this is the link to obtain exam results for the scientific track of the secondary bacc. exam) – To verify the student’s exam results, enter the person’s exam # and province, or his/her name and other info (DOB), choose either literary/ scientific stream.
  • 2010/2011 – 380,000 students were enrolled in institutions of higher education throughout Syria.

Facts about university credentials

  • The wall paper degree diploma is only issued at the request of the university graduate.
  • Certificates of Graduation are issued more commonly than the wall paper diplomas.
  • Only one primary original official transcript is issued by Syrian Universities which will have security features such as a clear tape, wet seals, and stamps.
  • Additional certified copies are available to students and to receive them they have to take the originals to the institution which will make the duplicate copies and place the wet seals and stamps. [NOTE: Certified copies need to have the wet seals from the university itself and not just the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.]


Facts about elementary and secondary students

Source: Al-Jazeera News

Source: Japan Times

  • Under the current state of conflict, school children on the average have been out of school for 4 or more years.
  • Enrollment rates of children at school in Aleppo is at 6%
  • We’ll definitely see huge gaps in school attendance at elementary and secondary levels.
  • In areas that are controlled by the SAR government, the MOE is seriously committed to providing students access to elementary and secondary education and continues to administer grade 9 and grade 12 leaving certificate exams.
  • These exams are administered only in the areas that are under the control of the SAR government. They are not accessible in the contested areas.
  • In the SAR/government controlled areas, there is a huge population of displaced people; many displaced students can’t register for schools because they don’t have their papers, ID/birth certificates and prior school records.
  • MOE is now allowing students without papers to register at schools.
  • Electricity, water shortages in schools hinders regular classes and attendance. It’s also forcing a double shift approach to instruction. There will be 2 cohorts as a result of this double shift instruction which means classroom instruction hours have been shortened to fit the 2 cohort class schedules.

Education in regions under SYRIAN INTERIM GOVERNMENT (SIG)

  • The SIG has formed its own MOE which is called the Higher Commission for Education (HCE).
  • They have revised the Syrian national curriculum and removed the following courses: National Socialist Education and History as well as any mention of the Baath party.
  • The SIG HCE administers its own Baccalaureate examination in those regions of Syria which are under the control of the opposition party as well as in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
  • Approximately 10,000 students have taken this Bacc exam by the SIG’s HCE each year starting in 2013.
  • They use a different grading system and include a barcode on the Bacc certificate for security measures.
  • The SIC Bacc certificate is not recognized by the SAR government and would not grant admission to universities in Syria.
  • The Turkish government has recognized the SIG HCE Bacc certificate.
  • The French Foreign Ministry has accepted this credential from 10 refugees to date who have been admitted to 1 university in France (name of French university is unavailable).
  • No other nation has recognized the SIG and the SIG HCE Bacc Certificate.
  • The non-governmental organization known as Syrian Commission for Education has been administering the Libyan curriculum to refugees in Turkey in 2013, 2014, 2015. The students take the Libyan National Leaving Examination.
  • Refugees in Turkey can decide if they want to opt for the Libyan National Leaving Exam or the Syrian Bacc administered by SIG’s HCE.
  • Most Syrian refugees don’t take the Turkish curriculum for secondary education because of language barriers.
  • Some Syrian refugee students return to government-controlled regions in Syria to take the exam by the SAR’s MOE which is very risky.
  • At universities, may students study at home and go to campus only to take exams.
  • Many universities have closed their main campuses and moved offices and classes to less risky locations and offer classes from homes and apartments.

It is anticipated that with the large numbers of students preparing for the SIG Baccalaureate high school examinations in refugee camps, we will begin to see these credentials for evaluation and admission to U.S. colleges and universities. Since the SIG baccalaureate examination certificate is not recognized by the SAR Ministry of Education and the international community, except for Turkey and the French Foreign Ministry, it would be interesting to see how the academic community in the U.S. will interpret and handle this credential. We will keep you updated on any new developments that concern the Syrian education. Please join us on our FaceBook page and follow us on Twitter. Stay tuned and connected.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit

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