Tag Archives: technology

Detecting Fake University Degrees in a Digital World

February 22nd, 2019

digiworld

As we prepare for the 2019 AICE Los Angeles Symposium on digital retention and transmission of academic documents, an issue that is of great concern is how do we maintain credential evaluation standards in a world that is rapidly digitizing? How do we ensure credential integrity? How do we detect fraudulent documents in an age where digital technology is used by hackers and forgers with tech expertise to falsify and issue counterfeit documents, tap into university databases, create degrees and diplomas that appear flawless and authentic?

The topic of the 2019 AICE Los Angeles Symposium is “The future is digital…are you? Effectively using technology while maintaining credential evaluation standards” is timely and will address the many stakeholders involved in the digital document process: the universities, governments, and third-party platforms, while delving into the existing eco-system, security and reliability of the current digital systems and discussing the available tools for digital credential verification. The goal of the symposium is to seek digital solutions that promote data security and protection as we move toward a paper-free environment.

In this week’s blog, we share an informative and insightful piece written by our European colleagues Stig Arne Skjerven, Director of Foreign Education in NOKUT and President of the ENIC Bureau in the European Network of Information Centers, a frequent contributor to ACE-Global.Blog, and Linda J Børresen, Senior Legal Advisor in NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). The authors demonstrate steps being taken in Europe to combat fake diplomas in today’s digital world. This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of University World News and is shared in this blog with permission from Mr. Skjerven and Ms. Børresen.

We invite you to share your thoughts, experience, and questions in the comments section. Thank you.

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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Using fake diplomas in order to get ahead is not a new phenomenon. As long as there is competition for jobs and admission to higher education, there will be people who are willing to take such shortcuts.

Articles in University World News often report new cases, the most recent on fake Scottish degrees. Over the summer in the United Kingdom, there was an article published in The Guardian in which the UK’s official service for verifying degrees, the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), urged new graduates who take selfies with their new degrees not to share the images on social media to avoid fueling the multimillion-pound trade in fake degrees.

What are fake diplomas?

Generally speaking, there are three categories of fake diplomas. The first category is typically a diploma that seems to be issued by an accredited institution, but the diploma is in fact produced illegally. The person who bought the document has never studied at the institution in question.

The second category comprises diplomas that are issued by accredited institutions, but the holder of the diploma has altered the information in the document, most commonly the grades.

The third and last category includes fake diplomas issued by diploma mills (fake universities). Diploma mills grant ‘degrees’ to people who pay for this service, but do not offer any educational training.

Fake diplomas can finance serious crime

The consequences of using fake diplomas are dire, ranging from wrongful job hires to illicit access to regulated professions. The latter can pose a danger to people and society, most obviously in the health, engineering and financial professions.

Just as worryingly, the income from sales of fake diplomas often finances serious crime. The court case in Norway following the terrorist attack on 22 July 2011 is a clear illustration. During the trial, the defendant admitted that he partly financed his terror operation by selling fake diplomas through the establishment of an internet site called Diplomaservice.com. Its revenue was nearly US$500,000, which was laundered in Antigua and subsequently used to finance his illicit activities.

How can we deal with fake diplomas?

In Norway, NOKUT is the Norwegian ENIC-NARIC center whose task it is to recognize foreign higher education qualifications in accordance with the Lisbon Recognition Convention. In order to combat the problem with fake diplomas, NOKUT has developed several tools, such as rigid documentation requirements and thorough quality assurance.

Verification is crucial and all diplomas are verified from certain countries, either by the issuing higher education institutions or by the ministry of education in that particular country. Equally important, NOKUT’s experienced credential evaluators are fluent in many languages and possess unique knowledge about various educational systems, enabling them to track logical inconsistencies in the applicants’ educational backgrounds.

Since 2003, 120 people have been reported to the police for using fake diplomas. This comes in addition to the number of cases that are reported by Norwegian higher education institutions and other competent authorities. NOKUT, as the ENIC-NARIC center, cooperates well with Norwegian law enforcement. Many of the reported cases have resulted in convictions, normally two to three weeks of unconditional imprisonment.

Most of these convictions are for regular falsified diplomas, but convictions for using documents from diploma mills are increasing.

The Council of Europe’s ETINED Platform

The ETINED Platform is a network of specialists appointed by member states of the Council of Europe and states party to the European Cultural Convention (50 states). The purpose of ETINED is to build a culture of ethics, transparency and integrity in and through education.

One aspect of this is combating fraud and corruption, including fraudulent qualifications. In this part of the project, cooperation between the ENIC and NARIC networks, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education(EQAR) have been established.

Suggestions for changes to the subsidiary text to the Lisbon Recognition Convention are being considered. An example is the establishment of a database with a list of criteria that students should look for when checking qualifications proposed by an institution.

FRAUDOC – An Erasmus+ project

All over Europe, significant efforts have been made to detect fraudulent documents. Recently, an Erasmus+ funded project, FRAUDOC, led by the Italian ENIC-NARIC CIMEA, launched guidelines on diploma mills and documents fraud for credential evaluators. The guidelines give an overview of the phenomenon, but they also provide tools and recommendations on how fraudulent documents can be detected.

The same group has also launched a handbook for credential evaluators with information about verification databases and other suggestions that should help credential evaluators in their daily work.

The future is digital

Routines developed by ENIC-NARIC centers are helpful for combating the use of fake documents. However, even in the world of recognition and credential evaluation it is true that the future is digital – soon, most diplomas will be digitally accessible in secure systems which will guarantee documents’ authenticity.

Norway has digitalized all diplomas that have been issued by Norwegian institutions, with a few exceptions, in an online portal called Vitnemålsportalen. Graduates can provide secure and time-limited access to their data to an employer through an electronic link. This procedure ensures the authenticity of the documents and is a safe and cost-effective way for an employer to verify someone’s credentials.

Other systems, at varying stages of development, are in operation in AustraliaBelgium (Flanders), ChinaEstoniaFranceIndiaMexicothe NetherlandsNew ZealandRomania, the Russian FederationSouth Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The network of EMREX aims to further connect and enhance student data portability and provide student data globally. EMREX empowers individuals to manage their student data and to transfer credentials securely to employers, institutions and more.

Fake diplomas will continue to pose a threat to higher education institutions, employers and recognition authorities in the years to come. However, recent initiatives involving digital diplomas in secure databases may be one of the most promising ways to combat false diplomas in the future.

stig

Stig Arne Skjerven is the Director of Foreign Education in NOKUT and President of the ENIC Bureau in the European Network of Information Centres.

lindab

Linda J Børresen is Senior Legal Advisor in NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). 

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

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 www.acei-global.org.

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Fighting Diploma Fraud & Protecting Credential Integrity with Technology

February 8th, 2019

blockchain

Diploma mills are here to stay as long as there is little or no regulation monitoring them and there is a demand for degrees which do not require classroom or online attendance, exams, research papers or thesis.  Fake degrees are purchased from online sites offering an à la carte menu of “products” at a fraction of the cost of an actual earned academic degree. Their websites can range from the tacky, cluttered with advertisements to the sophisticated boasting a litany of institutional accreditations with equally fraudulent accrediting entities. Individuals visiting these sites can select a degree of their choice in their preferred major from the menu and even select their graduation date.  They can order class rings, mugs, sweatshirts and other paraphernalia with the fake university’s emblem. At the strike of a few keys on the keyboard, and payment of fees with a credit card, they walk away with the promise of a Bachelor, Master, and even a Ph.D.  As employers post job openings requiring degrees, and in most cases, advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Ph.D., the absence of an earned credential has driven many to willingly seek a diploma mill or fall prey to sales schemes and tactics that lure the naïve and unsuspecting consumer to purchase a degree they were promised from what they assumed to be a prestigious, though non-existent, university.

Earlier this week, we came across a question on an online quorum where a counselor at a local community college here in California was asking about a “university” a student at his college was considering transferring to because, and I quote, “he could get a bachelor’s quickly.” The college counselor could not find any information on the so-called university that cited its physical address in the Downtown Los Angeles area.  A quick search on the Internet took me to the university’s website that was “under maintenance” and thanks to GooleMaps, found its campus to be a strip mall with a “For Lease” sign posted on the door. I warned the college counselor to advise his students against applying to this university as it was not regionally accredited and most likely a diploma mill.

And, just when we thought diploma mills are set up by nefarious entities, we recently learned that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had set up a fake university in Michigan to crack down on illicit operations allowing foreign citizens to stay in the U.S. illegally. The sting operation was to catch recruiters and others engaging in immigration fraud. Indictments were issued with charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit. Fighting fraud with fraud. To read more, click here

Clearly, there is a market for fake degrees. Where there is demand, there is supply. And it’s proven to be a very lucrative industry…a billion-dollar industry.

What is being done to protect against fraud when it comes to academic credentials?

Blockchain Platforms

1blockchain

We are beginning to hear about Blockchain technology being used as a platform to help combat against falsified diplomas and certificates. There are several companies offering Blockchain platform to address this issue. One that I read about recently is EchoLink Foundation that has designed the EKO Blockchain Platform with the goal to provide verified education, skill, and work experience information. To avoid tampering from third parties, EchoLink Foundation allows only approved educational, training, and other institutions access to enter their information. To read more, click here and for learn more about for more on how universities are adopting blockchain technology , click here.

There are many institutions and countries that have adopted digital platforms for the secure archival, verification and transmission of their academic credentials. Here’s a partial list of  countries that have sprung into action by using technology to fight against fraud and protect credential integrity:

Republic of Georgia

The Business and Technology University in Tbilisi, Georgia has implemented an educational credential verification system using the blockchain technology powered by Emercoin. To learn more, click here

Russia

We just learned that the Russian Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Education and Science, (Rosobrnadzor) will implement blockchain technology in the country’s main graduation examination. To learn more, click here

Caribbean Examination Council:

In November 2018, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) started distributing blockchain-based certificates to “24,000 shortlisted candidates” to ensure a faster verification process of educational credentials. To learn more, click here

South Africa

Fake degree from diploma mills is one problem, the other is falsification of academic documents from legitimate institutions. South Africa is taking steps to tackle fake degrees and its universities have the ability to verify qualifications through a fully-automated centralized online degree verification systems called MiE. To learn more, click here

Switzerland

In 2018, University of Basel started using blockchain technology to protect and verify academic credentials. It has partnered with the Center for Innovative Finance, a research group within the University of Basel which focuses on financial technology and another company called Proxeus. This partnership is intended to end reliance on traditional paper-transcripts and adopt a digital platform for the archiving and distribution of academic credentials. To learn more, click here

This is just a sample of countries and steps they’ve taken to protect against credential fraud. In future blogs, we will showcase other digital platforms set up by institutions, third party providers, and governments to protect against falsification of academic documents.

As technology progresses, so do the entities operating diploma mills. They are using sophisticated tools to reproduce believable documents. At the same time, institutions and some countries are taking measures to fight these mills by taking advantage of advances made in technology.

Is the blockchain platform for credential verification deemed effective? It’s too early to tell, but according to retired FBI Agent, Allen Ezell, “as long as everyone gets on board and participates, it may be practical towards the future. (Similar to a chain link fence, with electronic record keeping.) Also, keeping out just one rogue entity will also keep the ‘chain’ trustworthy.”

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

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 www.acei-global.org.

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10 Higher Education Trends for 2019

January 11th, 2019

2019_trends

As we start the New Year, we are curious as to what 2019 has in store for higher education. We are already hearing about trends that will be influencing higher education this year and would like to share some of them with you.

In a recent piece posted on Forbes, Anant Agrawal, CEO of edX (www.edx.org), an online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT, and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT states: “In 2018 we discussed the increasing value of soft skills; how the skills transformation is affecting the way we work; and the rise of the non-linear career path. These topics merely scratched the surface of the changes we’re seeing in education and in the workplace, which we’ll continue to debate in 2019.” Professor Agrawal, suggests we keep an eye on the following three trends this year:

  • Education emphasizing hybrid skills – higher education degrees creating flexible and customizable credential offerings rather than single subject major studies over a course of four years.
  • Education goes omnichannel – combining in-person with on-line experiences.
  • Education underscoring soft skills remains critical – as technology advances, soft skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, ability to make quick decisions based on a set of information will become even more critical.

Danny Iny, the author of “Leveraged Learning“ and CEO of the online business education company Mirasee, also sees the emergence of hybridized degree programs and the importance of developing soft skills as AI takes over hard skills. Iny cites the following trends:

  • Education will become learner and more outcomes-driven
  • Shift toward lifelong “just in time” learning – employees accessing training just in time/when needed rather than “frontloading a career’s worth of training into a four-year program”
  • Businesses will take on a lion’s share of the training
  • Experts from various fields will step up to provide the required on-going education

For more on Iny’s projections, click here

And, we cannot forget the continued advances and trends expected in e-learning. In her January 1, 2019 piece on the blog Model e-Learning, Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer, cites the following trends in the world of e-learning:

  • Augmented Reality (adds to the read world), Virtual Reality (replaces the real world), and Mixed Reality (adds virtual elements to the real world that behave as if they truly belong) – by incorporating these 3 technologies, e-learning will become highly immersive. To learn more about these 3 technologies, click here.
  • Open Systems and Open Pedagogy – Through open systems, faculty can collaborate to develop new curriculum and even receive input from students. And, with open pedagogy they can use open technologies to help streamline the process.
  • Blockchain – We’ve heard this term used before mostly as it related to Bitcoin, but it is now being used for education as a secure digital ledger.

We would like to hear from you. What trends do you see for education in 2019? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Links:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/anantagarwal/2019/01/02/three-education-trends-that-will-revolutionize-the-workplace-in-2019/#1aa06c7a6363

https://www.georgetownmortgagebank.com/10-higher-education-trends-to-watch-for-in-2019/

https://modelelearning.com/2019/01/01/three-elearning-and-higher-education-trends-for-2019/

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

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 www.acei-global.org.

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China: Taking steps to ensure academic document legitimacy

Cooperative Agreement between CDGDC and ACEI

April 18, 2013

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According to a recent IIE Open Door report “International Student enrollment increased by 5% in 2010/11, led by strong increase in students from China.” The report cites a 23% increase in the number of Chinese students of which 43% are studying at the undergraduate level.

According to the US Department of Commerce, international student contributes more than $21 billion to the US economy, through their expenditures on tuition, living expenses such as room and board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance and covering the financial cost of their accompanying family members.

In the same breath, a 2010 report published by Zinch states that in China “the cultural norm is that there is no harm in creating false documents.” As credential evaluation professionals, we recognize the importance of supporting the U.S. position as the number one destination for international students and are always striving to find ways we can help bolster and improve our service to complement the needs of the U.S. institutions requiring international transcript evaluations. We are also cognizant that doing our due diligence by ensuring the legitimacy of documents is, first and foremost, an integral component of evaluating academic credentials.

One step we have taken to address the growing number of Chinese student applications for college/university admission and even professional licensing is through our cooperation with the China Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Center (CDGDC) in Beijing. CDGDC is the legal entity, authorized by the government in China that provides verification of degrees, certificates, diplomas and other related educational document conferred by Chinese colleges and universities as well as secondary credentials.

I had the good fortune of being introduced to the CDGDC Director, Mr. Wang, through our contact Mr. Chenguan (Alex) Lu with EducationUSA in Beijing. Through this introduction, I was able to secure a meeting in San Francisco on April 14, 2013 with Mr. Wang and a delegation from CDGDC where we signed the Cooperative Agreement between our two organizations to carry out comparative studies of Sino-U.S. degrees and other educational credentials through verification and evaluation.

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For the past two years, ACEI has been referring its Chinese students seeking an evaluation of their academic credentials to the CDGDC for document verification. By signing the Cooperative Agreement, ACEI will continue to use CGDCD’s educational credential verification services in its educational evaluation work. Chinese applicants are advised to contact the CDGDC and request the verification of their academic transcripts, certificates, diplomas and/or degrees. CDGDC in turn submits its verification directly to ACEI certifying the legitimacy of the academic documents. The verification of academic documents from China will further ensure that the evaluations prepared by ACEI are based on educational documents that have been properly vetted by a legal entity.

We can continue to be the number one destination for international students and we can do so without loosening our requirements and lowering our standards.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

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Democratizing Higher Education: The Rapidly Changing Face of Online Learning

November 08, 2012

MSc ULOE Wordle

Imagine a world in which the best possible quality in higher education is available to all students, even those in the most remote parts of the planet, and you enter the world of MOOCs. There certainly has been a very intense buzz lately about the efficacy and future potential of MOOCs as the new wave in higher education reform. For those that don’t already know the moniker, MOCCs are “massive open online courses” offered by and in conjunction with some of the highest ranking, most elite universities in the U.S. The rapid rise of these online courses does not diminish the importance of institutions of higher learning, but it surely has begun to shake things up.

Up until now we characterized online learning as “non-traditional” however, there is a paradigm shift happening, as the undemocratic costs of higher learning have reached the breaking point. MOOCs offer a rapidly growing alternative. The trend is overwhelmingly gaining popularity as a way to level the playing field in a world where elite universities have the monopoly on the highest quality education at equally exorbitant prices.

And this is where it gets interesting. Many of the most respected and esteemed universities in the U.S. such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, U.C. Berkley and numerous others are involved in collaborative programs with developers to create new web-based interactive learning studies taught by award-winning professors and professionals at top levels in their respective fields. In addition, all of these courses are offered for free or a nominal fraction of the price. Suddenly, the highest quality of education becomes available to students around the globe. With the ability to source free online resources and open-sourced textbooks the price falls even further.

Want credits and a college degree?

Now that we understand the high points of MOOCs we can move onto the controversy surrounding online learning, which has been founded on the fact that although these courses teach an exceptionally high skill set, they do not push students any closer to an academic credential as they receive no official credits for course completion. But, things are changing. The next wave of learning-to- credits is being explored by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Richard DeMillo who is trying to put together a massive, open online seminar in conjunction with other universities, which will actually offer acceptable credits.

An interesting article on MOOCs appeared in September of this year on the website The Chronicle of Higher Education. In it the author Kevin Carey predicted that,”… Some accredited colleges—don’t forget, there are thousands of them—will start accepting MOOC certificates as transfer credit. They’ll see it as a tool for marketing and building enrollment. This is already starting to happen. The nonprofit Saylor Foundation recently struck a deal whereby students completing its free online courses can, for a small fee, take exams to earn credit at Excelsior College, a regionally accredited nonprofit online institution.”

It is interesting to note that Mr. Carey serves as the director of the education-policy program at the New America Foundation, a non-profit public policy institute, which describes itself as,“…New America emphasizes work that is responsive to the changing conditions and problems of our 21st Century information-age economy — an era shaped by transforming innovation and wealth creation, but also by shortened job tenures, longer life spans, mobile capital, financial imbalances and rising inequality.”

Providers such as edX, Coursera, Udacity, Class2Go, Khan Academy and Udemy are exploring how to translate students completed courses into campus credits, by using their earned MOOC credits as a substitute for Advanced Placement. There is also the idea that eventually these online courses will work their way into acceptable credits at universities, which will go towards a final degree. Not unlike the programs in place for transfer credits.

Who makes the money?

And let us not forget that people like profits! But what is fascinating here is that some of the burgeoning startup MOOC providers see eventual profits through creating a database of students who have taken online courses and helping them to get jobs by selling these lists of qualified students to recruiters in their specific geographical areas. Take an MIT course from your home computer in Mumbai and come away with the technical expertise needed to get a job right around the corner!

Connecting directly to these new provider platforms is the very idea that quality education is the most important way to enrich entire communities and to ensure that everyone prospers. This is really nothing new, though it seems to have been pushed to the back of the file drawer. An interesting paper appeared back in March of 2010 published by The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government/ University At Albany –State University of New York, titled A New Paradigm for Economic Development: How Higher Education Institutions Are Working to Revitalize Their Regional and State Economies, by David F. Shaffer and David J. Wright. In it they make the very clear point that,”…The twenty-first century paradigm, in contrast, is shifting toward putting knowledge first. For states, increasingly, that means connecting their higher education systems more closely to their economic development strategies.” For the entire paper see: http://www.rockinst.org/pdf/education/2010-03-18-A_New_Paradigm.pdf

What about quality?

While there is no substitute for the valuable teacher-student interaction, many online courses have begun to make use of social platforms, which allow students to have real time chats, discussion boards, and the ability to set up meetings and join groups in their own communities. This might be one way to alleviate the isolation of online learning.

Many of these institutions have “virtual office hours” and specific online forums that enable students to ask and answer thought provoking questions. Compare this to the normal stadium seating-400 student- classrooms, where not everyone is able to ask a question and not everyone is able to follow at the same pace. The structure of these new online courses offered in multiple languages, allow accessibility to information, which is ever available and can always be replayed until it is understood. In addition, many of these courses use teaching assistants to monitor the various discussion boards as well.

Enter Digital Badges.

And finally a system is being developed in which electronic images or Badges would be earned for completed courses of study, which could follow students throughout their lifetimes, be displayed on various digital forums and used for college applications and later as résumés. These would actually serve as portals of information that students can use providing opportunities based on achievements and competency accrued in “earning their badges.” With companies such as Disney-Pixar, Intel and NASA, Carnegie Mellon and the Smithsonian– to name a few, currently working to develop digital badges, there is a good chance that securely acknowledging and crediting learning achievement is just around the corner.

The badges are going to be loaded with metadata which will include; why the badge was awarded, the skill or achievement it carries and which school or institution awarded it, the teacher who verified the badge, and even the score the student received on the final exam. The badges will carry the power to legitimize learning, which is taking place online, all the time, all over the world. It reinforces the fact that collaborative learning in the classroom and especially online, can be a life long pursuit, and there is no turning back the clock.

For more discussions about the changing nature of higher education check out: http://edfuture.net/blog1/course-topics/

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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Adversity and Ingenuity: Partners in Creation

October 11, 2012

Human beings have shown amazing ingenuity in fashioning musical instruments, often in less than ideal conditions. Many of these instruments were conceived and designed by people at the bottom of the social spectrum, most of whom were slaves in the Americas. Here are four examples that demonstrate amazing creativity by people who managed to make very distinctive music:

1) Cuba: Claves
The claves, or rounded hardwood sticks, were fashioned from pegs used by slave shipbuilders in Havana and Matanzas. The rapacious Spanish had built so many ships to ferry trade (and slaves) in Seville that their forests were depleted. So they moved the shipbuilding to Havana, where the abundant forests offered superior hardwood. Hardwood supplies guaranteed ample ship production, and during construction pegs from Havana’s forests were used fasten the boat parts together (nails would have rusted and not been strong enough anyway).
Some smart slave workers picked up some pegs, hit them together, and there was the magic sound that has helped fuel the percussion section of great tropical Latin orchestras ever since. All this from discarded scraps left on the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Trinidad and Tobago: Steel Drums

A similar phenomenon occurred in Trinidad and Tobago, where the big oil companies would discard large oil drums and let them rust. Sometimes the groups were named after the oil companies; a famous pan orchestra was called the Esso Steel Orchestra.
But the genesis of steel pans actually started long before the industrial revolution mandated the need for and production and distribution of oil. During the French Revolution of 1789–according to Wikipedia’s entry on steel pans–slaves working for French planters in Haiti and Martinique emigrated to Trinidad, before the British arrived. The West African slaves were not allowed to participate in Carnival, so they created their own parallel carnival festival, called canboulay. They used bamboo and other wooden sticks, beating on frying pans, trash can lids or whatever they could find. In 1880 percussion music was banned by the British colonial authorities.
Later, during the 1930s, however, finding discarded oil drums plentiful and cheap, black Trinidadians started using those. Steel bands became famous, a popular Carnival staple, and a magnet for tourists as well.
What is amazing here is that the instrument they crafted from a crude, dirty oil barrel became such a refined and sophisticated instrument. These instruments could play a three octave chromatic western scale. Today steel bands play music by Miles Davis, Beethoven, Brubeck, and Bach. I have recordings of both Handel’s and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, performed by a large orchestra of different-sized drums.
Whoever would have thought scrap metal could produce such a magical sound, one used in carnival celebrations ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) Brazil: Berimbau

The distinctively Brazilian berimbau actually descended from archers’ bows used by the pygmy hunter-gathers in Eastern Congo. When slaves went from Angola and Congo to Brazil, they re-fashioned these hunter’s bows, attaching a gourd and enlarging them. It is a most distinctive twang, and has been featured in northeastern Brazilian music, in capoeira, the martial arts dance, and the great Baden Powell and poet Vinicius de Moraes wrote a beautiful and famous song named after it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Brazil: Forró: Triangle
I don’t know if the Brazilians in northeastern Brazil knew about the use of the triangle in European orchestras or as an instrument used to summon cowboys to dinner in western movies, but after the British started building railways in the 19th century, they left a lot of scrap iron around. Some enslaved blacksmith (Brazil only ended slavery in 1888, later than any other country) took some of this scrap metal, and beat it, shaped it, tempered and tuned it. The triangle has been used in Brazil ever since, especially in Pernambuco state, forming 1/3 of the rhythm section found in local bands (the other two instruments are the sanfona, or button accordion, and the surdu, or large drum).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are just four examples of human ingenuity applied to music. There are countless other equally imaginative and remarkable examples in the other arts and sciences. It’s a phenomenon that distinguishes us homo sapiens and an occasion to celebrate our creative intelligence and endless imaginations.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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1, 2, 3: Delivering information to students around the world

January 20, 2012

Tanzanian Classroom

Billy Wilder used film as a vehicle for raising social awareness in the hilariously acerbic comedy, “One, Two, Three” which took place in Post-War Berlin. Art imitates life full tilt here as the Germans erected the Berlin Wall during filming. Wilder was a bit daring for this time period of extreme social unrest and change on the heels of WWII. Exactly! Making a strong social statement that has the power and potential to reach people and provoke heart-felt reactions is to say the least difficult. It is uncomfortable to see the extreme suffering and inequality in the world 24/7. Where once people could feign innocence by pleading that they had no idea what was going on that is hardly the reality today. In the film, James Cagney’s heel-clicking male secretary Schlemmer, responds to Cagney’s question, “Just between us Schlemmer, what did you do during the war?” Schlemmer responds, “..I had no idea what was going on above ground…”

As an art form, film is an extremely powerful media, and used in a certain way, it has the ability to reach into our hearts and connect us to the very things inside ourselves that can be energized to promote social justice and change. Social media in general and the availability of film on the Internet is an exciting, vital and instantaneous result of the digital media revolution. It offers a chance to address one of the biggest dilemmas facing education; how can we deliver information on an equal and just level to all students around the world, around countries, states, cities a villages? How can we engage students and keep them excited and enthusiastic about learning? The way I see it is not quite as simple as 1, 2, 3, but that might be a good device with which to get started.

1. Bring History into the Present

A beautiful example of this was the newly released Black Power Mixtape a fascinating and revealing documentary of the Black Power Movement in America, from 1967-1975. The footage was created by Swedish journalists and edited together after having been recently found in the basement of a Swedish television station.

The history of that seminal movement may be new to some, but the subject matter is not. Martin Luther King Jr. day just passed, and it is still hard to reconcile the fact that racial and gender discrimination are both sadly alive and well. On a recent show on KPFK’s Democracy Now, Amy Goodman held a discussion on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. day to discuss the mass Incarceration of Black Americans. She quoted Michelle Alexander who revealed a startling fact, “…there are more African Americans percentage-wise imprisoned in the United States, more black people, than were at the height of apartheid South Africa.” How could I not know this fact?

I grew up in California, and was extremely fortunate to receive the best possible education while attending public school. Mind you, it was in Beverly Hills, so that sort of removes it from comparison to any other public educational institutions. My first year in High School, 1970, was the first year of busing for the school. In my high school, of course it was one-way busing. I’ll explain. Busing, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, was the forced busing of students from one part a city to another, as a means to de-segregate schools, and was a direct result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All over America the cities themselves were and to a great degree, and still are, racially segregated. School districts lines were intentionally created to segregate schools and were often, (see Jim Crow laws) conscious efforts to send black and in Los Angeles, Mexican children, to inferior schools. But they did not “bus” the wealthier white kids to the schools in the poorer communities of color, all that way across town. We never talked about that as students; we just went on about our integrated lives while taking courses such as “Black Studies” and “Native American Studies.”

I don’t remember which class it was in, but we were shown the 1955 film Nacht und Nebel (“Night and Fog)” by Alain Resnais. It was an absolutely horrifying experience as a documentary short film about the horrors of the Nazi Concentration Camps. I never forgot those two words.

2.Global Partnership in Technology

If the goal is to educate, truly, and disseminate knowledge and history so relevant to our world today, why not use the technology so readily available, to bring education to everyone? Using digital technology, we have a chance to bring education infused with energy and excitement to, just about everyone! Give students of all ages a chance to learn by doing, and by example. Use film and digital video to break down the inequality in education that exists not only in 3rd world villages, but also in some of the wealthiest communities in the leading countries of the world. A very inspiring and successful example of this is The Bridgeit Program in Tanzania. Educational video content is available via mobile technology to 150 rural primary schools in Tanzania. Classrooms have large computer monitors and from mobile phones, teachers can select from a wide variety of lessons, some of them tailored to fit their local area and address local issues. Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, the Vodacom Foundation, and the Pearson Foundations are in partnership with the International Youth Foundation and the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, to make this advanced technology possible. There you go. If that can happen in Tanzania, there is no reason whatsoever that cannot happen everywhere. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eif2UKRNIOg

3. Get Corporations Involved

Now that we have the media attention, why not get creative and come up with ways that global corporations might participate, and clean up their image a bit? The International Youth Foundation has partnered again with, believe it or not, Starbucks TM. Starbucks TM has created The Starbucks TM Youth Action Grants Program, which makes funding available with grants of approx. $10,000 each. These grants directly support the efforts of young people around the world, enabling and encouraging them to become innovators and increase their skills in order to improve their lives, communities and expand their ability to make a difference on a global scale. Take Plan B, Kenya, one of the 2011 grant recipients. They are using video art to energize active interest among students on college campuses in Kenya, surrounding the issues in the 2012 elections. http://www.canthingsgetbetter.org/

Perhaps the joy and delight I have found in learning new things has its basis in my early educational years. The excitement of traveling the highways of our minds, finding ourselves stimulated and enriched while on a voyage of discovery–– is a gift that should be given to all children, to people of all ages and all walks of life. Only by becoming fully aware can we hope to be engaged participants in our own lives and in the world. What a wonderful thing to help children find their own path, and have the courage and self-esteem to walk on it. How different the world would look.

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” ~Malcolm Forbes

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jwndesign@me.com

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