Monthly Archives: May 2013

EU Commission’s propositions for the financial services sector

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The European Commission has recently published its draft proposals for further transparency and comparability of financial services, as it aims to simplify the process for the switching of accounts among its EU member states. It also wants to enhance accessibility to basic bank accounts – for the benefit of European citizens. The proposed directive posits that all banking service providers should provide their consumers with information document(s) listing their services and they are being obliged to disclose their costs.

The EU Commission maintained that all the financial documentation may be drafted using standardised terminology and formats in order to facilitate comparison across different jurisdictions. In addition, this EU proposal requires that every European member state should have at least one independent price comparison web site which gathers and disseminates all the relevant information (including fees and charges) which may be incurred by customers.

The Commission advocated that its proposal will facilitate the process for customers who may wish to switch their bank accounts. This directive suggests that the financial service providers themselves will have to deal with all the steps involved in the switch. It stipulates that the payment service providers must complete this procedure within 15 days (30 days if customer change their accounts in different EU countries). Interestingly, this service must be provided free of charge.

The EU Commission came up with “legally binding measures on payment accounts”. Arguably, with such a directive, the Commission will strengthen its single market. At the same time, the European consumer will be presented with competitive offers and lower costs for their banking services. It is anticipated that the EU bloc’s financial services industry will benefit from increased mobility of clients (including cross-border), with reduced barriers to entry.

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Contemporary Pedagogical Philosophies

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself” (Dewey, 1897).

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Introduction

Education equips individuals with the right skills, substantive knowledge and competences to pursue their own goals. It enables them to become an integral part of the community as fully-fledged, autonomous citizens. In its broadest sense, education is a means of “social continuity of life” (Dewey, 1916:3). Even Plato in ‘the republic’ inquires about morality and the good life. He posits that human beings should be active within their community. The Greek philosopher maintained that every aspect of our life creates ‘harmonious people’. He went on to say that morals and ethics are part of an even balance of wisdom, courage, and restraint.

The main philosophical thoughts and the theoretical underpinnings of education are important social domains which have attracted the interest of many philosophers for thousands of years. For instance, Socrates floated his idea that knowledge is a matter of recollection, not of learning, observation or study (Dillon, 2004). Pertinent literature review suggests that education is a transmission of knowledge. Education fosters enquiry and reasoning skills that are conducive to the development of autonomy (Phillips, 2009). The question of learning and how the educative systems work relate to individual capacities and potentialities. Of course, the processes (and stages) of human development are shaped by many factors. Individuals experience different environmental contexts and settings. Their home country also possesses its own features, which often transcend from norms, traditions and cultures. The institutions of education should adapt their curricula to align themselves to the particular social fabric. Consequentially, the background of students as well as their educational environments (in which they are placed) ought to be carefully considered. For instance, Dewey advocated that human beings should be categorised into classes. He compared individuals to organisms situated in a biological and social environment, where problems are constantly emerging, forcing the individual to reflect and act, and then learn (Reed, and Widger, 2008).

Individuals can improve upon their existing knowledge as they reflect upon their actions, whether they are at school or in their work phase. Students are individuals with their own trails of growth. Teachers and employers are there to guide and facilitate this growth. The educators’ duties and responsibilities are to help in the academic (and non-curriculum) development of students in their learning journey. Dewey’s educational theories suggest that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place (Dewey, 1916). In addition, the author believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with their curriculum.Essentially, Dewey suggested that all students should be given the opportunity to take part in their own learning experience. Apparently, this approach focuses on the needs of students, rather than of all those involved in the educational process. The discourse revolving around student-centred pedagogy was also replicated in subsequent years by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. This perspective has many implications for the design of courses. In the student-oriented approach, the educator adapts to the pupils’ needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles.

Educators use more than one theory of teaching as they may be capable of wearing different hats with their students. They act as students’ philosophers, advisers, counsellors, motivators, demonstrators, curriculum planners, evaluators and the list goes on. Bloom (1956) has classified three types of objectives: Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor. Similarly, Tolman (1951) put forth the notion that there are three parts to learning which work together as a gestalt. These are the “significant” goals of behaviour, the “sign” or the signal for action, and “means-end relations” which were internal processes and relationships. The author believed that  learning is an accumulation of these sign gestalts, and that they can be configured into cognitive maps. The input from the environment is on-going, and it influences behaviour, in that it causes certain gestalts to be selected or not. In this sense, learning is unique to each and every individual.

Beyond the notions of behaviourism, constructivism and the relevant theories and styles, the literature review in this field of study suggests that learning is a process of active engagement as an individual and in social contexts. Recently, the latest shift in educational discourse had been the distancing away from the conception of “learner as a sponge” (Maillet and Maisonneuve, 2011) toward an image of learner as an active construct. Although Dewey reminded us that learners were not empty vessels, education in many jurisdictions was usually based on teacher-centred approaches (Cuban, 1993). Evidently, there was an erroneous assumption that if teachers speak clearly and students are motivated, learning will be successful. When the students do not learn, the logic is that they are not paying attention, or they do not care. These conceptions may have been grounded in a theory of learning that focused on behaviour. Behavioural-learning theorists maintained that if teachers acted in a certain manner, students will react in particular ways. Central to this notion of behaviourism was the idea of conditioning, where the individuals are trained to respond to stimuli. Eventually, the “cognitive revolution” in psychology put the mind back into the learning process (Miller, 1956).

Behavioural psychology (based on factual and procedural rules) has given way to cognitive psychology (based on models for making sense of real life experiences (Lesh and Lamon 1992:18). Kandel and Hawkins (1992) maintained that the brain actively seeks new stimuli in the environment from which to learn and that the mind changes through use. Learning changes the structure of the brain (Bransford et al., 2000). Research suggests that young learners from a tender age – make sense of the world by actively creating meaning while they are reading texts. They construct their perceptions of social reality by interacting with their surrounding environment, or simply by talking to their peers. Even if students are quietly observing their teacher, they can be actively engaged in a process of active learning and understanding. This cognitive turn in psychology is often referred to as the constructivist approach to learning.

 

Teaching Philosophies

Overall, a statement of teaching philosophy should provide a personal portrait of the writer’s view of teaching. The narrative description of one’s conception of teaching as well’s as one’s rationale and justification for how one teaches and why, may be expressed in a variety of ways (Lyons, 1998). The overarching question in a statement of teaching philosophy is: Why am I teaching? Other relevant questions which follow are: What are my teaching goals and objectives? What is the student-teacher relationship which I strive to achieve? What behavioural methods will I use? What motivates me to enhance my knowledge about the subject I am teaching? What values do I impart to my students? How do I make sure that I have taught my students successfully? What code of ethics guide me?

One of the hallmarks of a teaching philosophy is its individuality. Ideally, this personal statement should be of a reflective nature in its content. A teaching philosophy is all about a vivid portrait of an educator who is motivated about teaching practices and committed to career advancement. The act of taking time to re-consider one’s goals, actions and vision provides an opportunity for self-development. The main components of teaching philosophies are descriptions of how educators think learning occurs, or how they think they can possibly intervene in their students’ learning process. Of course, educators set goals for their students. They may also decide to plan how to implement them. For some purposes, including a section on one’s personal growth as a teacher is also important for self-development. This reflective component explains how one educator has grown in the teaching profession over the years. It illustrates what challenges exist at present as it identifies what long term goals are projected for the future. Whilst writing this section, the educator revisits one’s concepts and methodologies. This exercise can turn out to be stimulating as the educator revises the old syllabi and the instructional resources. It goes without saying that the educator will need to remain abreast with the latest academic and research findings in his / her field of studies. It is in the educators’ self-interest to communicate and collaborate with their peers. There is scope for lecturers to work together with other colleagues. They are often encouraged to participate in workshops to share knowledge about best practices as well as resources. 

In a similar vein, the teaching philosophy should be communicated to the students as it is in their interest to know what is required from them and why (see Cerbin, 1996). Given this information, students are triggered to engage in a more productive manner in their learning journey. It is also likely that students learn much better and succeed in their course. Some empirical studies have shown that appropriate communication with students helps to increase their retention (Thomas, 2009; Braskamp and Ory, 1994). Nowadays, many educators are implicitly exhibiting their teaching philosophies as these are often evidenced to students through syllabi, assignments, approaches to teaching and learning, classroom environment and student –teacher relationships (Thiessen, 2012) The goal of sharing a statement of teaching philosophy is to value and respect students. One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil (Nietzsche, 1891).

 

Conclusion

Literature review has revealed that many teachers are following the theories and principles which were discussed here. The theories I have described here have provided me with a good insight to develop and articulate my teaching philosophy. This contribution offers a good opportunity to rethink about your teaching practice. I believe that the best educators are the ones who use and create, adopt (or reject) theories of learning and teaching. These theories and principles are derived from many years of experience and careful inquiry as they are tested in class-room settings, critiqued by colleagues and continuously emerge from empirical findings and theoretical underpinnings.

 

“Education, therefore, must begin with a psychological insight into the child’s capacities, interests, and habits. It must be controlled at every point by reference to these same considerations. These powers, interests, and habits must be continually interpreted – we must know what they mean. They must be translated into terms of their social equivalents – into terms of what they are capable of in the way of social” (Dewey, 1897). 

 

References

Bloom, B.S. (1956) “Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals” Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York, Longmans, Green.

Bransford, J., A. Brown, and R. Cocking, eds. (2000) “How people learn: Brain, mind,experience, and school”. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Braskamp, L.A., and Ory, J.C. (1994) “Assessing Faculty Work: Enhancing Individual and Institutional Performance”. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Francisco.

Cerbin, W. (1996) “Inventing a new genre” The course portfolio at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse. In Making Teaching Community Property: A Menu for Peer Collaboration and Peer Review, ed. P. Hutchings. Washington, DC: American Association of Higher Education.

Cuban, L. (1993) “How teachers taught: Constancy and change in American classrooms 1890–1990”. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dewey, J. (1897) “My Pedagogic Creed”. Url: http://dewey.pragmatism.org/creed.htm accessed on the 25th April 2013.

Dewey, J. (1916) “Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education”. Url: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/852/852-h/852-h.htm accessed on the 25th April 2013.

Dewey, J. (1938) “Experience and Education”. Url: http://www.schoolofeducators.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/EXPERIENCE-EDUCATION-JOHN-DEWEY.pdf accessed on the 25th April 2013.

Dillon, A (2004) Education in Plato’s Republic Url: http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/submitted/dillon/education_plato_republic.html accessed on the 5th May 2013.

Kandel, E.R. and Hawkins, R.D. (1992) “The biological basis of learning and individuality.” Scientific American 267.3, pp.78-86.

Lyons, N. (1998) “With Portfolio in Hand: Validating the New Teacher Professionalism”. Teachers College Press, New York.

Maillet, B. and Maisonneuve, H. (2011) “Long-life learning for medical specialists doctors in Europe”. CME, DPC and qualification. Presse médicale (Paris, France: 1983), 40(4 Pt 1), 357.

Nietzsche (1891) “Decadence, and Regeneration in France (1891-95)” In Forth, C.E. (1993). Journal of the History of Ideas, 54:1 pp97-117.

Phillips, D.C., (2009) “Philosophy of Education”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Url: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2009/entries/education-philosophy/ accessed on the 2nd May 2013.

Plato. The Republic. 2nd ed. Trans. Desmond Lee (1987) Penguin Books, New York.

Reed, D.  and Widger, D. (2008) “Democracy and Education” by John Dewey. Url: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/852/852-h/852-h.htm accessed on the 4th May 2013.

Thiessen, D. (2012)”Classroom-based teacher.” Early Professional Development for Teachers 317.

Thomas, L. (2009) “Improving student retention in higher education”. AUR, 9.

Tolman, E. C. (1951) “Behaviour and psychological man: essays in motivation and learning”. Berkeley, Univ. of California Press.

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EU pledges financial support to SMEs

No longer are smaller businesses considered as reactive and peripheral forces in terms of innovation, employment and productivity.SMEs prevail in their contribution to the GDP of the world economies. The countries with a high percentage of SMEs tend to exhibit a relatively equal distribution of income. Therefore, SMEs may cause higher social stability in their local environmental setting. There are more than ninety-nine per cent of all businesses worldwide which are SMEs with less than 250 members of staff. Within the European Union there are more than 19 million SMEs, which provide employment for more than 74 million citizens. In aggregate, they are providing two out of three of the private sector jobs of the EU labour market. What might possibly be even more intriguing is that nine out of ten SMEs are actually micro-enterprises with less than 10 employees.

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It may be argued that SMEs are the true back-bone of the European economy, as they are responsible for wealth and economic growth, along with their key role in innovation, research and development. The perceived importance of SMEs in Europe is reiterated at the political level as well. For instance, in a recent communication, the European Union’s Enterprise and Industry Division has reiterated the importance of improving access to finance for SMEs. It is hoped that the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) will drive the recovery in Europe. On the 2nd May the European Commission / European Investment Bank (EIB) joint report maintained that their support for SMEs has reached €13 billion in 2012. In addition, the Commission-funded guarantees have helped to mobilise loans worth more than €13 billion, boosting nearly 220,000 small businesses across Europe. This latest report covers the results of the current funding schemes as well as the new generation of financial instruments for SMEs. It transpired that the financial resources for SMEs were significantly enhanced through the €10 billion increase in the EIB’s capital.

During a meeting of the SME Finance Forum, on the eve of an Informal Competitiveness Council on the 2nd and 3rd of May in Dublin, the European Commission launched a new single online portal on all EU financial instruments (for SMEs) and an information guide to promote SMEs’ stock listings. The Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship held that access to finance of SMEs remains difficult and it is still one of the main reasons for the current economic downturn. Therefore, EU authorities will boost loan guarantees to SMEs under the new COSME programme (as from 2014). Every euro dedicated to guarantees will possibly have the power to stimulate 30 euros in bank loans.  Almost 220,000 SMEs profited from the Commission’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) programme. CIP was able to stimulate more than €15 billion of financing for SMEs, so far. With a budget of €1.1 billion (CIP) has helped to mobilise over €13 billion of loans and €2.3 billion of venture capital for SMEs across Europe. Under its SME guarantee facility, CIP has helped nearly 220,000 SMEs to access loans. These loan guarantees are used where the individual entrepreneur or the small enterprises do not have sufficient collateral. In many cases, banks will not provide them with a loan (debt financing).

More than 90% of the beneficiaries of loan guarantees are micro-enterprises, with less than 10 employees. Such enterprises struggle to raise their capital. They find themselves in an equity gap, where it is very difficult to acquire finance to operate efficiently. Although banks are key providers of finance for most small firms through the provision of loans, unsecured bank finance is very limited. Therefore, the SMEs’s growth into viable investment opportunities may be severely restricted. Cashflow-based lending is relatively rare and growing businesses rarely have unused security available. Despite the changing debt market, one of the main reasons why small businesses fail to get the debt finance they need; is their inability to provide adequate collateral. Even small businesses with high growth potential can experience difficulty in raising relatively modest amounts of risk capital, which is inevitably required to fund their ambitions for growth. Moreover, the external forces and potential threats in the business environment may impact harder on the small businesses than on the larger corporations. For instance, changes in government regulations, tax laws, labour legislation and interest rates may usually affect a greater percentage of expenses for the smaller businesses than they do for their larger counterparts.

Europe is responding to the contentious issues facing SMEs by providing a mix of flexible financial instruments under programmes such as the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), Progress Microfinance, the Risk Sharing Instrument (FP7), EIB loans and Structural Funds.

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Leveraging Organisational Performance through ‘Shared Value’ Propositions

Many successful businesses are forging strategic alliances in their value chain in order to run their businesses profitably. They also promote the right conditions of employment, where they can. Arguably, several businesses are doing well by doing good as they create shared value opportunities in their supply chain. At the same time, they are instrumental in improving the lives of their suppliers. They do this as they want to enhance the quality and attributes of their products, which are ultimately delivered to customers and end consumers.

Nestlé, Google, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, Unilever, and Wal-Mart are some of the multinational organisations who have somewhat embraced the ‘shared value’ approach. These successful global businesses have shown that they are capable of creating value for shareholders as well as for society in general. In many cases they are building partnership and collaborative agreements with external stakeholders (including suppliers) hailing from different markets. Evidently, these businesses are reconceiving their products as they are taking a broad view of their purchasing and procurement and on production activities. Several multi-national organisations are looking beyond their short-term profits for shareholders. They are also looking after their other marketplace stakeholders. Many multinational organisations are redefining productivity in the value chain and enabling local cluster developments to mitigate risks, boost productivity and competitiveness.

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Two Case Studies:

#1 Nestlé

Nestlé’s business principles incorporate the 10 United Nations Global Compact Principles on human rights, labour, the environment and corruption. It transpires that Nestlé is an active member of the Compact’s Working Groups and Initiatives. ‘Creating shared value’ has become an integral strategy of how Nestlé does its business. In a nutshell, this approach is focusing on stakeholder engagement as well as environmental sustainability. Nestlé maintains that it complies with international regulatory laws and acceptable codes of conduct, as it improves its company’s operations. Yet, at the same time it is nurturing its suppliers’ (the farmers’ in the developing countries) talents. Nestlé has revisited its numerous processes and its value chain activities. Each stage of the production process, from the supply chain to transforming resources adds value to the overall end product, for the benefit of the company itself. Nestlé sources its materials from thousands of farms; many of them are situated in poorer rural regions of the world. Nestlé provide training to their supplies  in order to encourage sustainable production whilst protecting their procurement, standards and quality of their raw materials. This brings positive, long-term impacts on the local economy. At the same time, the suppliers are running profitable farms, as they are offering their children a better education. Moreover, both Nestlé and the suppliers are committed to protecting their natural environmental resources for their long term sustainability. In their corporate site, Nestlé indicate that their key performance indicators for responsible sourcing include;

  • 89.5% of Nestlé‘s suppliers comply with the brand’s Supplier Code.
  • Nestlé’s sources 11% of its cocoa through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan, where they have trained more than 27,000 farmers and distributed more than 1,000,000 high-yield, disease-resistant cocoa plantlets.
  • Nestlé helped 14 cocoa cooperatives achieve UTZ or Fair Trade certification.
  • Nestlé purchased 133,000 tonnes of green coffee through Farmer Connect, trained more than 48,000 farmers and distributed 12 million coffee plantlets in 2012.
  • 80% of the palm oil that Nestlé purchased this year was RSPO compliant, out of which about 13% was traceable RSPO certified oil and 67% had GreenPalm certificates.
  • More than 8,000 farmers joined the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program in 2012 and we’ve sourced 68% of Nespresso coffee through the AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program.

#2 The Intercontinental Hotel Group

The Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) reaffirm that they are successful in identifying innovative opportunities within the environment as they foster closer collaboration with the community. IHG have aligned their CSR report with the Global Reporting Initiative Scorecard. The hotel chain claims that it is envisaging reductions in energy consumption of up to 10% over the next three years. IHG plans to achieve this target by using an online sustainability tool named, ‘Green Engage. IHG suggests that this tool has helped them in measuring and monitoring energy, water and waste management. The international hospitality chain prides itself of a dedicated web page entitled Corporate Responsibility Report which outlines innovation, collaboration, environmental sustainability and sustainable communities. These laudable initiatives deliver education programs to employees, diversity initiatives, and environmental protection among others issues.  According to IHG, their key ‘Green Engage’ achievements in 2012 were the following;

  • Exceeded their three-year target (2010-2012) to reduce energy per available room by between 6 and 10% in our managed and owned estate with a reduction of 11.7%
  • 50% of IHGs’ hotels (2,250 based on January 2012 hotel figures) have used Green Engage as at 14 January 2013.
  • Reduced their carbon footprint in IHG owned and managed hotels by 19% per occupied room in a year
  • Achieved an absolute reduction in global carbon footprint in IHG hotels and corporate offices by 76,000 metric tonnes in a year
  • Launched a carbon calculator within IHG Green Engage using the industry approved carbon measurement methodology
  • Launched a Green Meeting checklist for IHG hotels
  • Developed further new features within IHG Green Engage such as multi-unit reporting and a water benchmark.

Evidently, many multinational organisations have taken on board Porter and Kramer’s latest notion, “creating shared value” as they work hard to ensure a sustainable and high quality supply of their raw materials. Some of these latest corporate responsibility developments are focusing on training of suppliers, improving social conditions, buying from cooperatives and paying premiums, and working with certification programmes (such as FairTradeEcolabels et cetera). Of course, all these initiatives create value through the supply chain, particularly for the smaller businesses and sole traders. Effective communication with stakeholders is a very important element of responsible business behaviour. This contribution suggests that through stakeholder engagement, businesses are identifying emerging issues, shape their responses and continue to drive improvements in their financial performance.

This contribution was published in the TimesofMalta.com:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130523/business-comment/Leveraging-organisational-performance-through-shared-value-propositions.470940

Similar contributions:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130124/business-comment/Creating-shared-value-for-long-term-sustainability.454548

Additional Links:

Blogs about ‘Shared Value’

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CSR: new disclosure and reporting obligations for listed organisations | EurActiv

Commission accuses companies of ‘group think’, demands social responsibility | EurActiv.

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