Posts filed under Education (75)

January 25, 2016

Meet Statistics summer scholar Eva Brammen

photo_brammenEvery summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Eva, right, is working on a sociolinguistic study with Dr Steffen Klaere. Eva, right,  explains:

“How often do you recognise the dialect of a neighbour and start classifying them into a certain category? Sociolinguistics studies patterns and structures in spoken language to identify some of the traits that enable us to do this kind of classification.

“Linguists have known for a long time that this involves recognising relevant signals in speech, and using those signals to differentiate some speakers and group others. Specific theories of language predict that some signals will cluster together, but there are remarkably few studies that seriously explore the patterns that might emerge across a number of signals.

“The study I am working on was carried out on Bequia Island in the Eastern Caribbean. The residents of three villages, Mount Pleasant, Paget Farm and Hamilton, say that they can identify which village people come from by their spoken language. The aim of this study was to detect signals in speech that tied the speaker to a location.

“One major result from this project was that the data are sometimes insufficient to answer the researchers’ questions satisfactorily. So we are tapping into the theory of experimental design to develop sampling protocols for sociolinguistic studies that permit researchers to answer their questions satisfactorily.

“I am 22 and come from Xanten in Germany. I studied Biomathematics at the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University in Greifswald, and have just finished my bachelor degree.

“What I like most about statistics is its connection with mathematical theory and its application to many different areas. You can work with people who aren’t necessarily statisticians.

“This is my first time in New Zealand, so with my time off I am looking forward to travelling around the country. During my holidays I will explore Northland and the Bay of Islands. After I have finished my project, I want to travel from Auckland to the far south and back again.”

January 21, 2016

Meet Statistics summer scholar David Chan

David ChanEvery summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. David, right, is working on the New Zealand General Social Survey 2014 with Professor Thomas Lumley and Associate Professor Brian McArdle of Statistics, and  Senior Research Fellow Roy Lay-Yee and Professor Peter Davis from COMPASS, the Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences. David explains:

“My project involves exploring the social network data collected by the New Zealand General Social Survey 2014, which measures well-being and is the country’s biggest social survey outside the five-yearly census. I am essentially profiling each respondent’s social network, and then I’ll investigate the relationships between a person’s social network and their well-being.

“Measurements of well-being include socio-economic status, emotional and physical health, and overall life satisfaction. I intend to explore whether there is a link between social networks and well-being. I’ll then identify what kinds of people make a social network successful and how they influence a respondent’s well-being.

“I have just completed a conjoint Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Science, majoring in composition and statistics respectively.  When I started my conjoint, I wasn’t too sure why statistics appealed to me. But I know now – statistics appeals to me because of its analytical nature to solving both theoretical and real-life problems.

“This summer, I’m planning to hang out with my friends and family. I’m planning to work on a small music project as well.”



January 15, 2016

Who got the numbers, how, and why?

The Dominion Post has what I’m told is a front page story about school costs, with some numbers:

For children starting state school this year, the total cost, including fees, extracurricular activities, other necessities, transport and computers, by the time they finish year 13 in 2028 is estimated at $35,064 by education-focused savings trust Australian Scholarship Group.

That increases to $95,918 for a child at a state-integrated school, and $279,807 for private school.

Given that the figures involve extrapolation of both real cost increases and inflation thirteen years into the future, I’m not convinced that a whole-education total is all that useful. I would have thought estimates for a single year would be more easily interpreted.  However, that’s not the main issue.

ASG do this routinely. They don’t have the 2016 numbers on their website yet, but they do have last year’s version. Important things to note about the numbers, from that link:

ASG conducted an online education costs survey among its members during October 2013. The surveys covered primary and secondary school. In all, ASG received more than 1000 survey responses.

So, it’s a non-random, unweighted survey, probably with a low response rate, among people signed up for an education-savings programme. You’d expect it to overestimate, but it’s not clear how much. Also

Figures have been rounded and represent the upper ranges that parents can reasonably expect to pay

‘Rounded’ is good, even though they don’t actually show much sign of having been rounded. ‘Represent the upper ranges’ is a bit more worrying when there’s no indication of how this was done — and when the Dom Post didn’t include this caveat in their story.


Meet Statistics summer scholar Hubert Liang

Every summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Hubert, right, is working on ways to graphically represent community conservation effHubert Liangorts with Associate Professor Rachel Fewster. Hubert explains:

“Conservation efforts are needed to protect the natural flora and fauna of our beautiful country. This exciting project involves preparing and analysing data collected from volunteers involved in conservation efforts against pests such as rats.

“The data is analysed and uploaded to a website called CatchIT, which is an interactive website that allows the bait and trap information to be presented in graphic form to volunteers, which provides feedback on their pest-control efforts. The data comes to life on the screen, and this engages current and future volunteers in tracking the success of their pest-control projects.

“I am in the final year of my Bachelor of Science majoring in Statistics and Biological Science, having previously finished a Bachelor of Pharmacy (Hons). Statistics has a wide applicability to a wide range of disciplines, and appeals to me because I am passionate about the simple process of getting the most from raw data. It is a very rewarding process knowing that you can make the data more appealing and important to the end user.

“This summer, besides doing this studentship, I’ll be enjoying the sunshine, and relaxing on the beach with family and friends.”


January 11, 2016

Meet Statistics summer scholar Christopher Nottingham

Chris NottinghamEvery summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Christopher, right, is working with Associate Professor David Scott on All Blacks-related data. Christopher explains:

“My project is aimed at predicting the career lengths of current and future All Blacks based on data from all of the past All Blacks. This project will be useful as it will aid the planning within the All Blacks camp.

“This coming year, I will be studying a research-based MSc in Statistics. My thesis is in the area of quantitative fisheries science and will involve translating ADMB code into STAN code.

“Statistics appeals to me because of its diversity. For example, one day you could be analysing fisheries data, and the next, data relating to the All Blacks.

“In my spare time I enjoying walks along the beach, sailing and cycling around the waterfront with my wife.”



January 6, 2016

Meet Statistics summer scholar Katie Fahy

Every summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Katie, right, is working on the New Zealand Socio-Economic Index with Dr Barry Milne of COMPASS (Katie FahyCentre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences) and Professor Alan Lee from the Department of Statistics. Katie explains:

“The New Zealand Socio-Economic Index (NZSEI) assigns occupations a score that enables us to measure the socio-economic status of people in that occupation. It’s calculated using the average age, income and education level of people with each job. For example, doctors would have a very high socio-economic index, because they’re typically high-earning and well-educated people.

“The NZSEI has been created from Census data since the 90s, but has not yet been updated for the most recent Census in 2013. In this project, my job is to update the NZSEI using path analysis, and check that this updated version is appropriate for all people in New Zealand. A couple of examples include assessing that the index is valid for all ethnicities, and valid for workers in both urban and rural regions.

“The index is important to measure any changes to New Zealand over time, as it is updated with each Census. As well as this, the NZSEI uses a similar methodology to international scales, so international comparisons are possible.

“I am currently in my third year of studying Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield in England, and I’m halfway through my year here in Auckland as an exchange student. I’ve always been interested in Statistics and studying it at university level has shown me how applicable it is in a variety of fields, from finance to biology.

“Over the summer, I’m looking forward to exploring New Zealand more.”



August 19, 2015

World Statistics Day – October 20, 2015

What are you doing on October 20? Statisticians all over the world will be showcasing the value of their work under the theme ‘Better data, better lives’. Quite. Here is the logo for this year, downloadable from the UNStats site here.



The World Statistics Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010 – so, fairly recently – to recognise the importance of statistics in shaping our societies. National and regional statistical days already existed in more than 100 countries, but the General Assembly’s adoption of this international day as 20 October brought extra momentum. That first World Statistics Day in October 2010 was marked in more than 130 countries and areas.

According to UNStats, this year marks an important cornerstone for official statistics, with the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals (see how countries have fared here), the post-2015 development agenda, the data revolution (see what the Data Revolution Group set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has to say here), the preparations for the 2020 World Population and Housing Census Programme and the likes.

Statschat hasn’t heard a lot about what might be happening in New Zealand and elsewhere – it might yet be a bit too early for announcements – but if you are running an event or know of one, please let us know. In the meantime, one cute initiative of UNStats is to translate the English logo into many of the languages of the world. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to have UNStats do ours in the first language of this country, te reo Māori. Te tino kē hoki o te moko nā! (Nice logo!)



June 15, 2015

Verbal abuse the biggest bullying problem at school: Students

StatsChat is involved with the biennial CensusAtSchool / TataurangaKiTeKura, a national statistics education project for primary and secondary school students. Supervised by teachers, students aged between 9 and 18 (Year 5 to Year 13) answer 35 questions in English or te reo Māori about their lives, then analyse the results in class. Already, more than 18,392 students from 391 schools all over New Zealand have taken part.

This year, for the first time, CAS asked students about bullying, a persistent problem in New Zealand schools.

School students think verbal mistreatment is the biggest bullying issue in schools – higher than cyberbullying, social or relational bullying such as social exclusion and spreading gossip, or physical bullying.

Students were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with statements about each type of bullying.  A total of 36% strongly agreed or agreed that verbal bullying was a problem among students at their school, followed by cyberbullying (31% agreed or strongly agreed), social or relational bullying (25% agreed or strongly agreed) and physical bullying (19% agreed or strongly agreed).

Read the rest of the press release here.



February 25, 2015

Wiki New Zealand site revamped

We’ve written before about Wiki New Zealand, which aims to ‘democractise data’. WNZ has revamped its website to make things clearer and cleaner, and you can browse here.

As I’m a postgraduate scarfie this year, the table on domestic students in tertiary education interested me – it shows that women (grey) are enrolled in greater numbers than men at every single level. Click the graph to embiggen.

Founder Lillian Grace talks about the genesis of Wiki New Zealand here, and for those who love the techy  side, here’s a video about the backend.












February 4, 2015

Meet Statistics summer scholar Christopher Pearce

Chris PearceEvery year, the Department of Statistics offers summer scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Christopher, right, is working on the OpenAPI project with Associate Professor Paul Murrell. Chris explains:

“Government data is becoming increasingly available. However, this does not mean it is readable – few individuals possess the knowledge and skills to make use of these data by themselves.

“In an ideal world, the code used by fellow statisticians would be available to everyone. It would be even more ideal if it were transferable. Sites like Wiki New Zealand  are doing a remarkable job of displaying some of New Zealand’s trends, but with no source code it can sometimes be impossible to recreate.

“The OpenAPI project is developing a flow-based framework that is primarily aimed at lowering the barriers to use of open data by the general public. My project is about creating an architecture for programmers and statisticians of all levels. Our goal is for anyone interested to have the ability to perform analyses on open government data. The idea is that there are publicly available snippets of code from fellow statisticians that can be easily linked in a meaningful way. The less expertise required by the end user, the better.

“My job is to come up with questions I am interested in answering, then figuring out how a potential lay observer would solve them. So far it has yielded some interesting results.

“I’m a third-year student at the University of Auckland, studying a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Science conjoint. My skills lie in statistics and computer science, but I need the literal side to keep a balanced life.

“I got hooked on statistics when I discovered the Poisson distribution. There’s something about statistics that never seems to get old, and I’m discovering new things every day. It’s nice knowing I can actually attempt an answer to the curiosities in my head.”