Posts Tagged ‘corporations’

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank

January 24, 2015

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank.

23 January 2015

Budgets are so tight that many Palestinian Authority schools cannot afford paper and pencils. Hard-pressed teachers must spend their own stagnating wages on supplies.

Ghadeer Rabi cannot remember a time during her five-year career as a high school teacher that her salary was enough to support her family. Without her husband’s income, the thirty-year-old says she would not be able to survive.

Rabi’s monthly paychecks are inconsistent, often coming as partial payments or none at all. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority “keeps promising us a lot, like raises, but we haven’t seen anything,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

Rabi’s situation is not unique: the PA and public servants in the occupied West Bank have been at loggerheads for years.

These problems show no sign of letting up, especially since Israel began withholding taxes it is supposed to transfer to the PA as part of the Oslo accords.

Israel is withholding $127 million worth of tax funds and customs duties on goods that pass through present-day Israel before being exported, as reported by Al Jazeera English earlier this month. The Israeli move has been taken in retaliation for the PA’s decision to join the International Criminal Court.

Withholding Palestinian tax transfers, which Israel has done as a punitive measure many times in the past, intensifies the already difficult economic situation for public and civil servants, among them teachers. In response to Israel’s withholding of tax money, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said that “Western governments should refuse to follow suit [by imposing] their own sanctions” on the PA.

Wages stagnate

Living with her husband and infant daughter in Ramallah, Rabi teaches at the local Deir Jarir Girls High School and Mughtarabe Elementary School in the neighboring area of al-Bireh. The schools’ classrooms — which are overcrowded with upwards of forty students each period — lack heating, air-conditioning and most basic supplies.

Due to severe budgetary limitations, the twenty-eight teachers at Deir Jarir are often made to foot the bill for their own supplies, though more than 600 students attend the school. “We don’t even bother asking for additional supplies at this point,” said Rabi. “We know what the response will be.”

Aside from a one-time hourly wage increase of twenty shekels ($6) for the cost of living, “I have worked for five years and haven’t received a single raise,” Rabi said.

While the PA formally bans teachers from working a second job, Rabi said that most are forced to work elsewhere part-time.

Nidal Afafneh, a fourth-year English teacher at Anata Primary School in the West Bank, is one of those searching for a second job to supplement his income. “Some of my colleagues have even taken third jobs,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “This isn’t allowed, but they have to feed their kids.”

Afafneh, 26, said that teachers are demanding their basic rights, such as the school providing paper, pencils, and an annual salary increase to reflect the soaring cost of living, particularly in the Ramallah area. “Sometimes we don’t have electricity or water in our school for days at a time,” he added.

Israel’s harsh restrictions translate into stagnation for the Palestinian economy. In 2013, the World Bank estimated that Israeli control of the West Bank costs Palestinians some $3.4 billion each year. These restrictions have also created a dependency on foreign aid.

PA “dependent and fragile”

But critics also accuse the PA of rampant corruption. The lack of accountability within public institutions has led to widespread “embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, and exploitation of position for personal gain,” states a 2012 report by the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability, a Ramallah-based anti-corruption watchdog. “Those involved in these crimes were high-level employees, such as heads of government divisions, who were conspiring with lower and intermediate level employees.”

Alaa Tartir, program director of Al-Shabaka, a group that monitors Palestinian social and economic policies, explained that the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization “created an inherently dependent and fragile Palestinian ‘authority.’”

After years of building up its public sector, the PA today has around 150,000 public servants, Tartir told The Electronic Intifada. “When Israel decides to withhold Palestinian taxes or when the PA passes through a financial crisis — which is recurrent — those monthly salaries get majorly delayed or paid in installments over months,” he said.

“When Israel withholds taxes it does indeed commit another form of ‘collective punishment’ because it does not only punish the civil servants but also their families [and] we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people that are affected,” Tartir continued.

Yet, the PA’s neoliberal economic policies have only worsened the situation. A Western-backed agenda “entrenched the structural deficiencies in the Palestinian economy and created further distortion,” said Tartir. “It increased inequalities, poverty and unemployment. It created a status of individual wealth for some but national poverty for all.”

Harming the poor

The PA “created a capitalist class that are benefiting from the status quo and arguably from the mere existence of the occupation,” he noted, adding that “entrenching the neoliberal policies will only help Israel’s occupation directly and indirectly through adding another layer of repression that particularly harm the poor and [hinders] their process of liberation.”

As the costs of housing, food and utilities continue to increase, the Palestinian economy remains largely stagnant. According to a World Bank report published in September 2014, unemployment in the West Bank sat at 16 percent during the first quarter of that year.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 23.1 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza worked in the public sector during 2013. Of those, 16.4 percent were in the West Bank.

In addition to the punitive measures taken by the Israeli authorities, the constant disputes between the PA and teachers have resulted in several strikes over the last five years. Most of the more than one million students across the West Bank are affected, creating a difficult learning environment.

Citing the fall 2013 semester as an example, Ghadeer Rabi, the teacher, explained that there were several strikes, “making the actual class time very thin.”

“Strikes have made it a very difficult learning environment. Teachers go through the lessons really fast to catch up with what they miss,” she said. “And students aren’t motivated to be in class.”

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His website is www.postrickland.com. Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_.

What are the aims and purposes of human life? Who am I to become as an early childhood professional?

January 5, 2015

Thinking about Life and education with a focus on early Childhood

“This is one view of the nature of education, based on a conception of human nature … According to this conception, the child has an intrinsic nature, and central to it is a creative impulse … the goal of education should be to provide the soil and the freedom required for growth of this creative impulse … a complex and challenging environment that the child can imaginatively explore and, in this way, quicken his intrinsic creative impulse and so enrich his life in ways that may be quite varied and unique … governed, as Russell said, by a spirit of reverence and humility: reverence for the precious, varied, individual, indeterminate growing principle of life; and humility with regard to the aims and with regard to the degree of insight and understanding of the practitioners.” Noam Chomsky reflecting on philosopher Bertrand Russell’s humanist conception of education. (Chomsky, Otero 2003)

As an educator it would seem inevitable, given that we engage in a practice, a vocation, that demands we adopt a position that places children first. To take an ethical position means that we have to affirm that we are doing all we can to provide the best environmental circumstances to allow wholistic sensory and cognitive growth.

This is affirmed by the OECD (2006) report Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care proposing that the ‘social pedagogy tradition’ is one that best defines positively, a humanist approach within education systems,

“…The social approach is inherently holistic. The pedagogue sets out to address the whole child, the child with body, mind, emotions, creativity, history and social identity. This is not the child only of emotions – the psycho-therapeutical approach; nor only of the body – the medical or health approach; nor only of the mind – the traditional teaching approach. For the pedagogue, working with the whole child, learning, care and, more generally, upbringing … pedagogues seek to respect the natural learning strategies of young children, that is, learning through play, interaction, activity, and personal investigation. Co-operative project work is much employed to give children a taste for working together and to build up shared and more complex understandings of chosen themes. The belief is widespread that encouraging the initiatives and meaning-making of children strongly supports cognitive development.”

My Story

My journey toward early childhood education began with a significant personal event, the birth of my daughter – born in the month of December in 1990 – a decade which opened with the USA governments initiation of a new wave of invasion and war in Iraq. The latter decades and years of this century were marked by global shifts in power most significantly by the collapse of the all the former communist states. I did not know then just how profound the effect these events were to have on the struggle for social equality, and social welfare. After two decades one effect of collapsing Communist Parties is the significant absence of struggles for improved social wellbeing which has also boosted the neo-liberal, small government, market rule economists.

I remain an active socialist in the communist tradition and regard myself a Marxist. My ideas about class and socialism had found some purchase in my mind after a few years in the Royal Australian Navy. The hierarchical character of the armed forces was a rapid introduction to the larger issues of class and oppression that run through our societies. Decades latter a friend who was then an army intelligence officer, and an anarchist, articulated for me something I had understood but had not fully appreciated, the armed services in many ways is able to function because it relies on socialistic methods of organisation.

What has this to do with Early Childhood and education?

The collapse of communism and the influences of the Reagan and Thatcher era have been very disorientating politically as governments all over the globe sold-off our welfare to the corporations and so further concentrated ‘self-regulatory’ control and profits into fewer hands. As a labour movement activists I had to make sense of all this and seek new and different arguments and methods of organising. It was at this time that I came across the book ’Children First’ by Penelope Leach the British psychologist and child development and parenting expert. I vaguely knew of her, and was excited to see that someone who was a respected authority could write about the problems of capitalist society and its ill effects on children and human development generally.

“For our societies money is god, the market place is its temple and mass communications – from TV advertising to ‘motivational speakers’ – ensure that its creed is an inescapable driving force not just in corporate lives but in the lives of everyone of us.

With societies’ attention, energy and excitement focused on the marketplace, areas of human endeavour that cannot be directly bought with money and sold for profit tend to be regarded as peripheral. It may be thought worthy to work at personal relationships (as parents work to relate to their children and each other), but it will be usually considered more interesting to work at professional ones (as day care workers and marriage counsellors) – and get paid for it.”

“Children are a special case. Like the very old, the very young do not earn and therefore play little direct part in the marketplace. Indeed children are doubly unproductive because their maintenance and education cost money they cannot earn for themselves, and their care absorbs adult time that otherwise would be spent producing it. But because children are the producer-consumer units of tomorrow rather than yesterday, no economy can disregard them.” (Leach 1994)

Schooling and skills, is it education?

Preparing my daughter for school had a disturbing effect upon me that I had not expected. There were many good things about my school years but school itself was an indifferent experience. School had not built my confidence, if not undermining it, we sat in isolation while were encouraged not to speak unless spoken to, or asked a question, something to be avoided as it usually ended in humiliation. All said and done fertile ground for a sense of failure, as a teacher I vowed to improve on my experiences by not repeating them on the children in my care.

Studying and completing my degrees in Philosophy and Cinema Studies I then moved on into teaching. My semester in Philosophy with Children and the method of the community of inquiry, building out of Dewey’s conception of scientific inquiry, had given me fresh insights. This philosophical approach is a fine tool for facilitating children’s dialogue, engaging with each other in thinking about themselves and the world around them.

I have never had a desire to return to school, and this remains the case. I distinguish between schooling and education and I am sure I speak for many teachers who acknowledge their enjoyment of teaching as such, but find ‘the system’ vexing. Regulation enforcing minimum standards generally works to the detriment of improving and achieving best professional practice. Fenech, Sumsion, & Goodfellow (2006) used one educator’s description of regulation through the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS) as “a double edged sword” because “notions of professional decision-making and practical wisdom are not readily identifiable in either QIAS or the NSW Children’s Services Regulation.

The chief concern I believe is the problem of regulations impinging on, or driving our pedagogical practice that is detrimental to children and is therefore not best practice. Pedagogues should begin with the question, who educates the educator? Any dialogue concerning the needs of children should begin here; what are the social, community and public needs of children generally, and the children with whom I work directly?

Love and learning

What can I do to develop their ‘Love of Learning’ that I believe that they initially come to me with? The mantras of ‘Life long learning’ and ‘learning readiness’ – within our formal institutions –suggests a view of learning that is knowledge transmitted down from the teacher, in contrast to the view that we have an innate predisposition to learn. How can we overcome or transcend the economic reductionism of the Corporate State that narrows the definition, purpose and possibilities of education?

To begin by asking, what do I have to do to be accountable to The State, is to unwittingly enforce the status quo and consequently the interests of the ruling class and the nation-market-state? Considering my position as an early childhood educator is one that needs to be regarded in terms of the real politic of education played out in each school under the auspice of education departments. As Bruer (1999) observes, politicians use ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ to spin their gloss-over of practices detrimental to wholistic conceptions of early childhood education.

“Julia Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion, discussed ‘new’ knowledge…The new thinking that I’m talking about…is the new scientific research about the way children’s brains develop. …Gillard’s statement demonstrates how politicians can play a key role in framing and/or determining policy content and outcomes… Crucially, the quality of formal ECEC provisions for children also rests, to a considerable extent, on the policy decisions of politicians.

The problem is not so much one of science or developmental models opposing post modernist and humanist conceptions of education, but rather a crudely defined ‘medical model’ imposed on teachers and enforced through their practice. My experience of some school administrators is that they use counter reforming government demands, the use of regulations, and public service acts to enforce the medical model of testing, teaching to predetermined outcomes, and collecting quantifiable data as ‘evidence’ of ‘value adding’ to children.

Questions, questions, and more questions

The questions we should ask, how do educators defend best practice and research while they maybe dealing with draconian methods imposed by hierarchies, and unreasonable authoritarian methods at the departmental and school level? Who and what are educating the educator while they are being disciplined and undermined by those in authority? How do humanistic approaches that rely on qualitative means to measure personal achievements and growth flourish in this current period of reactionary politics?

Progressive approaches understand young children as ‘already human beings, with desires and powers of their own, and not as units of production and consumption, to be improved – potentially – for the benefit of the corporate profit-and-war machine. Part of the answer lies within ourselves as professional educators, by organising power into our collegiate and collective hands, so to build our profession and thereby serve the best qualities of all human kind.

References

Bruer, J.T. (1999) In Search of … Brain-Based Education, Phi Delta Kappan, 80(9), pp. 648-657, quoted in Brown, K., Sumsion, J., Press, F., Influences on Politicians’ Decision Making for Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: what do we know? What don’t we know?

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Volume 10 Number 3 2009, http://www.words.co.uk/CIEC

Chomsky, N. & Otero C. (2003) Chomsky on Democracy and Education Routledge pp. 163-4

Fenech, M., Sumison, J., Goodfellow, J., (2006) The Regulatory Environment in Long Day Care: A ‘double edged sword’ for early childhood professional practice, Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 31, No.3 September 2006.

Leach, P. (1994) People, Profits and Parenting, Children First: What society must do – and is not dong – for children today, Penguin, pp. 4-6

OECD (2006) A unified approach to learning: The social pedagogy tradition, Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care, p59

Words 17

Murdoch and other billionaires run the country and want to dictate how to standardise public schools

January 2, 2015

Murdoch and other billionaires run the country and want to dictate how to standardise public schools… So what!

Rupert Murdoch a self proclaimed expert on hacking into public schools and education; “We know the old answer- simply throwing money at the problem – doesn’t work…his reason? More money has fed a system that is no longer designed to educate – it’s become a jobs program for teachers and administrators.”

He our wants kids ‘taught’ online. ‘News Educational’ run by Joel Klein and ex-head of NY schools, is seeking the rights to provide online instruction that’s worth $500 billion dollars to the US corporations alone. Other transnational corporations have their eyes on this prize too. Walmart run schools in the US – why not here as well?

Murdoch also praises Sweden’s IKEA schools, whose head honcho says, “If we’re religious about anything, it’s standardisation. We tell our teachers it’s more important to do things the same way, than to do them well.”

US Cruise Missile manufacturer Raytheon Industries, which helps run the Pine Gap US spy base near Alice Springs, already operates programs within South Australian state schools.

We do have a choice. Do we want an education that encourages us to question and think so we can stand up for each other, or just life long training for one job after another? The choice is for us to make.

For the wealthy, the lives of working people and public education are expendable. Current, and future wage slaves are and will be casuals, underemployed, and unemployed. There will always a majority working in low wage jobs. The wealthy and their political minders in the parliament conspire to talk up ‘the problem’ of public education. The rich for-profit schools, which get the lion’s share of taxpayer supported funding are all OK – thank you very much.

The world’s wealthy are dictating their needs to us – they want to train us, to do as we’re told. We are told to buy a computer and connect, but if you cannot afford to run and maintain it they do not want to know you. They cannot make profits they need and then line their own pockets from people like that!

Why do ALP politicians and their fellow travellers seek out and listen to billionaires and corporate heads like Murdoch, and then implement education and social policies that are harmful to public students and teachers alike? Is it because the ‘Murdoch solution’ is in the long run cheaper for them and their ideal corporate state? No public schools, TAFES or universities would mean even fewer places for troublesome students and teachers to congregate, educate, and organise!

We deserve a whole lot better. We need an education to make a better future. An education that enables us to collectively determine what our democracy might be in a truly independent country, run for the benefit, of those of us who create the wealth and hand over the profits.

Do we really want to work and sacrifice our own and our children’s lives to maintain a political and economic system that ultimately only benefit the billionaire owners and managers of giant corporations? What is the cost to our future generations and those of us today? This is our fight now and we have a country and a world to win.            

… So what can we do!

Our land’s resources are finite – Relying on false hope and the ‘good luck’ of the wealthy is no way to pay for the present and prepare for the future.

The wealthiest people pay the least amount of tax. While we work and pay our taxes the vast proportion of this countries mineral and energy wealth disappears into corporate bank accounts and private trust funds. Reinhardt has never worked a day in her life; she has never owned or managed a mine! BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata, Chevron and other giant mining and energy multinationals make massive profits and send most of it off-shore, out of the country.

These giant corporations can afford to return some of their massive wealth back to our communities. But they will not do it out of their own good will.

Billionaires avoid taxes only to squander the efforts of our labours on multi-million dollar birthday parties held in super-sized mansions and then lounge around on multimillion-dollar pleasure craft competing for exotic locations. Meanwhile already time poor teachers’ and their overworked union organisers have to run a begging campaign to convince the powers that be to better fund the nation’s public schools. While student’s parents have to find people with the time to run sausage sizzles just to pay for a few more already scant resources.

Minerals and energy are finite. The millions made cannot go on forever, however their profits have increased by more than 900% in the past 10 years. If they continue to plunder our land and its wealth what will be left for our future generations, miserable people, a decimated environment and some huge holes in the ground and vast warehouses of nuclear waste?

We must organise to demand that they pay a whole lot more by taxing mining companies’s super-profits

From where will the money come to pay for our welfare today and all our children’s futures?

Increasing taxes on company and private wealth would assist to provide for the needs and welfare of all our country’s working families by;

  • Creating jobs by building local sustainable manufacturing, processing and agricultural industries to secure our sovereignty and independence;
  • Funding public education, health, housing, pensions, welfare, community services and public transport;
  • Reintroducing a death tax would assist to capture billions of dollars from unpaid taxes over a lifetime and held as family inheritances. We need it for the living.

To test or not to test? That’s still the question by Scott Prasser

January 2, 2015

‘Government policies that rely on assessing what is easy to measure, ignoring other important dimensions of schooling, are damaging. No one questions the importance of basic skills proficiency, but schools should be supported and held accountable for achieving quality in much broader terms. The objective of a quality education policy should be to provide a well-rounded education for all…’

Professor Scott Prasser is the executive director of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University. February 5, 2013

A recent Whitlam Institute study of high-stakes tests in schools showed that the federal government’s annual literacy and numeracy tests placed undue pressure on children, causing stress and even illness. While these effects are concerning, the more important issue is how this narrow focus and overemphasis on basic skills testing is distorting Australia’s education policies, undermining quality and, in particular, doing little to help disadvantaged students.

As the Commonwealth continues to negotiate with the states and territories over the Gonski funding model and a national school improvement plan, the results of the national assessment program – literacy and numeracy (better known as NAPLAN) are becoming more deeply embedded into education policy. They are the proxy measure of school quality and the very basis of the Gonski funding model: the high-performing schools whose costs will determine the level of the new schooling resource standard are selected on the basis of their test results. In other words, achievements in literacy and numeracy now define school quality. The attainment of basic skills has become the main steering mechanism of schooling.

The overemphasis on basic proficiency testing disadvantages all students, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In following this path, Australia is out of step with the evidence of effective education policies. While Britain and the United States are stepping back from overemphasising narrow skills tests, Australia is charging ahead, taking their role to an extreme. We are committed to using the tests to make funding and accountability decisions that go well beyond the capacity of the tests to support, ignoring evidence that the tests may be unreliable, are partial, constrict the school curriculum, limit teachers’ capacity to innovate and to cater to individual students’ needs, and are subject to manipulation, if not corruption. The higher the stakes, the bigger the temptation.

This is not to say that tests are without benefits, to students, teachers and schools. As originally conceived in the 1990s, national testing was a diagnostic tool for teachers, giving them a clearer conception of the performance standards expected, allowing them to assess individual students’ progress against a common standard for their age cohort and to adapt their teaching to meet a student’s particular needs. However, the tests do not work this way for individual students. The results are too late arriving back in the classroom and, according to the NSW Education Department’s director-general, teachers have lost the ability to use the results for their original diagnostic purpose and lack the skills to analyse the data.

As critical professionals, teachers have an array of other assessment practices to cater for individual students’ needs, as long as the demands of NAPLAN allow them the scope and time. British and American experiences shows that over-reliance on basic skills testing means too much teaching time is wasted on test preparation and the scope of teaching is limited by the imperative to teach to the test. In some cases, teaching practice is distorted by the triage effect, where students are categorised as non-urgent, suitable for treatment or hopeless cases; teachers focus on students who are on the cusp of passing. Very low achievers and very high achievers miss out.

As a benchmark, the tests act more as an incentive for avoiding poor performance than for aiming high. They contain no incentive for strong performance and distract attention from the pursuit of high academic achievement. Current education policies do not reward education excellence, despite the rhetoric. As long as basic skills tests dominate education policy, other important subjects, abilities, skills and talents are marginalised. So much time, energy and resources are devoted to mastering basic skills in reading and mathematics that students are deprived of opportunities to fully develop the content knowledge and skills they need to succeed in work, further study and life in the 21st century. Neglecting the broad range of less tangible, less testable and less quantifiable skills is detrimental to a quality education system, students and society.

This overemphasis on basic proficiency testing disadvantages all students, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, because their families are least able to provide them with wider educational experiences beyond the school gates. Having high expectations of all students, setting ambitious standards, believing that it is possible for all students to achieve at high levels and necessary that they do so, are the underpinnings of a quality education. The rhetoric of excellence needs to be reflected in the substance of education policy.

Government policies that rely on assessing what is easy to measure, ignoring other important dimensions of schooling, are damaging. No one questions the importance of basic skills proficiency, but schools should be supported and held accountable for achieving quality in much broader terms. The objective of a quality education policy should be to provide a well-rounded education for all and to achieve the range of high-level skills needed in the modern economy and society. The result of such a policy may be a richer, more intelligent approach to testing across a wider range of areas, closely linked to the broad national curriculum. Only then will testing be worthwhile.
Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/to-test-or-not-to-test-thats-still-the-question-20130202-2dqt6.html#ixzz2KLXqiRWp

Worth a note: you cannot legislate to find good teachers by Robyn Ewing

January 2, 2015

Robyn Ewing is professor of teacher education at the University of Sydney. March 13, 2013

“A capacity to teach is something you either have in your heart or you don’t”.

One of the best teachers I ever had was Miss Greenlees, my fourth grade teacher at Harbord Primary School. She believed in me, understood me as a person, engaged me in the learning process and had high expectations of what I could achieve. Nearly everyone has a favourite teacher in their lives. Just as everyone has an opinion on what makes a good teacher, largely because it’s a profession to which we’ve all had some exposure: whether or not we have children.

Over the course of my schooling as a primary, high school and university student – and later as a teacher and teacher educator – I’ve been fortunate to encounter many exemplary teachers. I have learnt that a good teacher can change lives and have a profound influence long after their students have left the schoolroom. Indeed, good teachers touch eternity.

How sad it is, then, that many in our community seem neither to value nor understand this. How else do you explain the falling status of educators, the relatively low pay for experienced teachers and the constant deskilling of the profession through over-emphasis on high-stakes testing?

I have no issue with the notion teachers should have a strong intellectual capability, along with well-developed literacy and numeracy skills. But that is only one part of the story. Even these skills cannot be effectively measured by a one-size-fits-all test before graduation. While there are many positive features of both the state and federal announcements about attracting high-quality pre-service teachers into the profession, a good teacher must be more than a high school graduate who achieves a high Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank.

Why are we placing all our emphasis on entry scores when pre-service teachers go on to do a degree? And if intending teachers have to score in the top one-fifth of students – a band 5 – why another test before they graduate? All good questions, but did any education policymaker ask us – the teacher educators – our thoughts? And the biggest question of all is, where will the funding come from? Every year I have been in teacher education there have been real cuts to funding and increased costs to absorb.

If a test before graduation on literacy and numeracy is instituted, it will not ensure a teacher knows how to establish real relationships with individual learners to teach them how to spell or add. Or to plan lessons that are motivating and fun, that challenge students and encourage them to take risks. Such a test will not discern whether a teacher is a lifelong learner. Or whether they are imaginative and can motivate those learners who are highly anxious or do not see any point in school. Or if they can ask challenging questions and encourage children to think creatively. Or will work well with colleagues, parents, the community and others. A test cannot measure aptitude, compassion, enthusiasm, flexibility, problem solving or dedication to teaching. A capacity to teach is something you either have in your heart or you don’t. You can’t legislate it into to practice.

Like anything there are skills you can improve, but you’ve got to start with a predisposition for patience and kindness, and throw in a touch of fun (none of that is revealed in an HSC mark). When learning is fun, magic occurs in a classroom and children’s lives are changed forever. We should not impose further rules on a profession that is already underpaid and overworked. Where is the recognition for existing teacher quality? Where in the debate about teacher quality is the undertaking to improve salaries to a level commensurate with other professions that require high ATARs for university admission? Where is the discussion about responsibility for educational outcomes that depend on parental engagement?

It’s also important to remember that it’s not just about attracting high-quality people to the profession, it’s also about retaining them and finding a way to mentor and support them in our most challenging contexts. Where is the funding for ongoing professional development of teachers? In the finest Socratic tradition, to solve the education problem we need to break it down into a series of questions.

Before politicians issue their edicts, I wonder why they don’t consult the profession itself – why not ask teachers what they need to do their job? When’s the last time one of these policymakers came into a classroom? Other than for a photo opportunity? Governments should look first at the strengths of a profession already under huge pressure through lack of resourcing. Or perhaps everyone could sit down and ask themselves the question: ”Who was my favourite teacher and why?”
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/worth-a-note-you-cannot-legislate-to-find-good-teachers-20130312-2fyf6.html#ixzz2Nei9uJ4N

 

Brains are bodies: Brain research and understanding brain function and the brain itself.

January 2, 2015

There can be no doubting the importance of brain research and the understanding we have of brain function and the nature of the brain itself. What is worth noting though is that the research support what many have argued for years and decades about the importance of social equity and distribution of wealth and services to human happiness and its correlation to wellbeing. What is most disconcerting is the refusal by successive governments to seriously address the issues with policies that acknowledge the research. Far from it in fact the emphasis on relying on market forces to address concerns of equity have been proven to be failing.

Dr Mustard and Professor Stanley argue the importance of “investing in early childhood development if we want to encourage a healthier, fitter population, and provide opportunities for children to achieve their potential”. As with Cuba’s example, the central aspect for improving outcomes is caring, responsive communities; only then can we provide safety, quality care, and schools that genuinely support families. Professor Stanley speaks of “causal pathways” which are a set of factors that interact over time to create an outcome. If we wish to see responsible communities and “resilient” adults then we need to provide the circumstances that allow for the development of responsible, thoughtful and resilient children.

 Dr Fiona Stanley in 2003 outlined some key critical issues that policy makers have yet to seriously address. As she has stated in other interviews one has to wonder what the point of research is if we fail to act on it.

The questions she asked seven years ago are these;

  • Are outcomes for children and youth improving in Australia? As so many outcomes are related to social disadvantage, surely as economic prosperity and living conditions improved, so have the health, educational, behavioural and general status of our children?
  • Is there any evidence more recently of a levelling of social gradients, that is fewer differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’?       Are all in society winners from the dramatic economic and social changes in our society?
  • What has been the impact of services? (Mostly focussed on treatments not preventions).
  • Why have so many of the problems in children and youth not improved? Are there some common explanations?
  • What do we know about the causes and possible prevention of them?
  • What should Australia do?

Professor Stanley argues that a multidisciplinary approach is required if we are to address in any systematic way these pressing social issues. We know that the problems that will impact negatively on children, family and society begin in the womb; in reality they begin before then if we consider the circumstances of the women and men who will become parents.

An outstanding and obvious example is the issue of insufficient and inadequate housing and related homelessness. We know that instability and relocation is extremely stressful on children especially, and of course for the adults. We know about stress response and that the detrimental effects can be overcome when there is stability and consistency within caring environments which in turn improve children’s learning and wellbeing. We can easily assume that this issue alone will have to be resolved before serious in roads can be made to addressing the concerns raised by Professor Stanley.

The current debate on Health Reform is a case in point, so little of what is being proposed has to do with prevention of illness and providing social solutions. The head of the Queanbeyan Hospital suggested to PM Rudd that he should look to Cuba’s example for solutions, as did Dr Mustard who lived and worked in South Australia as Thinker in Residence in 2006 and 2007. He asked the question, why is Cuba leading the world in Early Childhood development?

As much as it may upset some people on ideological grounds, an important part of the answer is that Cuba leads the world in the practice of socialised medicine and care. Health and wellbeing are community concerns; they are not commodities to be used for the social advancement of a few. There are many other examples but another is bound up with the question of diet. Cuba went through an oil shock and import crisis when the former Soviet Union collapsed. Since the 1970s Australian permaculturalists have been assisting in improving food production and the Cuban diet which has been high in meat and carbohydrates and low in fibres. Today up to 70% of Cuba’s domestic food production occurs in urban areas. That a society was able to respond to a crisis of this proportion is due to the way fundamental social values and needs were redefined after the social and economic revolution of 1959. Cuba for this reason has been regarded as the Jewel of Central America in relation to social wellbeing ad literacy.

Thinking about what is necessary here today in this country and what should and needs to be done makes all the rhetoric of an education revolution ring very hollow. We should remind ourselves that governments do little to change anything fundamentally. Profound and lasting changes in the early childhood and education have been the consequence of the combined forces of thorough research and enlightened practitioners and educators.

As educators and practitioners we must pay attention to the current research about brain development. One aspect that does concern me is that we could be in danger of losing site of the person. While it is important to appreciate brain development and pedagogy that enhances this development, especially so for those who are living in conditions that mitigate against providing an enriched learning environment whether it be informal or formal. As we strive for informed data as evidence it would be an error to end up where we have in the compulsory sector. Schools in the public system are narrowing the curriculum, losing sight of the whole child. I have heard it said even, that we need big schools so that the data is reliable!

Dr Mustard and Professor Stanley argue the importance of “investing in early childhood development if we want to encourage a healthier, fitter population, and provide opportunities for children to achieve their potential”. As with Cuba’s example, the central aspect for improving outcomes is caring, responsive communities; only then can we provide safety, quality care, and schools that genuinely support families. Professor Stanley speaks of “causal pathways” which are a set of factors that interact over time to create an outcome. If we wish to see responsible communities and “resilient” adults then we need to provide the circumstances that allow for the development of responsible, thoughtful and resilient children.

(Fiona Stanley AC

  • Founding Director and Patron
  • Distinguished Research Professor, The University of Western Australia
  • Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, and Director – 2013 Festival of Ideas, The University of Melbourne
  • Australian of the Year 2003
  • Established the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth in 2002
  • UNICEF Australia Ambassador for Early Childhood Development
  • The Fiona Stanley Hospital named in her honour)

(Dr Mustard is involved with governments in Canada and Australia, with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, UNICEF and the Aga Khan University In Pakistan.  He also leads The Founders Network, a virtual research organisation that proposes practical solutions to the complex problems facing society and seeks to put research findings and ideas into action in communities worldwide. Dr Mustard has received numerous awards for his work including the Companion of the Order of Canada. Most recently he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

See more at: http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/thinkers/mustard/who.aspx#sthash.0kg36rd3.dpuf)

It shouldn’t be difficult to find more money for less privileged schools by Denise Ryan

January 2, 2015

This article outlines the myriad concerns of thousands of teachers and school leaders when it comes to funding schools and programs. We know the bulk of money and resources go to the wealthiest schools and families: Inequality looms large and we are far to tolerant. Many of us are only to well aware of the complete disregard the most privileged in our society have for those most in need. 

‘Other people’s children also deserve an education’ February 9, 2010, Denise Ryan is an senior education writer for The Age a daily newspaper in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Teacher Brendan Murray made a public plea last November for someone to donate a portable classroom so that he could help high school drop-outs wanting to study at an alternative school program he and a small team of teachers and social workers have been running in Heidelberg West. Asked last week if any school had responded to his request to help teenagers in one of the most disadvantaged areas of Melbourne, he looked downcast. ”No,” he replied.

That seems extraordinary. Schools have never had it so good. Millions of dollars are flowing to state and independent primary and secondary schools. Yet not one school offered to help or to donate one of its old portables. No doubt they will end up in a paddock in Kyneton or one of the other graveyards for old school buildings. Murray has run the Pavilion school program for three years from rundown changing rooms in the former Olympic village. More than 80 young people who were previously not working or studying turn up on a rotational basis to a venue that can only comfortably cater for 12. The teenagers share toilets with cricket players who use the adjacent room.

The Education Department saw fit to award Murray its outstanding secondary teacher award for 2009, yet it failed to find his program suitable premises for three years. The federal government also knew about the program, awarding it a Closing the Gap award for its work with indigenous students. Following recent publicity about the Pavilion’s plight, the Education Department offered it rooms in the former Preston East Primary School. This is a wonderful outcome. But it is only a start. Another program for disadvantaged teenagers that urgently needs help is ‘Hands On Learning’. High schools have to run this program outside their budget, and this year schools such as Mornington Secondary College and Monterey Secondary College can’t afford it.

Mornington Secondary principal Sarah Burns says her most challenging students are devastated that this ”absolutely brilliant” program, where tradesmen and specialist teachers worked with them on practical building projects, can no longer run. She is not sure how she can prevent them from dropping out of school this year. More alternative school programs are needed to offer education to the 13 per cent of people aged 15 to 20 who are not studying or working. In its 2008 report, the Foundation for Young Australians calculated that 200,000 people fit this category. It’s not hard to find them. These are the young people you see hanging around Melbourne’s shopping centres and stations, bored and often getting into trouble.

There seems to be a disconnect, where the link between these disaffected young people and crime is not recognised. Sure, more police might help, but what about dealing with the underlying problem of hundreds of young people who would love a chance to rebuild their lives and learn, even if their literacy levels are low and they may first have to deal with problems such as substance abuse? At a time when the education system is flush with money, it seems timely to suggest that parent groups and staff in every school that received funding should sit down and work out how to help less fortunate schools.

A friend told me recently about the reaction when she suggested at a Parent Teacher Association meeting at her child’s state primary school that it might use some of the $90,000 raised in the school fete to help a disadvantaged school – she was met with an uncomfortable silence. When she raised it again at the next meeting, she was firmly asked to drop the issue. I hear that school has just bought a baby grand piano. Those who work with troubled teenagers see it so clearly: To have a safe society, everyone must look out for the most needy. You can’t protect your own children when there are other children on the street desperate for help.

Education ‘reform’ another wrong diagnosis: union protectionism and the conventional wisdom

January 2, 2015

 I found this article in Washington Post, 12-17-09 but I omitted to save the authors name so my apologies to that person. It remains pertinent in 2015 especially here in Australia as our politicians and bureaucrats are hellbent on following one bad example after another in the name of ‘reform’. I think the article represents the opinion of many good and committed teachers. I am a committed teacher union activist however my criticisms of our unions are similar to those of the author.

The standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth

“Good teachers are the key to good schools. A major obstacle to staffing America’s school with good teachers is union protectionism.” So goes the conventional wisdom. I’m no fan of education unions. I fault them for not taking the lead in education reform, for misplaced priorities, and for a willingness to support bad legislation just to keep a seat at the federal education reform table. I was hammering union leadership on those issues decades before I could do it with the click of a mouse. That said, when it comes to education reform, teacher unions get an undeserved bad rap. No way are they the major obstacle to school improvement. Mark that problem up to institutional inertia, innovation-stifling bureaucracy, and misguided state and federal policy. Trace union bad press back to its origins and it’s clear that much of it comes from ideologues and organizations less interested in improving education than in destroying union political clout and privatizing public schools.

No, the main opposition to the education reform effort set in motion about twenty years ago by corporate heads and Congress isn’t coming from go-along-to-get-along unions. The sustained and blistering attacks come from professional educators like Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Ken and Yetta Goodman, and dozens of others I could name. And me. Retired or otherwise independent, we can say what we think without fear of retribution or being accused of being self-serving. Most importantly, unlike the architects of No Child Left Behind and its gestating offspring, the Race to the Top, we’ve spent thousands of hours in real classrooms working directly with real students.

What do we think about Washington-dictated education reforms? We think they’re sufficiently abusive, counterproductive, and downright stupid to warrant a massive class action suit by parents and grandparents against those responsible. What explains the radically different views of experienced teachers and the suits in corporate suites and Congress who’re now running the education show? A sign that hung in Albert Einstein’s Princeton University office sums it up: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Data-enamoured, spreadsheet-studying, educationally clueless policymakers think Einstein was wrong. What is it, exactly, that can’t be counted? Most people think babies are born with minds like blank paper. Parents, teachers, and others, “write” on that paper, filling it with advice, information, explanations, and interpretations. Schools organize and compress the process with textbooks and teacher talk, and tests check how much kids can remember long enough to pencil in the “right” oval on a standardized test. It’s that simple. Except it isn’t. Not even close. Kids’ minds are never, ever, like blank pages. To matters they consider important, they attach explanatory theories. When a teacher or other explainer dumps information on them that doesn’t match their theories, they reject it. They may play the school game-may store the explainer’s theory in short-term memory until the test is over and the pressure is off-but rarely do they adopt it.

Kids don’t change their theories because doing so would be too traumatic. Their beliefs-about themselves, about others, about how the world works-are their most valued possessions (just as they are for the rest of us). Their theories are “who they are.” Casually exchanging them for someone else’s ideas would undermine their identities, their individuality, their confidence in their ability to make sense of experience. I learned the hard way-from thousands of adolescents-that I couldn’t teach them anything important. All I could do was try to get them to think about a particular matter, then ask them a question or give them something to do that their theories couldn’t handle and let them struggle to work it out. Changing their minds had to be their doing, not mine. Bottom line: It’s impossible to count how much kids really know. Period. Standardized tests are an appalling, monumental waste of time, money, and brains. Especially brains.

To the “standards and accountability” cheerleaders-the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, the US Department of Education, newspaper editorial boards, syndicated columnists, and so on-the complex, counterintuitive, kid-controlled, impossible-to-measure learning process I’m describing is alien. But that process lies at the very heart of teaching and learning. Trying to shield it from destruction is why older, experienced teachers are the most vocal, determined opponents of the present reform fiasco. They know the “blank paper,” count-the-right-answers theory propelling the standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth. And they know that adopting national standards and tests will lock that myth in place far, far into the future.

How have political events shaped education policy and the production of regulatory and quality frameworks in Australia?

December 30, 2014

How have political events shaped education policy and the production of regulatory and quality frameworks in Australia? What effects may this have on how and who you can ‘become’ as an early childhood professional?

Political events will always shape our society and culture generally. Politics is the activity of organising people and society to achieve purposeful collective outcomes. What these outcomes may be, and how they will be achieved, and who for, is defined as ideology. Politics per se should not be defined primarily by political parties and parliamentary participation; organised people, community members, trade unions, involved in extra-parliamentary activity have and can also significantly shaped early childhood policy and regulatory outcomes.

The State (the rule of law, parliaments and local government, the military and paramilitary) mediates the expressed interests of the contending parties. The State is the product of the means to achieving said social organisation which is partly defined by policy and regulations

Policy as quality and regulation while expressed through the transactions of The State machinery is shaped by the relative power of contending forces that work under and within its mandates. While the current federal government works to protect the market and the needs of corporate business and power it must, as an emperor sans culottes, must attempt to disguise prevarication and counter reforms as an ‘Education Revolution’.

Current ALP policy is a reminder that policy rhetoric and actual practice need to be interrogated if we are to make sense of the political landscape; what political and departmental representatives say they mean and what they do should never be taken at face value.

‘Productivity’, the business person’s and politician’s euphemism for ‘corporate profits’, informs the direction of ALP policy for children and education. The former deputy prime minister in addressing corporate business groups says it as it really is;

‘In today’s world’, she told a gathering of the Australian Industry Group, ‘the areas covered by my portfolios – early childhood education and childcare, schooling, training, universities, social inclusion, employment participation and workplace cooperation – are all ultimately about the same thing: productivity’. …. Further to the point ‘I’m going to be ignoring the old battles between unions and employers, public and private schools (taxpayer-funded-non-government-schools), the trades and universities and welfare and work’ … ‘Instead, I’m going to be measuring policies against the all-important criteria of how effectively they increase national productivity.’ (Dusevic 2009)

The question now is what should be done and by whom? For advocates and activists the real questions are; what are Australian governments hiding; where are the support and resources for; children who are having social, emotional or academic difficulties; school libraries and librarians; science and art rooms; maintaining and cleaning schools and care for gardens; to incorporate the creative arts, music, and dance? Why are essentially human activities regarded as distinct to literacy and numeracy, and good learning generally? These questions tell us quite a deal about what quality may mean. Is there a connection between the absences and regulation?

The view of education implied by the likes of PM Gillard is a default setting for a second-rate, standardised mass education for the mass of the people, the working class. Are Australian governments (COAG) the best advocates for school improvement? Do they assists to raise the sights and standards of teacher moral and professional learning. How does the Ministerial Council’s (MCEETYA) ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’ compare to the past two declarations?

How do we argue for, and provide a choice between an education worthy us of us all, as creative citizens, rather than a mass education suitable only for entraining teachers, students and the masses for the needs of corporations? For these choices to be made there needs to be a voice alerting our communities to other possibilities. This is the role of the early childhood teacher who regards themselves as an activist and advocate.

Dusevic, T. 2009, The Great Gillard Experiment, The Best Australian Political Writing 2009, MUP.

The Economy of Desires

December 30, 2014

Kenway and Bullen (2007) in their article ‘Globalising the young in the Age of Desire’ expose core aspects of the issues that should concern us as educators. By emphasising the particular values of neo-liberalism and the corporate-state such a critique must be argued within the context of the capitalist economic and political system. Is there a danger of assuming that there is a desire to analyse, and the political will to challenge mass corporate culture within the profession; and ultimately the authors assume that teachers, children and students are able to stand apart and resist the script of the ‘global corporate curriculum’?

As you enter ‘XY’ school one of the first things you see is the very large free-standing box encouraging parents to shop at Coles supermarkets so we can scrounge together some extra dollars for sports equipment. To resist by speaking-out about this issue is to be seen as a spoilsport; Coles is being philanthropic; parents have to shop anyway; we need the equipment. The character of western society and the corporate culture that currently conditions our daily life is achieved by such insidious examples of the ‘corporate script’ and how it is ‘acted-out’ in schools. How is this small exemplar repeated within the culture of corporations, is it as ubiquitous as their ads and their bad spelling?

Mass consumer culture, and mass corporate culture, provides the process of ‘privatisation’, one consequence of the corporate economic and political dynamic. Every individual subject becomes a ‘market’ to be exploited to expand capital and make profits for the corporations. This corporatisation of life dominated by technocratic CEOs, politicians and ‘human resource’ managers who use ‘the market’ as the excuse to dominate over us has implications for schools. Should this be of special concern for educators if we are to regard ourselves as critical advocates in relation to children’s rights and humanist pedagogies?

Workplace legislation that limit democratic rights by outlawing our right to organise and determine the character of our workplaces and our relationship with our employers; commercial in confidence rules; and penalties for bringing a corporation into disrepute, are just some of many examples that mitigate against reasonable relationships, flexibility in meeting individual and community needs, delivery and advocacy for programs that encourage democratic citizenship, workplaces and practices. What might be necessary to overcome these particular legal issues of control?

Naming this epoch as the ‘age of desire’ while proposing there is corresponding ‘lose of enchantment’ suggests there is a dual and contradictory process underway. Certainly the suggestion is that mass consumer culture appears to provide limitless possibilities to entertain, gratify and give pleasure. It appears too that this pleasure can be achieved easily and anywhere – but perhaps not in schools – where disenchantment threatens to pervade all one way or another.

Are schools expected to replicate corporations and the markets ability to reduce us all to the status of objects that consume? One past premier of Victoria who closed schools and sacked thousands of teachers believed the purpose of education was to make us ‘critical consumers’. To resist requires us to provide an antidote; it is not valid criticism if it is not a step toward providing an alternative to the threat of a purely reductionist conception and enactment that currently shapes humankind.

There is no doubt that schools and teachers need to rethink the meaning and purpose of education, but for that to happen discussions like this one must be generalised across the generations and across our communities. To take our education seriously means we do need educators and teachers in ‘schools’ who are capable and willing to overcome the corporate juggernaut, and re-enchant and redefine our needs, desires and therefore ourselves.

Kenway, J. & Bullen, E. (2007) Globalizing the young in the age of desire: Some educational policy issues. In M. Apple, J. Kenway & M. Singh, M. (Eds.) Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics, New York: Peter Lang, pp.31-44.


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