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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

It is sometimes hard to believe that the AEU, the Australian Education Union, has any commitment to improving educational outcomes at all.

There can be no doubt about their commitment to making life easier for teachers. The constant refrain is “more pay, smaller classes.” Australia has amongst the smallest average class sizes and best paid teachers anywhere in the world. This has not resulted in any improvement in standards of literacy or numeracy. Cultural literacy; an understanding of Western values, history, music, literature and art, has declined precipitously.

The entirely predictable recommendations of the Review of Funding for Schooling (the Gonski panel) were more money and smaller class sizes. But once class sizes get below about thirty-five, further decreases make little difference to student learning. Simply hurling money at education will not help, unless spending is based on real-world research into what works.

Responses from the Labor Party and the AEU to questions from the opposition about the Gonski recommendations were just as predictable as the recommendations themselves.

“I’m not sure that Christopher Pyne’s plan to sack teachers and increase class sizes is the answer to the challenge we face in education,” acting School Education Minister Chris Evans told ABC News Online.

Except that Christopher Pyne said nothing about sacking teachers and increasing class sizes. He said that research and experience in other countries shows that simply focussing on class size does not help students.

The chairman of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), Professor Barry McGaw, agrees the focus on class sizes has been misplaced.

“We have wasted a lot of money in Australian education by reducing class size,” Professor McGaw told ABC NewsRadio.

“It’s a very expensive thing to do and the range in which we’ve reduced it has almost no impact on student learning.”

The AEU has a website called I Give a Gonski. Presumably ‘giving a Gonski’ is meant to indicate concern about education.

Anyone who really does ‘give a gonski’ about education should vehemently oppose these ‘more of the same’ recommendations, and insist on educational policies and spending which will actually improve learning.

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A (slightly edited) letter by Carrie Geshus in the May 1st issue of reason magazine:

Extreme paternalism, over-protectiveness, giving in to a loved one’s every desire are simply shortcuts and not expressions of real love. It is much easier to give little Johnny a trophy after he loses a baseball tournament than it is to watch him sulk and cry for an afternoon. But allowing him to learn that many of life’s endeavours naturally come with failure will impart a lesson that strengthens him for a lifetime, while the sorrows of specific failures are long forgotten. Falsely bolstering self-esteem with endless coddling does nothing but create individuals who stare across the threshold of adulthood, terrified and without a clue how to stand on their own. I would hardly call that love.

Children need the chance to learn that failure is not the end of the world, that failure does not mean that they are a failure, that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. Current parenting and educational practices which ensure that no one ever fails, while comfortable for parents and teachers, set children up for such abject misery in the long run that they amount to child abuse.

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One of a few interesting posts over the last week from Dr Tim Ball:

Support and even reward of failure by the current US administration is the culmination of a pattern begun several years ago under the guise of progress. It generally began in the school system when students were not allowed to fail, and worse, were pushed unprepared to a higher level. By the time the student realized they were totally unprepared they were no longer in the education system. It is an ultimately destructive approach …

I watched more and more students come into university simply unprepared. A measure of the problems was the proliferation of remedial skills courses and probationary courses required before assigning regular student status in colleges and universities. Employers increasingly complained about poor skills among graduating students. Approximately 10 emails a month from students doing classroom projects provide me with a crude measure of poor language skills.

Not allowing failure became a prevailing philosophy in our schools several years ago. It’s assumed this will promote individual personality and freedom when the actual result is enslavement of the individual. It ignores the fact you learn self-discipline by initially being disciplined. As you demonstrate a personal responsibility you are given more self-discipline. It is naïve and dangerous to assume children will develop self-discipline on their own. It is dangerous for the child and for society. …

(Recently I had a) .. debate with a liberal education professor about the need for school leaving exams. It occurred in front of High School students and teachers. He opposed them with the usual arguments; teachers simply taught to the exams; they created stress for the students; they create a two-tiered society of successes and failures. In response I said; at least the teachers were teaching to some standard; yes, the tests were stressful but life is stressful and preparing students for life is fundamental; the results created a two-tiered society because the testing was usually geared to college entrance rather than a broad determination of abilities; the system usually ignored how the measures were helpful to students as a measure of their abilities with other students beyond their school.

I was jeered and booed most of the time until, to a mighty cheer, a student said he opposed testing of any kind. I suggested the student better hope the pilot of the next commercial flight he took had achieved some level of performance in his flying tests.

At many public schools in Australia, there is a ‘no child will fail’ philosophy. This does not mean that students are given whatever help they need to reach required objective standards. It means results are manipulated until it looks like students have succeeded. It also means that teachers who do want to teach and mark to standards are marginalised and even abused.

One school staff member related an incident where he had said he could not pass certain students because they had simply not done the required work, or not done it to the required standard. The response from another staff member was shouting and waving a finger in his face. It wasn’t fair, she shouted. His harsh attitude would adversly affect the students’ self-esteem.

This kind of ‘no one is allowed to fail’ mentality is one of the reasons industry IT qualifications are valued much more highly than school or college diplomas.

To get an industry qualification you have to prove you have the knowledge and skills. There are objective standards. You have to meet them. If you don’t, you don’t get the qualification. Consequently, if you have a COMPTIA or Citrix or Microsoft certification, people will have confidence you can do the work, and you will get a job.

The same is true, or I hope it is, for airline pilots and brain surgeons. But in almost every endeavour, some real knowledge and skills are necessary. That is reality. We are setting students up for real and lasting failure if we do not prepare them for it.

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I have a 700 word piece about the proposed National Curriculum on Quadrant Online.

I agree with Kevin Donnelly of the Educational Standards Institute that the National Curriculum is a fluffy and disconnected mess.

I suggest that this may in fact be a good thing, because it may encourage more parents and students to consider independent schools.

However, I note that even independent schools are required to implement the Curriculum as a condition of continued Commonwealth funding.

At first, this appears to be (and probably is) an attempt to limit the autonomy of independent schools, and the range of choices available to parents.

In some states, South Australia, for example, independent schools are already required to teach the State curriculum.

Yet independent schools in South Australia do offer real choice in teaching syles and content, because funding agreements cannot prevent them from teaching more than the approved curriculum requires.

Despite efforts to make them conform, independent schools around Australia will do the same.

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Dallas Primary School in Broadmeadow, Victoria, went from well below national standards in the 2008 NAPLAN test to well above in 2010. How?

Former education department bureaucrat John Nelson said the Dallas results were ”gobsmacking”. Despite a large migrant population and low socio-economic status, year 3 students were reading, spelling and understanding grammar and punctuation at significantly higher levels than the national average for year 5 students. In grammar and punctuation, the school’s year 3 students outstripped its year 5 students, by a score of 596 to 522.

The students’ improvement from year 3 in 2008 to year 5 in 2010 was enormous, putting year 5 students at near year 8 levels.

 But:

In the 2010 test last May, only 74 per cent of Dallas Primary students sat the test; 20 per cent were ”withdrawn” and 7 per cent ”absent”. The national average attendance was 96 per cent.

Leading to suggestions that children who were struggling may have been told to stay home, or not allowed to take the test.

Other Victorian principals are suspicious. Doug Conway, principal of the western suburban Kings Park Primary School, believes the ”lowest-performing kids were told to stay at home”.

”If you did that at my school, the low SES, high non-English-speaking background children, we’d get a colossal spike,” he said. ”I think the pressure on schools has led some schools to have lower participation rates than they should have.”

The school says this is not so. But they have refused to talk about what methods they used to achieve such a massive jump in academic performance.

Mr Nelson, who quit his Education Department job because he thought a departmental investigation into Dallas was ”a whitewash”, asked: ”What did they do that took a kid in Broadmeadows from the bottom 10th or 20th percentile and put them in the top percentile? Whatever they did needs to be copied by everybody, so why hasn’t it? Why didn’t they celebrate their methods?”

 Indeed.

Dallas Primary, if you did get it right, if you did achieve this miracle, please share your methods so children in other schools can benefit too.

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This is one of those ‘only in Australia’ stories.

A young couple grabbed two inflatable women they had lying around the house and took them for a ride down the flooded Yarra River in Victoria.

The man and woman, both 19, were left clinging to a fallen gum tree in the middle of the river in North Warrandyte when one of the dolls snagged on the tree and their caper went horribly wrong about 4.30pm.

An SES watercraft came to their rescue not far from Bradleys Lane about an hour later.

While it is understood the blow up doll and several other inflatable items were salvaged from the scene, the bottoms of the rescued woman’s bathers were long gone down the river.

A blanket was required to protect her modesty as she exited the water.

Modesty Protected

Victorian Police issued a stern warning that inflatable women are not approved flotation devices.

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One of my close friends is a teacher with many years of classroom and administrative experience.

She came to KICE (Kangaroo Island Community Education) with a long history of developing positive relationships with parents, writing and implementing thoughtful and interesting programmes, and helping her students to achieve high academic standards.

She is one of those rare teachers who knows what standards are, and cares enough about her students to make them work to achieve them.

She has frequently faced hostility from both students and parents, hostility which has been replaced by respect and gratitude when students realise that they can do the work, and parents see that their children are getting results which they would not have thought possible.

At KICE she faced hostility from staff as well. On more than one occasion I overheard other teachers sniggering about what was being done to her. All the most difficult students put in her classes. Denied acccess to resources and to her own office space. Openly undermined with parents and students.

I was so disturbed by this that I wrote to the Head of Campus at Kingscote. I didn’t even get a reply.

Meanwhile, bullying is rife, academic standards continue to be appallingly low, and the school cannot stay within its budget.

It was reported to me by a parent that at the end of year assembly one of the finishing students had thanked the staff for their support. So far so good. But the student reserved special thanks for a staff member who had regularly rung them to remind them they should be at school, and who had finished their work for them if they were feeling stressed.

I was astonished. Surely that person could not really have thought this was kindness? Or that she was doing the students any good in the long term?

My impression is that (in many state schools, anyway) teachers who know what children should be learning, and try to teach, and maintain objective standards and mark to them (in other words, who do the things that are proven to build confident and capable students), are finding themselves more and more isolated.

This article by Katharine Birbalsingh tells of her similar experiences on the other side of the world.

A couple of excerpts:

For years, I soldiered on in the classroom, working hard to change the minds of children who were paralysed by a sense of victimhood. They found it impossible to believe that I had chosen to be their teacher, that I wanted to be there, that I loved being around them. Eventually, like any good teacher, I won them over by using all the tricks of the trade, from gold stars to phone calls at home with positive comments, to holding breakfast clubs in the early morning when I would spend my own money on croissants. My students felt grateful. Like me, other teachers give their life to the job, and we “succeed” despite of the shackles of the system.

The regular dumbing-down of our examination system is obvious to any teacher who is paying attention and who has been in the game for some time. The refusal to allow children to fail at anything is endemic in a school culture that always looks after self-esteem and misses the crucial point, which is that children’s self-esteem depends on achieving real success. If we never encourage them to challenge themselves by risking failure, self-esteem will never come …

I had become indoctrinated by all the trendy nonsense dictating that if children are not behaving in your classroom, it is because you have been standing in front of them for more than five minutes trying to teach them. If only you had sat them in groups with you as facilitator, rather than teacher at the front, then you’d have the safe environment conducive to learning that we all seek. The basic ideology is that if there is chaos in the classroom, it is the teacher’s fault. Children are not responsible for themselves, while senior management fails to establish systems that support teachers and punish children for not doing their homework, whatever their home situation.

I argued constantly with my colleagues and bosses. Often, I won and, almost as if they were inextricably linked, as the innate liberalism within people waned, the department or the school would improve. In every instance, I could see for myself that a move away from liberalism was a step in the right direction, a step that brought calm out of chaos, learning in place of trendiness, and success instead of failure …

Incidentally, my friend was invited back to a school where she had previously been in leadership, and begins there in a couple of weeks. Good for them. But such a pity for KICE, that someone who could have been an invaluable resource, and could have made a difference, felt she could no longer stay on in an atmosphere of hostility and indifference.

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Anyone interested in education should read this article, ‘The Shadow Scholar,’ in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

‘Ed Dante’ makes a living writing essays for school and university students.

A teenager asked me a couple of week ago whether school and university qualifications were of benefit in finding work in the IT industry.

I said no. School and university qualifications are not generally regarded as providing objective evidence of actually knowing anything, or being able to do anything.

Partly this is because school results, and to a lesser but still significant extent, university results, are an indication, not of skills, knowledge, or ability, but of how much of an effort the teacher thinks has been made, given the student’s struggles, limitations and background.

In other words, a poor student from a home background of drunkeness and violence is likely to be given grades equal to those of a very good student who does not face those difficulties.

This may be kind and motherly and caring, but it is of no help to employers, nor, in the end, to the student.

It also helps if you agree with the teachers’/lecturers’ perspectives and generally suck up to them by pretending to be interested in what they say.

Industry qualifications have no such issues. No one cares if your mother was a heroin addict, or if you have dyslexia or ADHD, or if you think the lecturer is a really cool guy. You do the study, you go to an exam centre, you prove who you are, you take an exam with a high fail rate (up to 90%) in a secure environment with cameras or real people watching you, and you pass or fail.

There is no lily-livered nonsense about some people not coping with exams. If they can’t cope with exams they are not going to cope with the pressures and stress of a real-world job.

And the result is that employers have confidence in the qualifications that are awarded. They show that a person really does know what he or she says she knows, and can do the work he or she says he can.

Some cheating occurs, of course. You can probably slip the manager of a testing centre in Pakistan $1000 to let someone else take the test for you.

But nothing compared with the wholesale rorting of ‘continuous assessment’ at schools and universities.

A couple of quotes from the article:

You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students’ writing. I have seen the word “desperate” misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn’t write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren’t getting it.

For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?

I live well on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has created …

… for the first two types of students—the ESL and the hopelessly deficient—colleges are utterly failing them. Students who come to American universities from other countries find that their efforts to learn a new language are confounded not only by cultural difficulties but also by the pressures of grading. The focus on evaluation rather than education means that those who haven’t mastered English must do so quickly or suffer the consequences. My service provides a particularly quick way to “master” English. And those who are hopelessly deficient—a euphemism, I admit—struggle with communication in general.

Two days had passed since I last heard from the business student. Overnight I had received 14 e-mails from her. She had additional instructions for the assignment, such as “but more again please make sure they are a good link betwee the leticture review and all the chapter and the benfet of my paper. finally do you think the level of this work? how match i can get it?” …

… it’s hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating. But I’d say education is the worst. I’ve written papers for students in elementary-education programs, special-education majors, and ESL-training courses. I’ve written lesson plans for aspiring high-school teachers, and I’ve synthesized reports from notes that customers have taken during classroom observations. I’ve written essays for those studying to become school administrators, and I’ve completed theses for those on course to become principals. In the enormous conspiracy that is student cheating, the frontline intelligence community is infiltrated by double agents.

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A couple of weeks ago a Year Twelve student from the local school gave me a questionaire on employment in the IT industry.

That was one of the questions. Most of the others had similar errors.

I have two questions of my own.

1. Does the school check questionnaires, letters, etc before they go to members of the public?

Well, obviously not.

Or at least I hope it was not checked by a staff member, because if it was, our schools are even worse than I think they are.

2. How is it that a reasonably intelligent boy in Year Twelve has such appalling literacy?

If a person who is no dimwit can get through twelve years of schooling and have no idea how to spell or construct a sentence, what the heck has he been doing all that time?

And what have schools been doing with all my tax money?

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An interesting article from Kelsey Grammer’s Rightnetwork from a home schooling journalist.

Just a sample:

Academically, we couldn’t help but observe that  our fourteen-year-old son was made to watch My Big Fat, Greek Wedding in English class because they’re supposed to be studying Homer — and Homer’s Greek, you know; or notice that he’s seen Al Gore’s carbon footprint infomercial four times already, once each in four different classes; discover that none of the teachers or administrators can spell or operate a sentence, never mind the students, but they’ve seen Supersize Me twice already; or see that all his textless textbooks looked like a cross between a comic book and a collage. Such things indicated that nothing serious was ever going to happen in school. As far as behavior goes, we’ve had enough experience with both sons now to know that males of the species are simply not welcome in public school. That was Samuel Burgos’ real crime. He acted like a little boy, and that’s not allowed.  His parents should embrace it, and never send him back. That’s what we’ve done, and we couldn’t be happier.

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GK Chesterton said ‘Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.’

That is not my favorite Chesterton quote. He also said ‘A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.’

Both are apposite when thinking about contemporary government-run education.

Last year my wife completed a post graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education.

The theme of every unit in this diploma was that the little blighters educate themselves. All you need to do, as an educational facilitator, is to provide them with a rich learning environment.

In particular, you shouldn’t think of teaching them anything, or of directing their learning in any way. This may harm their self-esteem, curiosity and creativity. Children will absorb the numeracy and literacy skills they need as they need them. Their learning should be self-directed.

Apart from being complete and utter bollocks, what struck me most about this course was how carefully structured it was.

By the time you get to post-graduate level, you have a pretty good idea of how to study, and of the gaps in your knowledge. Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld remarked, there are also unknown unknowns – things you don’t know you don’t know, and this is where a good teacher comes in handy.

But in this course, every student had to read the same articles in the same order, and was expected to come to the same conclusion. Namely, that education works best when it is unstructured.

The lecturer, being a humourless left wing git, saw no irony in this at all.

Post-graduates can be expected to take most of the responsibility for their learning. Kindergarten and primary children cannot. The whole world is unknown unknowns to them. They have no way of knowing what they need to learn, or how to go about learning it.

Sadly, most primary teachers in Australian state schools, never having been educated themselves, cling to the romantic ideal of student directed learning.

The one area where this does not seem to apply is political/environmental issues.

At government schools around the country, students are regularly subjected to emotionally laden, reason-free, questioning forbidden, programmes of indoctrination on matters environmental.

One recent example is is the ghastly consequences of palm oil farming. Single-minded and empty headed guest speakers are inflicted on the students, who are also obliged to watch heart-rending videos of forest clearing followed by pictures of sad looking orang utans and little elephants.

They are then encouraged to act globally by telling other people what to do.

For example, students may wish to write to Australian companies which use palm oil, threatening not use their products unless they cease to do so. Or they may write to the Indonesian ambassador expressing their dismay at Indonesia’s apparent disregard for the welfare of its endangered species.

The arrogance is astonishing. As is the complete lack of concern for the families whose livelihoods such actions will destroy.

Students then file home in a bored but confidently self-righteous fashion, leaving a trail of litter, and perhaps bashing a few penguins to death along the way.

Believe me, it happens.

The end result is listless and resentful students, whose self-esteem really is damaged because they know very well that they are not achieving or learning anything worthwhile.

But teachers, in a frenzy of rose tinted delusion, return to the staff room to congratulate themselves on what a wonderful job they are doing, oblivious to the consistently appalling behaviour, and equally appalling academic results.

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There is no getting around reality.

Someone decides it is insulting to call people whose intellectual development has been retarded ‘retarded.’ So we are told to call them ‘intellectually handicapped.’

Soon ‘intellectually handicapped’ becomes a form of insult. So we are told to call them ‘slow learners.’

A couple of years later, every time you want  to insult your mates you say ‘Looking like a slow learner there Joe!’

So that term naturally becomes unacceptable, and anyone who has ever used it is obviously insensitive and uncaring.

Let’s call them ‘special children’ instead. Let’s have ‘special schools’ for ‘special children.’

Scene in schoolyard: ‘You’re a special child!’ ‘I am not. I’m telling.’

There is no getting around reality.

So when you are no longer supposed to call homosexuals homosexuals because that might be insulting, and instead you are supposed to call them ‘gay,’ what is going to happen to that word?

Any school teacher can tell you that the worst possible insult in the playground is beng called gay. You can say someone is lame, you can insult his mother, or her father. But but if one child calls another child gay, be prepared for trouble.

Whether being gay really is gay, I don’t know. Most homosexuals of my acquaintance don’t demonstrate a a high level of satisfaction with their lives, so I suspect it might be.

But they really are gay, the ones who objected to principal Garry Martin’s replacing the word ‘gay’ in the Kookaburra song with the word ‘fun.’

Firstly, when the song was written ‘gay’ pretty much meant fun. Remember The Gay Divorcee? OK, there aren’t many of them either. Or the Gay Nineties? Not the recent nineties, the ones before?

No? Well, you know what I mean.

Before the word gay, a good word, was hijacked, it meant happy, light-hearted, fun.

Now it just means gay.

Marion Sinclair meant that a kookaburra’s life was carefree, fun. So Principal Garry was being true to the original text. And Kookaburra, fun to sing though it is, is not Shakespeare.

Secondly, this was about children singing. Children singing. Children, at school, singing together.

The word gay is an extreme insult in the playground. So naturally the kids were rolling around the floor laughing when asked to sing about a gay kookaburra.

So why not do the sensible thing and replace the word ‘gay’ with the word ‘fun?’

Garry describes what he was thinking:

“I wasn’t trying to incite or insult gay people, or trying to violate the copyright of Larrikin Music; it was just a decision at the time that I thought would minimise a disruptive atmosphere with grades one and and two.”

But after a controversy in which it has been suggested he is trying to make gay people invisible:

In an interview on the Nine Network, Mr Martin was backtracking on his decision, saying that perhaps he should have discussed the true meaning of the word with the children.

So Garry now thinks he would have been doing the right thing if he discussed homosexuality with year ones and twos?

Well, that’s what the brownshorts wanted.

No, Garry no. You were right the first time.

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