Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The poor are OVERfed in Australia

Report from Melbourne

Almost a quarter of women from wealthy Brighton, Hawthorn and Malvern are overweight - but people in poorer suburbs and country towns suffer most. Living the high life in the upper-class belt clearly puts pressure on the waist line. But when it comes to obesity, Victorians living in poorer suburbs and country towns suffer most.

Broadmeadows, Sunshine and Dandenong have the state's highest percentage of obese men. Morwell tops the list for obese women, followed by the outer-northern suburbs of Bundoora, Thomastown and Lalor. Surprisingly, men outnumber women almost two to one when it comes to being overweight. More than 40 per cent of Victorian men and 20 per cent of women are fighting the battle of the bulge. Men in affluent eastern suburbs were more likely to be overweight. But the worst examples of overeating were in the outer suburbs.

Statistics analysed by the Herald Sun reveal where the obesity epidemic has struck hardest in Victoria. The data from the University of Adelaide's Public Health Information Development Unit is based on self-reported height and weight statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey. The statistics, which have been adjusted to account for variations in age groups living in different areas, show your address could explain a lot about your weight....

VicHealth chief executive Dr Rob Moodie said the number of overweight women in the wealth belt was something of an anomaly. He said research typically supported the theory that people living in poorer areas were more likely to be overweight or obese than those in well-to-do areas. "Generally, people in the outer suburbs, where the land is cheaper and the housing is cheaper, are poorer," he said. "They have to get around in a car, are less likely to use public transport -- and we know that people who use public transport are twice as likely to get the recommended level of exercise." He said people living in less affluent areas were also more likely to be living close to fast-food restaurants.


Education: New-age ways miss the mark

William Spady's approach to learning - outcomes-based education - is full of flaws and contradictions, writes Kevin Donnelly

After listening to US academic William Spady - the father of outcomes-based education - at last month's Australian Primary Principal Association 2006 conference in Alice Springs, I can see no doubt about Spady's views on education. The more traditional approach to education is labelled as educentric by Spady and he condemns it for being competitive, academic, having right and wrong answers, being rational and logical and, as a result, instilling fear and an either-or mentality. In Spady's words: "The curriculum box, time box, grade-level box, opportunity box, testing box, marking box, achievement box, school box and classroom box all severely constrain how teachers and learners function and think about outcomes."

In opposition to the more conservative approach, Spady argues in favour of what he terms transformational outcomes-based education, described as a paradigm that embraces empowerment, divergent, lateral thinking, holistic and spiritual unity and a win-win approach imbued with love and synergy. While acknowledging it is difficult to properly implement OBE, Spady argues that teachers and educational leaders should strive to embrace an "inner realisation" paradigm of educational reform, involving "expanded consciousness of one's spiritual nature-potential", "one's intuitive connection to universal wisdom", "meditative exploration by quietening the conscious mind" and "learner-controlled timing group-enhanced experience".

In arguing the case for "a total learning community", Spady further suggests: "In a total learning community, no one has to prove anything to anyone else to be accepted for who they are and what they cancontribute."

While it might be tempting to dismiss Spady's views about education - blending, as they do, new-age managerial speak and age-of-Aquarius psychobabble - the reality is thatSpady has had and continues to have asignificant impact on Australian education. Not only were the original national curriculum statements and profiles developed during the 1990s under the Keating government, based on an outcomes model, but all states and territories, to various degrees, are also implementing curriculums founded on atransformational, outcomes-based approach.

The result? Competition and failing is considered bad for self-esteem, the focus of learning shifts from teaching subjects such as history and literature to instilling new-age and politically correct values, dispositions and attitudes, teachers facilitate instead of teach and students are described as knowledge navigators or adaptive, lifelong learners.

The flaws in Spady's views about education are many. First, Spady's description of the more conservative model of education, labelled as educentric, is misleading and simplified. Since the time of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, learning has always been about outcomes. Those familiar with Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy and the educational writings of T.S. Eliot will also know that a liberal humanist approach places at its centre the need to educate young people to be critically aware, to read with sensitivity and discrimination and to value the best that has been thought and said.

While such outcomes might not be the ones Spady prefers, the reality is that the type of learning associated with Western civilisation has a noble history and a proven record in benefiting mankind. The way advocates of OBE repeat the mantra of change, or what Spady terms the prevalence of "constant change and continuous discovery", is also wrong. As suggested by Eliot, education must acknowledge continuity as well as change and holding on to what is lasting is equally as important as embracing the new.

In belittling academic subjects and the need for memorisation and rote learning, Spady also makes the mistake of favouring one form of learning over another. Creativity and the ability to master higher order skills requires structured, formal learning and, on occasion, students need to learn by rote and be told they have failed. While OBE rightly promotes values such as tolerance, openness and respect for diversity and difference, such beliefs are often used as code for imposing the cultural Left's agenda on schools. Especially in areas such as multiculturalism, feminism, the class war and gender issues, the curriculum is often one-sided.

Thankfully, there is evidence that OBE's impact on Australian education is open to scrutiny and there is a willingness to admit mistakes. In Western Australia, after the debacle caused by Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich's attempts to force OBE into years 11 and 12, Premier Alan Carpenter was forced to intervene in an attempt to ameliorate some of its worst excesses. In Tasmania, after Paula Wriedt nearly lost her seat at the most recent election and was subsequently replaced as education minister, the new minister, David Bartlett, has agreed to review Tasmania's OBE-inspired essential learnings.

At the federal level, Prime Minister John Howard has spoken out against OBE gobbledygook and its impact on history and literature teaching, and the NSW Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, has publicly condemned OBE and argued that teachers need a clear road map of what is taught, associated with a more traditional syllabus approach to curriculum.


Food rebellion in Melbourne schools continues

Students are ignoring healthy canteen initiatives by turning to nearby milkbars for their junk food fix. Some senior students are also offered money to buy junk food for younger students not allowed to leave the school grounds. Secondary school students across inner Melbourne told the Sunday Herald Sun how they turn their back on healthy canteens.

Northcote High School year 12 student Nicole, 18, said a nearby milkbar was more than happy to sell fatty fried foods such as spring rolls and hot chips. Nicole thinks these foods are popular because they are cheap. A spring roll at the milkbar costs $1.70, while the school canteen charges about $4 for a salad roll.

Princes Hill Secondary College student Natina, 13, said the milkbar near her school was cheap and had a wider range of junk food and good healthy options.

Northcote High School has one of the state's healthiest canteens, yet VCE students choose to buy junk food from a milkbar. Principal Gail Davidson said it was disappointing, but added that VCE students were young adults and able to make their own choices.

State Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Blair said many schools were concerned about milkbars. Mr Blair said some principals had even resorted to asking milkbar owners not to serve students. Nutrition Australia dietician Kelly Neville said milkbar owners often weren't aware of healthy eating guidelines.


Council scuppered over tea break

The traditional Aussie cup of tea has won a reprieve. Over-zealous bureaucrats demanded that an amateur dramatics group had to pay a $210 fee and submit a food safety plan before they could serve cups of tea and biscuits during a show's interval. But council workers have now backed down.

Last month the Sunday Herald Sun reported the story of the Southern Peninsula Players Theatre Group and its run-in with the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council. The council insisted the group and another local amateur dramatics society had to comply with regulations. "Possibly as a result of pressure brought to bear by your story they have waived the fee and given us the go-ahead to serve hot drinks and biscuits -- provided the biscuits are in a packet," Geoff Brown, a member of the Players, said. "Let's face it, how can you poison someone with tea or coffee? "We will be taking full advantage of this at our next performance in November," Mr Brown said. "Appropriately enough we are planning a production of Fawlty Towers."

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