Friday, October 06, 2006

Court victory for gifted student

The mother of a child genius who was denied the opportunity to start high school at age nine - three years ahead of her peers - has beaten the Queensland Government in the Supreme Court. Up against the state's top legal minds, including Crown Solicitor Conrad Lohe, mother of four Robyn Malaxetxebarria - an "amateur" to the law - convinced Queensland's Supreme Court the Government might have discriminated against her daughter on the basis of her age.

Twelve-year-old Gracia Malaxetxebarria, who is on track to enrol in a university medicine degree by the time she is 14 after finishing Year 10 this year, welcomed the finding yesterday. "If you are able to do the grades, then you should be able to sit the grades," Gracia said, citing maths as her favourite subject.

In 2004, the then nine-year-old told her mother she was bored with primary school subjects and asked to advance to Year 8. Despite Gracia having an IQ of 147 -- the average score is 100 -- the Department of Education refused her request, saying she needed more time to develop socially. Her mother then removed Gracia from the public system, enrolled her in Year 8 at a private school 70km from their home and took her case to the anti-discrimination tribunal. She asked for a new home, a car and $500,000 in compensation for age discrimination, but lost in a decision in April. But Supreme Court judge John Helman yesterday quashed the tribunal's decision and ordered that the case be reheard.

Justice Helman found the tribunal had failed to consider a further request to the Department of Education by the family, in June 2004, to allow Gracia unconditional acceleration as a gifted child. This was despite a school report from the private Brisbane Adventist College that showed Gracia had performed well during the first semester of Year 8, receiving As and Bs for all her subjects. Justice Helman found the report, which said Gracia should go directly into a state high school, should have been given "careful consideration and analysis".

State Education Minister Rod Welford refused to comment on the ruling. "It is not appropriate for us to comment -- we have to be very careful when the matter is still before the courts," a spokesman for the minister said.

Ms Malaxetxebarria denied she had been a pushy mother to Gracia. "This was her need," she said. "I am trying to be a bit of an Atticus Finch here to see her human rights are looked after." University of Queensland professor of clinical psychology Matt Sanders said the public school system needed to be more attentive to gifted students' needs. Gracia said she had adjusted well to high school, despite her age, and was proud of her mother for having supported her through the courts. "It's good in Year 10," she said. "I've got my friends and everything, and I seem to be doing well."


One for the old timers

Australian playwright Gwen Meredith, famous for writing the long-running ABC radio serial Blue Hills, has died at the age of 98. Meredith's cousin, Jackie Treseder, told ABC radio the writer had been ill for some time and had died peacefully at her NSW southern highlands home in Bowral recently. "She had been unwell for a little while with her heart. Over the last week her health has deteriorated. She's had two cousins and a longstanding friend with her for the last week by her bedside," Ms Treseder said. A private funeral service was held yesterday. "Her wishes have been that she had a very private, peaceful, funeral, which we had today," Ms Treseder said.

Blue Hills ran for 27 years and earned Meredith a Member of the Order of the British Empire award on June 10, 1967, for her services to radio entertainment. More than a decade later, she was also honoured with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to the arts.

From Orange in country NSW, Meredith completed her secondary education at Sydney Girls High School and her tertiary education at the University of Sydney. She later took a Bachelor of Arts degree. With a love of literature, Meredith invested in her own bookstore, Chelsea Bookshop, which was a source of income and her writing haven from 1932 to 1938. In the four years following the sale of the bookshop, she worked as a freelance writer and also married engineer Ainsworth Harrison.

In 1943, she started a 33-year relationship with the ABC, contracted to write radio plays, serials and documentaries. Meredith was initially best known for writing the radio serial The Lawsons, which ran for five years and 1299 episodes until February 5, 1949. Three weeks later, Blue Hills - a family saga about country life - was launched and lasted 5795 episodes. Meredith's friend Ian Doyle told the ABC her work on Blue Hills would never be forgotten. "Well, 5795 episodes was the number (of episodes she wrote) ... she didn't write it, she spoke it ... recorded it on a tape machine and it was then transcribed at the ABC," he said. "That's why the people who were in Blue Hills felt as if the serial had a real life to it, because Gwen actually spoke the words before they were then typed."


No jobs for Brit doctors and nurses

Australia is set to benefit from a looming brain drain from Britain's health services. The British Medical Association says almost 6000 young doctors and nurses may have to move overseas or even quit because they cannot get jobs in the National Health Service. Financial straits have led many trusts which run the health system to close wards and cut staff so graduates compete for far fewer jobs. "In one university, only two out of 300 new graduates have found posts," the Royal College of Nursing's Susan Watt said. "These nurses . . . are badly needed but trusts don't have the money to pay their salaries." Virtually all healthcare professions are on the wanted list at a nationwide series of Australia Needs Skills fairs being held by the Immigration Department in Britain this month.


Geography: Another school subject is hijacked by politics and fads

(An editorial from "The Australian" below)

It's been decades since borders, bays and capes were the sole questions covered in geography class. Which is as it should be. When properly taught, the subject should, as the world's first geography professor, James Fairgrieve put it, "train future citizens to imagine accurately the condition of the great world stage and so help them to think sanely about political and social problems of the world". Yet far from reaching this lofty ideal, in geography classrooms around Australia the subject has become little more than a stalking horse for hard-green ideology. And with the exception of NSW, which has always treated geography as a separate subject, and Victoria, which has recently reinstated it as such, geography has been folded into the same broad umbrella of Studies of Society and the Environment that has ripped the teaching of other disciplines such as history from its moorings. This shift opened the door to faddish politics and greatly reduced the chances that a trained geography teacher would actually teach the subject. Even in NSW, where geography is a separate required subject, students are taught to view mining, development and land clearing in an entirely negative light. (A more balanced approach would note that such activities generate wealth for Australia, give a growing population places to live and provide food for domestic and foreign markets.) Human rights and reconciliation are also taught in NSW's geography classrooms.

It is bad enough that Australia's geography curriculums have been so blatantly politicised and that students are encouraged to translate their lesson plans into political activism. Inaccuracies abound as well. Water is described as a "finite resource" in a draft curriculum for Year 11 and 12 students in South Australia - despite there being a more-or-less stable amount of the stuff on the planet. And as in history and English classrooms, a warmed-over Marxism, with its stultifying obsession with power relationships, dominates. In Queensland, the curriculum is charged with educating students about social justice, sustainability, peace and "environmental justice". Education Minister Julie Bishop is concerned that geography "does not fall victim to the same fate as that of history teaching, (which) has become an exercise in political indoctrination". Unfortunately, in much of the country this has already happened.

The decline in geography teaching mirrors a similar descent into the standard-free swamps of postmodernism and political correctness that has already devastated the teaching of English and history. Rather than grounding students in the basics of the discipline and giving them a foundation from which to explore more advanced theories later in their academic careers, teachers leapfrog the essentials and indoctrinate students with theories that will very likely be out of favour by the time their charges enter university. Which is a shame. A solid grounding in the location and behaviour of the world's rivers and resources goes a long way towards helping one grasp the history of human conflict. True understanding of the science of natural processes allows students to evaluate urban sprawl and climate change for themselves and come to their own conclusions - not just be spoon-fed them. And answers to timeless questions, such as why some societies succeed while others fail, can be found within geography. Polluting the discipline with such nebulous concepts as "social justice" and "ecological sustainability" encourages students to turn their brains off and instead parrot the approved, politically correct answers demanded by the curriculum. As with history and English, geography teaching desperately needs to be returned to its roots.


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