Tuesday, April 06, 2010
A tribute to many years of "look and see" literacy education in Australia
Phonics was abandoned decades ago -- in a typical act of Leftist destructiveness -- but very recently seems to have staged a partial comeback
An astonishing four million Australian workers [Note: the total Australian population is around 22 million, of whom roughly half would be workers -- so the percentage involved here is enormous] have poor language, literacy and numeracy skills and cannot understand the meaning of some everyday words.
And their inability to following basic instructions and warnings is causing a safety and productivity nightmare. Most are in labour-intensive and low-level service jobs.
Among the terms that are too difficult for some workers are "hearing protection" and "personal protective equipment is required", according to a report by Skills Australia for the Rudd Government.
The words that many do not understand include: immediately, authorised, procedure, deliberate, isolation, mandatory, recommended, experience, required and optional.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout told the Herald Sun 46 per cent of workers had substandard literacy skills and 53 per cent had numeracy below the expected benchmark.
"It's really worrying when people can't read or write," Ms Ridout said. "It contributes to workplace safety problems. You've got to have a lot of pictures to promote safety and it contributes to inefficient practices and mistakes. That means time is wasted and work has to be repeated."
Ms Ridout, a board member of Skills Australia, said some workers could not read and understand standard operating procedures, which led to incorrect use of machinery. They could not read drawings and were drilling the wrong-sized holes or cutting steel incorrectly.
"These people are not able to function successfully in a modern workforce," she said. "But it is not just the workers. One company found a supervisor couldn't read or write properly and got a big shock," she said.
Ms Ridout called on the Government to introduce a national adult literacy and numeracy scheme in next month's Budget to provide resources and teaching support. "This problem is caused by bad education," she said. "These people haven't been picked up when they've fallen."
Other terms that were too difficult for some workers included sheeted material, company policies, gross misconduct and disciplinary action.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has nominated improving productivity as a crucial plank towards coping with the pressures of an ageing population. Ms Ridout said poor workplace literacy and numeracy was a roadblock to that goal.
The Government recently provided $50 million to create more training places for businesses to increase skills that are in high demand.
But Ms Ridout said it did not help workers who had trouble with the basics. "We can't lift skills if some workers don't have the basic skills to build on," she said. "All these people should be given a chance to participate but if they can't read and write and add up, it's going to be very tough for them."
Conservatives not backing net censorship plan
OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott says there is insufficient evidence ISP filtering is effective enough to warrant his full support. Mr Abbott hasn't been convinced internet filtering can really trap net nasties as there was no substantial technical evidence.
"We certainly haven't seen the kind of technical assurances that we'd need so let's wait and see how this thing develops," he said in response to a question on the ABC's Q&A program last night. "I want to see protections in place. I don't want to see our kids exposed to really terrible stuff on the internet. On the other hand I don't want to see the internet destroyed by a filtering system that won't work so I guess for me it's a factual issue.
"Can you have a filtering system that is effective, that doesn't lull parents into a false sense of security and which doesn't in the process make the internet ineffective as the kind of marvellous research tool and educational device that it is? "I don't know at the moment ... I just don't know," Mr Abbott said.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, however, argues that his filter is "100 per cent accurate" following a live trial of the blocking process with nine ISPs.
Speaking on ABC Radio last week, he said: "The internet filter that we are proposing has been shown to be 100 per cent accurate - no over blocking, no under blocking. It's 100 per cent accurate because it targets a defined URL address ... it's an individual page within a website."
Joe Hockey is one opposition frontbencher who has made his views on the filter crystal clear. In his speech "In Defence of Liberty" at the Grattan Institute last month, the shadow treasurer expressed concern the government would take advantage of the filter to broaden its censorship reach.
"The government’s Internet filtering proposals is a scheme that is likely to be unworkable in practice. "But more perniciously it is a scheme that will create the infrastructure for government censorship on a broader scale. "Protecting liberty is about protecting freedoms against both known and future threats. Some may argue that we can surely trust a democratically elected government in Australia to never try to introduce more widespread censorship. I am not so sure," Mr Hockey said.
The federal government wants to introduce mandatory ISP filtering so online content rated RC or Refused Classification would be automatically blocked by ISPs. Legislation to force ISPs to start blocking the internet is expected to be introduced in the second half of this year.
Kevin Rudd is set to cast the online filtering net wider in the coming election, a major backflip from original plans unveiled at the previous polls.
But online experts say the definition of RC is too broad, highly subjective and can trap legal, adult material.
Labor first unveiled its internet filtering plan in the lead-up to the 2007 election and people hardly bat an eyelid since the emphasis was explicitly on the safety of children - not adults - on the internet. In his manifesto - Labor's Plan for Cyber safety – Senator Conroy, then Opposition spokesman for communications and IT, said: "Labor recognises that cyber safety today is an important part of children's overall health and well-being, yet it is one that is not being adequately addressed by the Howard government."
Senator Conroy laid-out a five-pronged plan to enhance cyber safety for children, including the introduction of a "clean feed" to stamp out net nasties. "(Labor will) provide a mandatory 'clean feed' internet service for all homes, schools and public computers that are used by Australian children.
"ISPs will filter out content that is identified as prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA 'blacklist' will be made more comprehensive to ensure that children are protected from harmful and inappropriate online material," he said at the time.
Today, Senator Conroy has his sights firmly set on stamping out RC content which he argues includes child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act. They are illegal to purchase in the physical world and such laws should extend to the virtual world, he says.
The Classification Board determines what type of content falls under RC and other ratings. At the moment, there are three content areas that guide the board's decisions - film, games and publications. There is no category for the internet and as such, videos on Google's YouTube site, for example, are judged as films. "As long as it's moving it's a film. Otherwise it's a publication," a Classification Board spokeswoman said.
(A public consultation process is underway to see whether there should be an R18+ classification category for computer games.)
However, Senator Conroy's definition of RC is not exhaustive and can be misleading as online free speech advocate Irene Graham points out in one of many examples. "RC material is a wide-ranging category of content which includes material deemed to 'offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults'," Ms Graham said.
The depiction of actual sexual activity between consenting adults involving lawful fetishes could also be classified as RC content and blocked by Senator Conroy's filter, she said.
Senator Conroy's office has admitted that the process is open to one's interpretation. Asked whether the government believes there are no grey areas when it comes to RC material online, a spokeswoman for Senator Conroy said: "State and federal attorney's-general decide on the guidelines for Refused Classification based on 'community standards'. "There will always be content that various individuals disagree with but importantly it is the Classification Board, an agency at arm's length from the government and representative of the community, which makes the decisions about individual cases," she said.
Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre executive director at the University of New South Wales, David Vaile, says the internet cannot be treated as a tangible product. "The internet has eroded the distinction between published and unpublished - where this meant central production and distribution, and a sale based revenue model," Mr Vaile said. "Now everyone can and is a publisher, and the volume is so high that humans cannot be afforded to classify it all. This means the classification model has broken for the internet."
Internet giant Google also believes the filtering regime is too broad. "(It) limits freedom of access to information. A broadly scoped mandatory filter could block important content which informs public debate on socially and politically controversial issues and we do not believe that governments have the right to block that information," a Google Australia spokeswoman said.
NSW Health admits its patient satisfaction figures are rubbery
NSW Health has overstated the proportion of patients satisfied with how long they have to wait for an operation, after an error compiling the statistics, the department has admitted.
In its latest patient survey, released in November, it claimed 85 per cent of patients thought their operation had been scheduled within a reasonable period. But the actual figure was 80 per cent, a departmental spokesman confirmed to the Herald.
The original satisfaction figure was compiled from the responses of the 59 per cent of patients who had undergone medical tests before admission, while other patients' answers were not included.
Those numbers suggest about a third of patients who did not have pre-surgery tests were unhappy with how long they had to wait for their procedure.
The department admitted the mistake - which it also made in the preceding two years' surveys - in a bulletin of errata to the reports published on its website. But the bulletin did not supply the true figure, which remains uncorrected in the online publication.
The misrepresentation comes as doctors last week revealed surgery waiting times have blown out across western Sydney, where same-day cancellations of procedures are running at four times the maximum level deemed acceptable and some surgeons are refusing even to schedule operations they judge unlikely to go ahead. Doctors say the region is under-funded for its high workload of uninsured patients who cannot choose private care.
Along with overcrowded emergency departments, elective surgery access has been the state government's most difficult issue in the health portfolio, and is at the heart of the federal government's argument for assuming a greater proportion of public hospital funding.
The Commonwealth last year pledged up to $600 million over four years to the states to reduce surgery waiting lists. In its reform plan document released last month, it called surgery waiting times "a particular area of concern", and said Canberra would "increasingly look to insist on higher national standards of performance … with new targets backed up by explicit financial rewards and penalties".
A NSW Health spokesman defended the patient survey, saying the state was the first to attempt such an exercise. It was "an extremely valuable tool that enables us to get an in-depth picture of patients' experiences".
Conservatives to cut immigration
TONY Abbott's Coalition will cut net migration levels if it wins government, in a bid to stop Australia's population reaching its predicted size of almost 36 million in 2050.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison yesterday told The Australian the Rudd government had allowed immigration to rise too high and the population figure that Treasury's Intergenerational Report predicted last September for 2050 was unsustainable.
Mr Morrison said the Coalition would not allow the average net overseas migration of more than 300,000 a year that had occurred since the Rudd government took power to continue. "We want to return to the levels we pursued in government," he said. "A net overseas migration intake of 300,000 (as occurred under the Rudd government) would not be a feature of future Coalition policy."
Mr Morrison said the current population growth rate of 2.1 per cent put Australia ahead of Canada, Britain and the US. "It even puts us ahead of China and India," he said. "It's principally fuelled by net overseas migration. A natural increase in the fertility rate has (increased it) but what has been driving the numbers . . . has been spiralling rates of net overseas migration."
Mr Morrison said the Coalition would support skilled migrants coming, but was likely to cut other elements of the program, including family reunion. "It's about getting your immigration policy under control," he said. "The migration program should be tight and focused on skills and productivity."
The Opposition Leader last night backed Mr Morrison's comment that the prediction of a population of 35.9 million was not sustainable, saying the roads of Sydney and Melbourne were already choked.
But Mr Abbott stopped short of committing the Coalition to a cut in migration, saying decisions on the intake should be taken on a "year by year basis". "Immigration has to be in Australia's national interest," he said on the ABC's Q&A program last night.
Mr Morrison said the 35.9 million forecast, which Kevin Rudd has endorsed as appropriate, was being driven by net overseas migration well above what it was under the Howard government. He said average net overseas immigration under the Coalition had been 126,000 a year, but under Labor it had risen to more than 300,000.
Mr Morrison said that according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia's population was growing in net terms at the rate of one person every minute and 10 seconds, and immigration accounted for more than 60 per cent of the increase.
The new immigration spokesman toughened the Coalition's rhetoric on asylum-seekers, challenging the government to take control of Australian borders in the wake of 103 boats carrying 4575 passengers reaching our shores since Labor was elected.
Mr Abbott last night backed the return of the temporary protection visa system and said a Coalition government would return asylum-seekers to their homelands if they no longer had a fear of persecution.
Columnist Glenn Milne yesterday wrote in The Australian that the Opposition Leader and Mr Morrison had determined that if Australians were concerned about boatpeople, they were going to have similar concerns about Mr Rudd's declaration that a "big Australia" of 35.9 million people by 2050 was a good thing.
Mr Morrison denied the Coalition was pushing a racist agenda by endeavouring to cut migration numbers. "It has nothing to do with issues of race," he said. "We did not want to create an unpleasant debate. We were quite serious about having a debate that didn't degenerate into political name-calling on issues of race. "At the end of the day, we will obviously take a more conservative view about intake in the current climate."
The business community's reaction to Mr Morrison's comments is likely to be tempered by the immigration spokesman's support for the skilled migration program, which business leaders strongly back because of the nation's skills shortage.
Former NSW [Labor] premier Bob Carr, who has been outspoken on the issue of population, said the government must cut skilled migration. "The argument is about the level of immigration, the rate of immigration . . . we've ramped it up to levels the Australian people aren't comfortable with," Mr Carr said.