Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A very welcome immigrant influx to Australia

Huge numbers of Australian-born people have some Irish ancestry so an Irish influx is rather like a family reunion. Irish people will find goodwill towards them wherever they go in Australia

A young hairdresser from Northern Ireland knew her prospects were turning sour about two years ago when the "old people" in her county's quiet shops started talking about how grim business had been getting.

"Everybody was talking about it," Brona Quinn, 22, said of Ireland's most recent economic downturn and the impact it has had on businesses and families.

Ms Quinn stuck it out for a couple of years, but about six months ago the strain of working three jobs to get a "full weekly wage," finally took its toll.

She secured a working holiday visa to get to Perth, where she had heard there was work.

"We had family over here they were able to tell us that they'd been to Brisbane, they'd been to Sydney and there was a lot of work in Perth," she said.

A jump of more than 50 per cent in temporary skilled visas from July last year suggests Ms Quinn is not the only one to notice the influx of skilled workers from Ireland, where jobs have continued to disappear following the 2008 banking crisis and ongoing financial instability in Europe.

Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures reveal the 3560 Irish workers entering the country on 457 visas since only July last year have almost already pipped the 2010-2011 financial year total of 3890.

Last year's figures were not shy either, topping the previous year's total of 2240 by more than 1500 workers.

Irish workers entering the country on permanent working visas also look poised to double in the 2011-2012 financial year. In December, the financial year halfway mark, the number of new permanent workers was close to the last year's total of 2934.

"All of my friends that I have are here - all in different parts of Australia - all the young people that I grew up with - they're all our here or they've been here or coming out here," Ms Quinn said. "Everyday I'm hearing of somebody new who is coming out or planning to come out."

The Perth reception desk at global recruitment firm HAYS has seen a "significant increase" in walk-ins from Ireland looking for work, according to WA senior regional director Simon Winfield. "Our reception feels like we've got half of Dublin in it on a Friday afternoon," Mr Winfield said.

"I think typically if you've been doing any research then you would probably want to be coming through WA or Queensland at the moment."

Mr Winfield said Irish workers on 417 visas seeking construction or property jobs in WA was nothing new, but he had noticed an increase of about 25 per cent in the past six to nine months.

Ms Quinn was among almost 12,000 Irish citizens who received working holiday or 417 visas between July and December 2011, according to the Department's records. The figures revealed a 30 per cent increase on the same period in the previous year.

"Also the demographic has changed slightly because in the blue collar space we've also seen graduate level and experienced graduates coming into the office as well looking for opportunities," Mr Winfield said.

"We've also seen a significant increase in the number of degree-holding Irish nationals looking at the white collar sector as well as the blue collar."

Accounts, finance, construction and office support are attracting the bulk of inquiries at the HAYS office, Mr Winfield said.

The influx has been bolstered by targeted campaigns HAYS and other firms have run for their clients to attract workers to WA from Ireland as labour shortages in the state related to the mining sector are predicted to widen.

"People are aware of the economic situation in the UK and Ireland and certainly are targeting those locations in the hopes they can find the individuals they're looking to find," Mr Winfield said. "When you compare the economics in Perth to somewhere like Ireland there are an awful lot of people who are keen to take those opportunities up."

Many people who have come to Australia on 417 visas seeking to secure 457s were finding success in WA, according to Mr Winfield. "We are finding that those applicants that are starting on a temporary contract on a 417 visa are becoming sponsored," he said.

Ms Quinn said she hopes to find an employer to sponsor her stay in Australia before her visa runs out later this year.


NSW should fund nurse re-entry - opposition

The Federal govt. is responsible for this idiocy but someone has to stop it

The NSW Opposition has called on the State Government to fund re-entry training for former nurses who face $10,000 course fees to rejoin the health system. If nurses have not worked for at least three months full-time in the past five years they must meet tough new training standards.

However, the cost of the short re-entry course is $10,000, and is only offered in Sydney.

Opposition Leader John Robertson said South Australia paid to retrain its nurses and NSW should do the same. "If we're going to have a health system that delivers good and proper health outcomes, we don't just need graduate nurses coming into the system," he told reporters in Sydney. "We also need experienced nurses back in the wards performing the services and delivering those services to the people who have health needs.

"A nurse, who may well have taken a decision to not continue to work and raise a family, who wants to then come back into the system, is hit up with a $10,000 fee. "It's actually acting as a barrier in us getting experienced nurses back into our system."

The NSW Nurses' Association (NSWNA) is campaigning to have the State Government pay the cost of retraining, and for courses to be run in regional areas. The association is hoping to get 10,000 signatures by the end of March so it can force a debate in parliament about the problem.



Three articles below

School plan to test wealth of parents under Gonski review of education

A very similar proposal was a big loser for Mark Latham in 2004 so why this Gonski apparatchik thinks such a neo-Communist policy would be accepted by any Australian government is a mystery

PARENTS of private school students could face family wealth assessments to determine how much government support their children's schools need as part of recommendations to overhaul the nation's education funding system.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced to reassure parents there was no "hit list" of wealthy private schools despite the two-year Gonski review proposing that parents with the "capacity" to contribute more money could be expected to pay up to 80 per cent of the cost of their children's education.

The review also called for a $5 billion funding overhaul to help arrest a rapid decline of Australian education standards.

But Ms Gillard refused to give a financial commitment to the reforms yesterday. The changes put a standard cost of education on the head of every student, with extra loading for disadvantages such as disability and low socioeconomic status.

The Gillard Government has insisted no school would lose a dollar if the reforms were implemented, promising to contribute a minimum of 20 to 25 per cent of funding for all schools.

The Government's response also ruled out an expansion of capital funding from the commonwealth saying, "the scope of proposed new funding contribution may be too large". [Qld.] State education minister Cameron Dick also said it was "premature" to make any commitment to funding.

The Gonski review was heavily critical of the nation's education systems, noting that funding arrangements were confusing.

It said that in the past decade, the performance standards of Australian students when compared with those in other countries have slipped dramatically, from equal second in reading to equal seventh and from equal fifth in maths to equal 13th.

Report architect David Gonski warned the slide would continue and said the funding overhaul was based on the fundamental principle that "differences in educational outcomes must not be a result of differences in wealth, income, power or possession".

As a basic estimate, the report suggests funding of about $10,500 a secondary school student and $8000 a primary school student.

The report recommends governments stump up a minimum of 20 to 25 per cent of that figure for wealthy private schools and expects schools themselves to contribute a minimum of 10 per cent.

However, if parents at a private school were found to have the "capacity" to pay more, they could be expected to fund up to 80 per cent of the cost of their child's education.

The report wants the Government to find a more specific way of measuring family wealth, instead of the present post-code based model.

One exception to the approach to private school funding is the recommendation that non-government schools that do not charge fees and have no capacity to do so, or provide the education of students with very high needs, will be fully funded by the Government.

The Opposition savaged the review, saying the Coalition would not implement a policy that "hits parents in their hip pocket".

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the approach to private schools would mean higher school fees and feared there would be no indexation for non-government school funding. "We will make sure at the next election that parents and teachers and principals know the coalition will continue the current quantum of funding, plus real indexation," he said.


ALP rejects schools means testing

Schools Minister Peter Garrett has denied means testing parents of private school students will be introduced as part of the government's response to the Gonski report.

In the first public forum held since the report was released on Monday Mr Garrett was asked if the government was planning to introduce means testing. "There is nothing in this report that refers to means testing of parents at all," Mr Garrett said at this morning's forum.

The report says that parents' capacity to contribute financially should be taken into account when determining the level of government support to non-government schools.

The Government has not given any firm committments about the propsoed Gonski reforms - which seek to make school funding more equitable - as it starts a consultation with the community, states and stateholders over the coming months.

Earlier opposition Education spokesperson Christopher Pyne says that the report "hints" at government plans to introduce means testing for schools funding like it has for private health insurance. "Capacity to pay can only mean one thing and that is how much income is available in that household to pay for school fees," Mr Pyne said.

A key part of the government's response to the report was to hold public meetings so that parents and communities could "have their say about this important education issue".

The forum today - at the Department of Education in Canberra - was attended by teachers, parents and education interest groups and streamed online but, disappointingly for the government, the auditorium was only half full.

During the 45-minute forum - which functioned as a question and answer session - Mr Garrett and School Education Secretary Senator Jacinta Collins did the vast majority of the talking.

Forum participants asked a range of questions, such as when schools would see funding, what support would be available to boarders and the representation of Catholic parents in the ministerial reference group.

When asked about accountability for the reforms, Mr Garrett referred to other accountability measures such as the My Schools website.

He said that overall funding for the proposed reforms could not be discussed until the consultative process was complete. This a host of government working groups and consultation with states and stakeholders. "I know it sounds like talk – but it's actually work," Mr Garrett said.

Senator Collins said she could not "pre-empt an outcome" on the government's position on setting up a philanthropy fund to help schools form philanthropic partnerships - as recommended in the report.

Journalists were not permitted in the auditorium during the session but were able to watch the webcast in a room nearby.

"This is a very democratic process" Mr Garrett said, who added that he expected to host similar events across Australia.

Mr Garrett also said the the government hoped to introduced schools funding legislation to parliament before the end of the year.


A reaction to Australia's Gonski proposals from a Chinese perspective

The author below is an Australian with post-graduate qualifications from two Australian universities and who has been living, studying, working and teaching in China since 1978

For the past 7 years I have been teaching at a HK/Malaysian/local tertiary institution joint venture in Suzhou, China which was seen and resourced by the HK side

As part of the government curriculum students are required to study a compulsory higher mathematics course (which is far in advance of anything I've studied at high school in Maths I and Maths II). This course was rigorously taught and examined albeit not to a national standard exam. Of course there was also a compulsory politics and society course, which is mostly taken by the students as a chance to tune out and nap. The examinations are well projected and students provided with model answers. Clearly no one takes it seriously. By contrast the politically correct curriculum of Australian schools appears seen as the raison d'etre and teachers treat it accordingly.

And so it was that I listened with interest to the press conference announcing the long delayed Gonski Report on Education in Australia. First of all was the promise that 'no school would lose a dollar of funding per student'. That seems an entirely political statement you wouldn't expect from a politically neutral report.

In China there is no universal education system. There never was. Instead there was a separate fee-based system in which the state owned businesses and government departments paid for the fees of the children of their employees. If you did not work for the government you paid your own fees. The better the school the higher the fees. The higher the government department or state owned enterprise, the better the school their employee’s children attended.

The standards at these schools vary. In the major urban centres schools are set up in a hierarchical manner with major state, provincial, and metropolitan schools leading the pack. Then for those who can’t make it, the private schools take up the slack. Many of the private schools are run by the state schools and universities trading on their name and raking in extra cash.

In poor rural villages where students could not afford to pay fees, the local collective or village pays for the school. Poorly paid, educated and under resourced teachers struggle to make a difference with students who are often pulled out of school to attend to farm work. Today the government is beginning to see the importance of proper educational funding for the countryside to reduce the potential for dissatisfaction and to ensure the best students are identified and streamed into better schools. In the cities parents struggle, as they do in the west, to get their children into the best schools and pay the fees any way they can. Often the whole family will contribute hoping to get a member of the family into the government elite who profit from economic rent and are obliged to spread it around the family. In my development here in Suzhou there are a number of families one might identify as from the village, or at least to be parents and relatives of rich officials.

When I was at school in Beijing in the 70’s the education system had just been restored and while I was sharing a room with a student selected on his social class and political credentials, a new group of students arrived who had passed exams. The tension was informative. The gongnongbing students, or those selected from amongst working class, peasants and soldiers, were looked down on by the xinzhishifenzi, or new intellectuals. Like everything in China however the names do not always match the reality. My roommate, ostensibly selected from among the peasant class, was actually the son of a senior PLA general who lived in the same complex as Deng Xiaoping. He had been ‘adopted’ by a family of farmers, perhaps relatives, in order to qualify. It was clear many other students came from similar backgrounds.

An interesting note was struck by some of these New Intellectuals who praised the exam system saying it would result in a decrease in the number of women attending university as the old system had insisted on a 50:50 split of male and female. Within ten years of the exam system being implemented the government was pondering the problem of how to get more male students into university because women were performing better and out numbering men by a significant majority. At this rate it would be very hard to find enough men for government positions the government sources complained!

At our school, the Beijing Language Institute (now the Beijing University of Language & Culture), our teachers had responsibilities outside the classroom as well as in. Indeed the teachers specifically in charge of our Australian cohort were called our Responsible Persons (fuzeren). Should any of us miss a class, or perform poorly in class, we would be visited by the classroom teacher, in addition to our responsible teacher. The reason for our transgression would be investigated and the teachers would offer to help us. They made it clear that our satisfactory performance was their responsibility. Should we continue to miss classes or perform poorly the visits would continue but we would have to take more responsibility and write a confession, or self-criticism (ziwopiping), which demonstrated our contrition and an understanding that we had to attend classes regularly and abide by the teacher’s direction. In other words it was a form of social contract between the school and the student both sides bore responsibility. There were no authoritarian head masters, but major infractions such as attacking local students resulted in immediate repatriation.

Although teachers in China are legendary for their care for their students, and vice versa, there are examples of poor teachers who just put on a video and leave the students to watch it. The moral standards for teachers are high as well. In my school a married teacher, who was very high in the school party apparatus and also widely loved, was dismissed due to reports he was seen out together with another teacher! School leaders insisted teachers set a moral example. Interestingly many of the local teachers insisted that what teachers did in their private time was no business of the school! In Australia you have to sleep with one of the students to be sacked!

So the central question is how can Chinese teachers teach better on much less money and resources? Dedication? Tradition? Student discipline these days is not what it was. The 'Little Emperors' of China have no automatic respect for teachers. Indeed they have the arrogance of the nouveau riche in demanding their certificate since they paid their fees regardless of the effort put in! School officials spend a lot of their time defending their teachers against rich and or powerful bullies demanding to know why their child was failed (he didn't submit assignments or attend enough classes usually). The rich threaten to sue the school. The powerful say they will have it closed down. The traditional respect for education in China is much threatened.

A possible suggestion for the superior performance of Chinese schools (at least the elite schools in the major cities) is the competitive nature of the Chinese school system in which the best fight for a place in the elite schools. As we all know from the 50's on in Australia we sought to destroy a merit based education system in order to attain equality of educational outcomes. The same number of poor students should finish Y12 as rich students. In China, paradoxically, there is no obsession with a social class based education system as is still displayed in the Gonski Report. It is a merit-based system. As a result China has leaders of extraordinary ability and intelligence who are unfailingly guiding China back to its normal position as the pre-eminent power in the world. Meanwhile, since the Wyndham Report in NSW, Australia has unerringly declined from top of the OEDC countries to the bottom. Is there a lesson there?

Generally I can say that the Gonski Report could have been the same one submitted to Whitlam, or that submitted by Harold Wyndham to the NSW government in 1957 i.e. an extension of class war politics. Even now the comment by nearly all educationalists is the urgent need to address the lack of equality or fairness in the measured outcomes analyzed on a social class basis. There should be a cognizance that we have been addressing this problem by various means since 1950 without closing the gap. A more realistic approach would be to place extra resources where they are needed, both at the level of disadvantage and also at ensuring the top group of students received the most challenging education available globally.

The resulting emphasis on equality of outcomes resulted in a ridiculous system of pre-HSC exams designed to rate the school, so that when applied to the HSC results, each school had an equal share of A's, B's, C' etc. This was a nice bureaucratic solution, which had nothing go do with educational outcomes. Universities insisted on raw scores for admission purposes thus exposing the corrupt nature of the 'trick'.

Finally one must say that the Australian obsession with equality of outcomes in education is odd in a capitalist country in which income disparity is generally wide. It seems to be a denial of the capitalist nature of country by our educationalists. It seems a denial of human nature to expect equality of outcome in education when it is not manifest in any other form of human life.

One aspect common in Chinese schools, which is totally lacking in Australia as far as I know, is that each semester the students are surveyed on their satisfaction with each teacher for each subject. This survey covers such things as punctuality, helpfulness, good communicator, covered topic, allowed participation, as well as general topics about school facilities. The results of the survey weigh heavily on the teacher’s evaluation and at the end of the year the teacher’s bonus is based on this as well a peer evaluation. I was a member of the teacher’s union at the school and of course the union supported such surveys. I can’t see any Australian teachers union allowing such evaluations as they are opposed to any merit based system of teacher evaluation and appear to oppose any moves toward continuous education for teachers. They certainly motivated teachers to maintain professional standards as well as satisfying the student desire to enhance the learning environment.

If there is anything to learn from China it is that the thirty years of human disaster resulted from the same idealism and desire for equality. Stalinist socialism didn’t work there, it did work anywhere in the world. In China in the 1980’s it was systematically undone and an exam based system implemented. The search for the best and brightest does not stop at the school system. Twice every year the government will hold open exams in major centres for those who aspire to work in the government. Of course the system does have ‘Chinese characteristics’ a good score alone is not enough to gain admission to government employment, there is a personal interview, and of course ‘good references’ or background also will be considered.

No one suggests we imitate China. Their excellent performance is due to a highly selective system, national standards and rigorously supervised exams, dedicated and responsible teachers, highly motivated students, and an educational philosophy aimed at teaching to the highest world standards with only the slightest nod to political correctness. But we might learn from that.

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