Thursday, November 26, 2015

Decoding fact and fiction in coding

Trisha Jha is on the money below.  The idea of teaching programming to kids must have come from someone who knows nothing about it.  Only people in the top 2% of IQ will ever be able to program to any significant extent. I once tried to teach Uni NSW Sociology students programming in a language that seems easy to me  -- FORTRAN -- but none of them actually learnt it as far as I could tell.  My son has recently got a job as a computer  programmer but he has a first class honours degree in mathematics and spent a solid 18 months doing computer programming courses at university.  There are some very bright kids who take to computer languages like a duck to water but that is the end of it.  Average kids will never acquire useful programming skills

We're seeing an increasingly apparent borderline obsession with getting primary school age kids to learn to 'code', i.e. computer programming. Bill Shorten promoted it in his Budget Reply speech this year and various commentators have formed a chorus.

The focus on coding does have sensible origins. The 2009 Melbourne Declaration made the fairly common-sense observation that school students should be prepared for "a world in which information technology will be ubiquitous."

It seems schools aren't doing a very good job. The National Assessment Program includes an ICT component, and the 2014 report for Years 6 and 10 released this week shows  test performance - in terms of mean scores and the percentage of students reaching basic standards - is poor and has declined since 2011. Only 55% of Year 6 students were deemed proficient, and just 52% of Year 10 students. Results were also differentiated by socio-economic status, with kids from professional urban households performing better than their rural and underprivileged peers.

It should not be surprising that 'digital natives' may not be so skilled after all. The technology people use on a daily basis is becoming less technical and more focused on 'idiot proof' apps.

Is it any wonder, then, that even children who are accustomed to using technology are often failing to grasp how to use it to complete concrete tasks? The idea that schools can 'teach' computing skills, the skills necessary for 'creative and productive' use of technology (as the Melbourne Declaration proposes) just by replacing the whiteboard with a smartboard, and exercise books with computers, is folly.

If the obsession with coding is shorthand for more explicit and purposeful teaching of ICT, as ACARA CEO Rob Randall has said there should be, then there's something to it. But trying to cram the teaching of a highly specific skill (likely by poorly-trained instructors, given there is already a shortage of maths and science teachers) into an already-crowded curriculum can only make things worse - especially when so many kids are still not functionally literate or numerate. Those are skills that even the most brilliant of software engineers cannot do without.


Australia has met its 2020 greenhouse emissions target five years early, Environment Minister Greg Hunt says

This will burn Greenies up.  It is of course a fudge but the whole Kyoto process was designed for fudges. Everybody else is fudging too. The big fudge is what date you take for your starting point

The Federal Government says it has met its 2020 greenhouse emissions target, ahead of this week's climate change talks in Paris.  It has released figures from the Department of Environment showing Australia had already achieved a 5 per cent reduction based on 2000 levels.

By 2020, the department predicted Australia would have met its target by 28 million tonnes.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told the National Press Club it would make it easier to make additional cuts in the future.  "We have closed the gap and go to Paris officially subzero and on track to beat our 2020 target," Mr Hunt said.  "This still remains a conservative forecast, and I am hopeful that future updates will show an even greater surplus."

Mr Hunt will be joined in Paris by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop later this month.

The Federal Government has committed to a 26 per cent to 28 per cent reduction by 2030.

Labor has questioned the figures, claiming much of the gains were because of accounting measures. The department figures showed emission reductions from previous years had been carried over, with a reduction in economic growth also factored in.

Opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler said figures from market analyst Reputex showed carbon pollution between now and 2020 would see a 6 per cent rise.

"Malcolm Turnbull will get on the plane to Paris and presumably trumpet the fact that Australia has been able to technically achieve its Kyoto commitment," he said.

"But what will be clear is that Malcolm Turnbull is getting on that plane, laden down by Tony Abbott's policies that were deliberately designed to do nothing to reduce carbon pollution levels."

Mr Hunt rejected the claims and stood by his figures. "We can achieve and will achieve our 2030 target, although it will be a challenge, precisely as it should be," he said. "And we will achieve our targets without a carbon tax and without its pressure on electricity and gas prices."

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia promised to look at cuts of between 15 per cent and 25 per cent by 2020, if the rest of the world made similar cuts.

Mr Hunt stopped short of meeting that promise, but stressed that under current projections, Australia "in all likelihood" would go further than the current 5 per cent target.


Why terrorists have us all under the gun

THE Australian Army is removing a century-old motto on the hat of army chaplains, because it might offend Muslims.

“In this sign, conquer” is the motto written around a cross on a badge on the chaplains’ hats. The words are to be deleted, reportedly to better reflect the “diversity” of the army.

The army may as well delete the cross too, which is presumably even more offensive to the professional offence-takers of the Islamic community.

The move follows the appointment of an imam to advise the army for $717 a day, Sheik Mohamadu Nawas ­Saleem, who previously has suggested sharia law be introduced into Australian divorce courts.

So now we know it is official government policy to appease Islamists.

But if anyone objects, you can bet that they will be accused of “Islamophobia”.

And Islamophobia is to blame for terrorism, as the Grand Mufti told us after the Paris attacks.

Anyone who questions the ideology which justifies murder in the name of Islam is “dividing” the community and playing into the hands of IS.

Don’t question the spread of a lethal totalitarian ideology ­because that would be persecuting Muslims.  Don’t point out that terrorists from Paris to Parramatta who yell “Allahu Akbar” commit murder in the name of Islam. Don’t mention that more Muslims around the world are killed by other Muslims than by any “crusader” army because you’ll wreck the victim narrative.

This is the vice we are trapped in — between Western political correctness and Islamist propaganda.

This is why our progressive new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull found it so hard to respond forthrightly to the Paris terrorist attacks. His first response was to say “freedom stands up for itself”, when freedom only stands because our soldiers fought for it, as part of the army whose heritage is being sold out by politically correct appeasers.

The PM also last week committed Australia to the Obama agenda in the Middle East, ­despite the fact it has been a tragic failure.

But the Obama agenda has been for America to project weakness, and leave a vacuum filled by Russia, Iran and Islamist terrorists.

Turnbull claimed the way to deal with the terrorists was by “political settlement”, “compromise” and some sort of “power sharing deal”, which could include Sunni elements linked to IS, but that was up to the Syrians.

No wonder Turnbull is more popular with Islamic fundamentalists and their left-wing apologists than his straight-talking predecessor.

He couldn’t even bring himself to criticise the Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, who blamed “causative factors” including racism, Islamophobia and foreign policy for IS attacks on Paris.

But when the Mufti issued a “clarification” which still did not explicitly repudiate IS’s religious violence, the PM commended him.

We know Turnbull believes in the glass half full theory of life but that’s ridiculous.

The Mufti’s clarification, condemning “all forms of terrorist violence”, depended on how you define “terrorism” and “innocent lives”. If anything, the clarification made things worse.

None of this is a surprise to theologian Dr Mark Durie, author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude And Freedom. The Anglican pastor warns that Australia is naive and unprepared to face the problem of Islamist extremism, because it misunderstands Islam.

Even counter-terrorism experts have “bought into a theologically illiterate view that all religions are the same and that Islam’s problems today are just a twisted ­distortion”.

“And I think if they have that view they’ll never understand what they’re trying to deal with and they will be ineffective to a significant degree because of that.” He says Australian Muslims he knows from the Middle East “are absolutely appalled by our naivety and inability to engage with the theological issues that are driving these movements”.

Durie also points to the fact that the Christian West is ­ignoring the plight of persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria, and won’t even offer Christian refugees priority in their humanitarian intakes. “Somehow it’s a horrible thought crime.”

Turnbull’s soulmate, Obama, branded as “shameful” calls to prioritise Christian refugees over Muslims.

When Tony Abbott announced an extra intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees would comprise Christians and other persecuted minorities he was labelled a “bigot” by Islamic leaders. The UN refugee agency then demanded that religion play no part in refugee selection. The head of the government’s Syrian Refugee Resettlement Task Force insisted the intake would comprise a “range of religions” and the first family were Sunni Muslims.

Australia’s Christian leaders have expressed concerns that the government is breaking its promise and that most of the intake will be Muslims.

Privately the government says it will give preference to “persecuted minorities”.

But it doesn’t want to antagonise the UN by saying so publicly. Again, appeasement is official policy.


Labor comes out as anti-free speech on marriage

Labor nailed its colours to the Greens’ anti-free speech mast today, joining them to block a Senate motion supporting the Catholic church’s right to teach the orthodox Christian view of marriage.

Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said it was chilling to have the alternative party of government oppose in Parliament the church’s right to teach about marriage being between one man and one woman.

“Labor’s action raises serious questions about where the same-sex political debate is taking our nation.

“Labor’s move coupled with Greens politicians Adam Bandt and Robert Simms today calling people who support traditional marriage ‘bigots’, is evidence of a growing intolerance emerging in Australian politics.”

The Senate motion was to support the Catholic church’s right to free speech in the face of an anti-discrimination complaint lodged with authorities in Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner is investigating the complaint by a transgender Greens’ political candidate against the Catholic church for distributing a booklet that explains its millennia-old view on marriage.

A decision by the Commissioner on whether or not the complaint is sustained is expected any day. If sustained, the church will likely end up in court.

In an extraordinary political maneuver, Labor today joined the Greens in blocking the motion from even being discussed in the Senate.

The motion was co-sponsored by Liberal senator Eric Abetz, independent John Madigan, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, Family First’s Bob Day, and Palmer United party’s Dio Wang.

The motion stated that: “The Senate, while not expressing a view on the contents of the booklet issued by the Australian Catholic Bishops conference entitled Don’t Mess with Marriage, fully supports the rights of members of the Catholic church, including Archbishop Julian Porteous, to distribute it.”

Mr Shelton said today was a sad day for free speech and freedom of religion.

“While Australians may have different views on its definition, I don’t think anyone ever thought we would see the day when political parties would use Parliament and the law to stifle free speech on marriage.

“It is important that people who care about preserving marriage and free speech take an interest in the Turnbull Government’s plan to hold a people’s vote on marriage after the next federal election,” Mr Shelton said.


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