Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Report revealing Australia's educational decline a 'real worry', says Birmingham

Australian children are lagging behind when it comes to developing basic skills in primary school but they are staying in school for longer.

The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth’s five-year snapshot, released on Sunday, shows Australia ranks 35th out of 40 OECD countries on preschool attendance, although the number of four- and five-year-olds who attend has dropped in recent years.

It also shows three in 10 year 4 students aren’t meeting minimum maths standards while one in four are below standard in science and one in five are not at the required reading level.

The rate of parents reading to their two-year-olds at least once a week has stayed static, although there was an encouraging lift among Indigenous families.

The education minister, Simon Birmingham, said the concerning figures underscore what the federal government has been saying for some years.

“That is a real worry,” he told Sky News. “If a child is behind by year 3 in terms of developing basic skills, it’s really hard for them to catch up.”

However, the news was slightly better for older children, with the proportion of students staying in school through to year 12 or doing other study increasing.

Australia’s 15-year-olds were doing better on international comparisons but across the board about one in five weren’t achieving the standard they should be for maths, reading and science.

Birmingham is expecting a report next month by businessman David Gonski’s panel on the best ways to spend extra money in schools to lift student outcomes.

The revised funding arrangements that started in schools this year requires states to sign deals with the commonwealth to receive extra federal funding.

“I am confident that what we will be doing is going back to the states and saying that more is required in terms of the focus we place in those early years around foundational skills,” Birmingham said. “We’re not going to be passive players in education.”


Australia 'under attack' for 15 years from group of Muslim men, judge tells court

Australia has been "under attack" from a group of Muslim men wanting "to kill as many unbelievers as they can" for about 15 years, a Supreme Court judge has said.

Justice Desmond Fagan made the comments while sentencing Tamim Khaja, 20, who pleaded guilty in October to planning and preparing a terrorist attack two years ago.

The then 18-year-old was arrested while preparing for a lone wolf massacre, either at the US embassy in Sydney, an Army barracks in western Sydney, or at a court complex at Parramatta.

Counsel for the defendant, Ian Temby QC, tendered to the court a list of recent sentences handed down to other men who had been convicted of terror offences.

In response, Justice Fagan told the court that Australia had "been under attack for 15 years by about 40 Muslim men, to kill as many unbelievers as they can and impose Sharia law."

"The ideology that underlies each is Islam."

Sitting at Sydney West Trial Courts at Parramatta, Justice Fagan referred to verses in the Koran which he said described the duty of "a Muslim to wage Jihad".

He said he was not making generalisations about Islamic beliefs and that his courtroom was "not a forum for the rights and wrongs of the Islam or Christian religions".

An agreed statement of facts tendered to court revealed that Khaja had twice attempted to travel to Syria or Iraq, where he "intended to join the Islamic State terrorist organisation and engage in hostile activities".

After his passport was cancelled in March 2016, Khaja began communicating via an encrypted messaging app with an overseas police officer, who he believed to be an ISIS supporter.

On May 7, 2016, Khaja told the police officer, known as Person A, that he "wanted so badly to be on the battlefield with my brothers", but since his passport had been cancelled, he would "fulfil my obligation here".

"I am currently sourcing a glock [handgun] but I want to do big damage," Khaja told Person A. "I am thinking more along the lines of Boston Marathon .. I know how to make a portable microwave b..b [sic]" Even with a handgun I would be able to cause a lot of damage."

Khaja told person A that he had been considering locations for an attack, including the US Embassy in Sydney, but it was likely to be heavily guarded, court documents revealed.

He told Person A that another option was the Timor Army Barracks in Dundas, where he could "launch an attack by ramming the lot of them by car and then firing head shots when they are on the ground".

Mr Temby argued that at the time of the arrest Khaja was only at "a preliminary stage" of planning the offence and that he "had no accomplice".

However the crown prosecutor said Khaja had accessed documents about bombs and creating suicide vests.

Justice Fagan said Khaja had spoken about "killing innocent people as many innocent people as he could, like [he was] planning a picnic".

The sentence hearing continues.


Turnbull and Shorten quibble over indigenous identity

A dispute over what constitutes indigenous identity has embroiled Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten’s offices, with echoes of bumbling suburban lawyer Dennis Denuto’s declaration in The Castle about the Constitution, Mabo, justice and “the vibe”.

At stake is a new post of indigenous productivity commissioner, announced by the Prime Minister a year ago but still not filled.

During last week’s Closing the Gap address, Mr Turnbull pleaded with Labor to pass the long-­delayed enabling legislation “to apply greater rigour to assessing what works and why” in indigenous affairs spending.

The government says the standoff could go as far as threatening the Constitution, and ­accord­ing to Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, it’s all Labor’s fault.

The amendment needed to create the position defines an ­indigenous person simply as being “a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia or descendant of an indigenous inhabitant of the Torres Strait Islands”.

However, most government departments use a broader three-part definition covering descent, self-identification and community recognition.

This was acknowledged by Justice Gerard Brennan in the 1992 Mabo judgment, when he specified “­biological descent from the ­indigenous people and … ­mutual recognition of a particular person’s membership by that person and by the elders or other persons enjoying traditional auth­ority among those people”.

A spokesman for Senator Scullion said Labor’s desire to ­expand the amendment to reflect this broader notion “departs from the language of the Constitution, and the implications of this would need to be considered further. Any proposed change ... would need to be done in a considered manner in consultation with indigenous people”.

Asking an actual indigenous Australian for legislative advice? Well, there’s a ruling on that, too.

In a 1998 Federal Court case on indigenous identity, Justice Ron Merkel said it was a shame the matter had been “left by a parliament that is not representative of Aboriginal people to be determined by a court which is also not representative of Aboriginal ­people”.

Perhaps one day, he mused, such a ruling “might be made by ­independently constituted bodies or tribunals which are representative of Aboriginal people”.

The Opposition Leader has pledged to legislate for such a body, should Labor win government, as recommended by the Prime Minister’s Referendum Council.

That body, or “voice” to parliament, would consist of First ­Nations-nominated members, rather than being appointed by government or elected in a representative democratic sense.

It would be comprised, that is, of people for whom their own community identification of indigeneity was a given, and would include traditional owner-based membership.

Mr Turnbull has rejected the idea but is in discussion with Mr Shorten on establishing a joint parliamentary committee to examine indigenous constitutional recognition.

But he is not, at least according to Mr Shorten, talking about the productivity commissioner impasse. “This is a minor issue that we are confident can be resolved — as soon as the government returns our call,” a Labor spokesman said yesterday.


'Growth mindset' just another platitude

We’re constantly told schools should go beyond literacy and numeracy, and instead focus on ‘21st century learning’ to educate ‘creative’ kids and prepare them for ‘jobs of the future’.

Basically, this is code for trying to get better student results without actually doing the hard yards in literacy and numeracy.

There is no silver bullet which magically makes kids get better grades. The best way to help students be prepared for the 21st century is to ensure they leave school good readers, fluent writers, and competent in maths. These are the fundamental skills people will always need to be successful.

Unfortunately, many people still don’t understand this. The NSW government’s recent submission to the ‘Gonski 2.0’ review called for less testing in schools in order to reduce student stress, and a focus on ‘non-cognitive skills’ and encouraging students to have a ‘growth mindset’.

Tests are necessary to find out if students are actually learning and to identify which students need more help. Furthermore, a recent OECD study found there is no link between student anxiety and frequency of testing. No one likes doing tests, but that doesn’t mean they’re generally harmful to mental health.

And focussing on ‘non-cognitive skills’ and creativity in school puts the cart before the horse. You need to master the fundamentals of a subject before you can be creative, and too many kids leave school without those fundamentals. Generic creativity or critical-thinking skills are practically impossible to teach or assess.

The truth is there is only a limited amount schools can teach. Consider the ‘growth mindset’ idea. A ‘growth mindset’ is having the positive attitude that if you work hard you will get better at whatever you are trying to do. But, while we want students to have a positive outlook like this, there is little evidence schools have the ability to instil this into students. This is primarily a role for parents.

Schools shouldn’t waste time and resources trying to achieve things they aren’t capable of doing. They should focus on their core purpose: giving students excellent literacy and numeracy skills.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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