Sunday, February 11, 2007

PM Howard on education reform:

For a long time, the education debate focused almost exclusively on inputs and quantity - on money spent, student-teacher ratios and the like. This was the territory staked out and defended fiercely by the state education bureaucracies, curriculum designers and the teachers' unions. One of our achievements has been to open up the debate and to focus it on quality. Our great challenge as a nation is to improve the quality of Australia's education system. Schools reform centres on three key areas:

* GREATER choice and accountability;

* HIGHER standards; and

* MORE national consistency.

These are the foundations of a quality education system. Many of the fads and politically-correct fashions that have found their way into our schools undermine the quality of education. When Big Brother or a text message jostles with Shakespeare and classical literature for a place in the English curriculum, we rob children of their cultural inheritance.

By obfuscating the need for teachers to impart specific knowledge and for rigorous testing of achievement, we rob children, especially disadvantaged ones, of the one proven path to individual achievement and social mobility. And by denying parents clear statements of their child's performance we are letting new-age fads get in the way of genuine accountability.

Few debates are as vital as those over education, whether it be in upholding basic standards on literacy and numeracy, promoting diversity and choice, or challenging the incomprehensible sludge that can find its way into some curriculum material.

I am an unabashed supporter of choice for parents. I am a product of the government education system in Australia. I believe in a strong, well-funded and academically rigorous government school system. Yet I am a staunch defender of the right of parents to send their children to non-government schools and to have government support for that choice.

Choice has intrinsic value in a free society, especially in an area like education where we are dealing with the most important decision parents have to make - their child's future.

I am also an unabashed supporter of competitive examinations, teacher-directed lessons and the importance of academic disciplines. I make no apologies for the fact that the Commonwealth has played a role in pushing the states and territories on to higher ground on issues like standards, testing and "Plain English" report cards in our schools. High standards can only be achieved if teachers have clear road maps as to the knowledge and concepts to impart. Formal competitive examinations are essential to assessing what a child has learned.

And there is something both deadening and saccharine in curriculum documents where history is called "time, continuity and change", and geography becomes "place, space and environment". Experiments like "outcomes-based education" not only short-change parents and children, they also put unjustified demands on teachers, with jargon-ridden curriculum statements leaving teachers overwhelmed when it comes to what must be taught and what standards of student achievement are expected.

I also have serious concerns about the way in which the teaching of English has been allowed in some cases to drift into a relativist wasteland - where students are asked to deconstruct "texts" using politically-correct theories in contrast with the traditional view that great literature has something profound to say about the human condition.

There is, of course, a degree of irony in some recent comments about the need for an education revolution in this country. The key point is this - the Labor Party (leg-roped as it is to its allies in the teachers' unions) is very much a "Johnny-come-lately" to the cause of commonsense education reform in support of parental choice, higher standards and sound curricula. It was this Government's schools policy in 1996 - opposed by Labor - which really opened up choice for Australian parents by facilitating the huge expansion in low-fee independent schools.

It was David Kemp more than anyone who campaigned to put testing of basic literacy and numeracy on the national agenda. It was Brendan Nelson who fought to ensure that Australian parents are given Plain English report cards. And now Julie Bishop is taking forward a new wave of school reforms in the areas of national consistency, higher curriculum standards, principal autonomy and teacher quality. Our goal is simple: we don't want uniformity, but we do want nationwide high standards in schools to ensure every Australian student receives the best possible foundation in core subjects.


Hate-filled Lebanese Muslims mildly reprimanded

The parents of four Granville Boys High students featured in an internet race hate video have pulled their sons out of the school rather than allow them to be disciplined, with two of the boys indicating they want to attend an Islamic college instead. A fifth pupil involved in the sickening YouTube hate video glorifying gang rapist Bilal Skaf has opted to wear his punishment and has been given a 20-day suspension pending possible expulsion. The Saturday Daily Telegraph can reveal the Year 11 students were withdrawn from the school by their parents rather than face disciplinary action and at least two intend to enrol in an Islamic college.

The video - called "Lebo thugs" - featured images of revenge attacks following the Cronulla riots and a range of banned handguns. Another image depicted gang rapist Skaf with a rifle across his lap and a map of Australia in the Lebanese flag colours with the words "Under new management" scrawled above it. The gang behind the video called themselves the Soldiers of Granville Boys. It was made late last year by five Year 10 students as well as a number of former students at the school.

A spokesman for the Education Department told The Saturday Daily Telegraph yesterday the school principal, Angela Lyris, had given the students the option of staying and facing disciplinary action or finding another school. "Following interviews with five students and their parents, four of those students were withdrawn by their parents from the school and the fifth student given a long suspension, pending possible expulsion," the spokesman said.

While the students admitted to contributing to the offensive video, they claimed it had been taken out of context and that they never meant to incite racial hatred. They also claimed it was never intended to be loaded on to the YouTube website.


Greenie idiocy in Australia: Coal is "a deadly threat"

This story was headlined in some Australian newspapers -- to the implicit detriment of the Greenies

A Greens demand that Australia's entire coal industry be shut down within three years yesterday rocked the growing campaign against harmful emissions. A coal ban would cost the nation $25 billion-a-year in export earnings, eliminate thousands of jobs, and switch off five NSW power stations. Prime Minister John Howard called the idea reckless and job destroying and Labor said it was absurd.

But Greens Leader Bob Brown said it was necessary to reduce global climate change as Australia was the world's biggest coal exporter. "To suddenly ban coal exports would be massively dislocating but we have got to do it and we have to do it within a period (a three-year term) of a government," he said. "This is where politicians will panic. But we are exporting to the rest of the world what is effectively a deadly threat to the whole planet and our children." Some five billion tonnes of coal are consumed worldwide every year and Australia exports 230 million tonnes.

Other campaigners against dangerous emissions advocate a longer-term phasing out of the fuel. "No sane person wants to shut down the coal industry in NSW overnight," said Patrice Newell, a Climate Change Coalition candidate for the NSW Legislative Council.

The Prime Minister told The Saturday Daily Telegraph: "That is a reckless commitment. It would cost thousands of jobs and cause immense damage to the Australian economy. It's the very kind of knee-jerk reaction that we don't need."

Labor's Wayne Swan said: "It's absurd and ill-informed to assert that you can't have a strong coal industry as well as taking effective steps to combat climate change".

The Brown proposal would cost an estimated 50,000 jobs in mining, port handling, power generation and other related occupations. But Senator Brown said coal towns such as Newcastle and Wollongong would be helped to create other jobs in new renewable energy industries. "It is part of our responsibility to see that people can transform and go into jobs where they're creating a safe future." The Department of Industry and Resources said the number of people directly employed by the industry rose from a low of about 19,000 in 1999 to about 30,000 in 2005.



No mainstream support for Greenie madness in Australia

Opposition frontbenchers yesterday insisted the future of the coal industry was safe, amid fears within the party that an aggressive stance on climate change could unsettle mining and power workers, becoming a potent election liability. Still living with the political fallout of the disastrous timber policy pushed by former leader Mark Latham - which alienated blue-collar workers on the eve of the 2004 election - Labor yesterday rounded on Australian of the Year Tim Flannery as "irresponsible" for his plan to close the coal industry, calling it a recipe for massive job losses.

Some elements within Labor fear that by appearing too bullish on climate change, the party could raise concerns among workers that jobs will be sacrificed to the environment. This could push workers' votes towards an economically hard-nosed Howard Government. Others want their colleagues who represent mining seats to be more vocal.

New Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull last night warned, during his first live television debate with Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett, that Labor's climate change policies risked "enormous damage to jobs". Mr Turnbull accused Labor of scaremongering on climate change, but Mr Garrett used the debate on the ABC's 7.30 Report to accuse the Howard Government of failing to respond to the "crisis" of global warming.

Professor Flannery, the prominent environmental scientist, and the Greens have said that in an era of global warming, coal is losing its social legitimacy. Australia needed to close its coal-fired power plants, after developing less-polluting technologies, Professor Flannery said.

However, senior Labor figure Craig Emerson condemned him, saying a mix of policy responses to the greenhouse problem was needed. "But at the heart of those responses has to be a clean coal future for this country," he said. Opposition Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan insisted Labor was "proud of our heritage and our links to the mining" sector, and said reducing emissions did not mean wiping out the coal industry, which employs more than 30,000 people. "Setting ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions does not mean we have to eliminate coal exports or shut down the coal industry," Mr Swan said.

Professor Flannery on Wednesday urged Australia to leave the coal industry behind, saying that as the pollution problem grew, "the social licence to operate those old polluting technologies will be withdrawn". Mr Garrett said there was a "huge market out there for energy efficiency" and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal power.

But Mr Emerson said the country could not "simply rely on generating power in Australia by solar and other renewable sources". "Nor should we be saying to the rest of the world that it is wrong to generate electricity from coal," he said. "We should be investing and supporting the development of clean coal technologies." {which is what PM Howard also says!]

The Government is pushing substantial investment into clean coaltechnologies to help make cleaner coal exports, which generate $24.5 billion for the country each year. Mr Turnbull said clean coal technology "may well be the most important thing Australia does" to reduce emissions. He said with China consuming 2.2 billion tonnes of coal a year, that dependency was not going to change, and unless a technological solution could be found then any of the "sacrifices" in Australia would mean nothing. He accused Mr Garrett of wanting to sacrifice jobs to achieve cuts in emissions.

John Howard also accused Labor of putting ideology ahead of jobs, attacking Mr Garrett for refusing to endorse the expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium mine in outback South Australia, even though the state's Labor Premier, Mike Rann, was pushing for more uranium mining. "We do not want thousands of coalminers thrown out of work, and we do not want thousands of people denied an opportunity of employment in the development of the uranium mines of South Australia," he said.

Mr Garrett would not be drawn on the expansion of uranium as way of bolstering clean power production, insisting Labor was yet to have that debate.

More here

Heroic mothers defy official meddling in their lives

Desperate couples are getting around tough surrogacy laws by using home insemination kits, but health authorities warn DIY methods carry serious health risks. A largely underground culture, the "secret society" of private egg donation and surrogacy is facilitated through member-only websites where would-be parents are matched with egg donors or surrogates. The managers of Australia's baby factory, Aussie Egg Donors, an online service and support group, told The Saturday Daily Telegraph an increasing number of couples were breaking the law due to Australia's legal surrogacy mine field.

Aussie Egg Donors was started by three women more than four years ago in response to the growing demand from infertile women to be matched to egg donors and surrogates. Co-director Rachel Kunde, 25, said the disparity in surrogacy legislation between states was forcing couples to resort to home inseminations. She said a rising number of women were using DIY methods in order to jump IVF clinics waiting lists. "In some cases people get really desperate . . . home insemination happens a lot, I know of at least a dozen surrogates who have done it that way." The director of a NSW surrogacy support group, who only wanted to be known as "Cindy", said their network had grown rapidly following recent public surrogacy cases.

Last month a Victorian grandmother gave birth to her grandson Kye after her daughter Leanne was told she could not have children. "We've had a wave of new people (since then). It's like a little secret society, there are ways of getting around laws," Cindy said.

One woman who used home insemination said the procedure was simple. "You find the couple you want to work with, make sure each person has tests for STDs, you can track your ovulation with ovulation kits, the intended father gives a donation and you go into a room with a syringe that you can purchase in the chemist," she said.

A number of infertility websites offer step-by-step instructions on home insemination but Professor Michael Chapman, a medical director with IVF Australia, warned the process was risky. "The stringent controls we put in place for insemination excludes things like hepatitis, HIV, chlamydia," he said. Sandra Dill, executive director of infertility consumer group Access Australia, said DIY surrogacy carried health risks and was ethically difficult, as the surrogate mother is biologically related to the child.


No comments: