Monday, May 11, 2020

NSW teachers to adapt lessons to focus on most important aspects

Students will learn a stripped-back version of the NSW curriculum for the rest of term two, with educators given permission to factor learning disruptions from the last six weeks into their teaching plans and focus on the most essential content.

A staged return to school begins on Monday for NSW public schools, but Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott said it would be a while before regular calendar events such as assemblies, excursions and school sport resumed.

Principals will spend this week closely monitoring attendance rates, school drop-offs and staff room distancing while teachers will also reconsider their original lesson plans for the second half of term two.

"There are a lot of requirements, particularly in the K-10 curriculum. Guidance has been given from the NSW Education Standards Authority that not all aspects of the curriculum are equally important at this point," Mr Scott told the Sun-Herald.

"Teachers will focus on the most important concepts. Deep engagement around the more important aspects of the curriculum will be the priority. That allows teachers a level of flexibility to identify where students are up to and recalibrate what's been taught in light of the disruption to learning in recent months."

Parents are still permitted to keep children at home during the phased return to school period, so long as students remain engaged with learning. Mr Scott said it was hard to predict how many would choose to stay home, but he expected the "vast majority of families will follow the guidelines" and send kids to school on their designated day.

School attendance dropped as low as 6 per cent at the end of term one, but hovered between 15 and 17 per cent last week.

Schools across New South Wales will reopen this week as part of a staggered and slow return to the classroom.

"We want to look carefully at the experience of schools in coming days. We want to see how schools are adapting to social distancing requirements for adults. We want to look at the flow of students in and out of school, and how we work with parents around that," Mr Scott said.

The department's next goal is getting all students back into classrooms full-time. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has flagged she wants full-time attendance by the end of May, however Mr Scott did not commit to a date. "We’re waiting to learn from [this week] and think that is a wise course of events," he said.

At that stage students would resume normal teaching and no longer undertake the one mode of remote learning. The department's policy around keeping children at home would also be reconsidered.

But Mr Scott said it will still be a while before schools are fully operating. "For a period of time there will be no assemblies, excursions, work experience, sport or cultural events," he said.

"There will be some big events on the school calendar that won’t happen this year. The 2020 school year will have some significant differences and we’re just going to have to manage that carefully."

Without NAPLAN tests this year, the department will work with schools on assessments to identify gaps in student wellbeing and learning. "Good teachers will do regular low-stress assessment anyway, to check where students are at. This will become a priority when schools become operational again," Mr Scott said.

The Department of Education found about 10 per cent of its roughly 806,000 students has experienced a technology gap at home, meaning they did not have either a device or fast broadband access to complete remote learning activities.

"It was striking to us the number of students in metropolitan Sydney who did not have Wi-Fi or any technology in the home beyond a phone," Mr Scott said. "In metropolitan schools, you could have 100 or more students. And that disadvantage was not a factor of remoteness; it was right in the midst of the suburbs."

He said the department would become more cognisant of the technology divide in homes after the pandemic. This could involve purchasing technology for schools that is also appropriate for loaning out, and focusing on laptops instead of desktop computers.


Privacy advocates not paranoid

Those who have expressed privacy concerns about COVIDSafe have been mocked and dismissed. But these concerns are valid. After all, government has spent years warning us about online privacy.

Last year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry concluded, “consumers are generally not aware of the extent of data that is collected nor how it is collected.”

Back in 2013, then Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus asked for an inquiry into online privacy because of technological growth and “changing community conceptions of privacy.”

Internationally, Facebook, and Google have faced enormous fines for privacy breaches — $5 billion and $170 million respectively.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal saw Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hauled before a Senate Committee to answer questions about invasion of privacy and electoral interference.

These initiatives were spearheaded by governments — because they believed the public were being deceived by Silicon Valley, which was breaching the public’s trust.

Now government is asking us to trust them with our data.

Compared to Google and Facebook, the government app COVIDSafe does collect extraordinarily little data. The app asks only for your first name, postcode, and telephone number; and uses Bluetooth – not GPS – to register close contacts.

To safeguard privacy, the Morrison Government has introduced legislation to ensure the app is only used for its stated purpose, and that police and security agencies do not have access.

But this may not be sufficient.. Legal experts have warned the US government could gain access to the data — because the app data is stored on US company Amazon’s servers.

Furthermore, unlike private companies such as Facebook and Google, the government could potentially use the app as a form of coercion. Business groups have already suggested downloading the app should be a requirement to enter pubs, restaurants, and shops.

After dangling the juicy carrot of COVIDSafe as a way to end the lockdown so we can ‘go to the footy’,  it is not unimaginable government would make having the app a condition of entry to businesses or events.

Hopefully, we can install enough safeguards so COVIDSafe is not misused.

Privacy advocates are not paranoid, we are simply attuned to a threat the government pointed out.


Australian universities angry at 'final twist of the knife' excluding them from jobkeeper scheme

Universities are incensed by the third set of changes in a month designed to exclude them from the $130bn jobkeeper wage subsidy program, labelling them the “final twist of the knife” that will ensure none qualify.

New rules for the program, released late on Friday, specify universities must count six months of revenue when calculating their projected downturn, a tweak that puts $1,500 fortnightly payments per worker out of their reach.

On Monday, the University of Sydney, one of the last institutions still in contention for the funding, announced it is no longer eligible.

The move follows a decision in April to exclude universities from the more generous threshold for charities to access the program, meaning they must show a full 50% drop in revenue or 30% for those with revenue of less than $1bn a year to qualify.

On 24 April the government clarified that universities must count their commonwealth grants scheme funding towards their revenue, despite a change allowing other charities to leave out government grants.

Under the new rules, while other organisations such as businesses and charities can calculate their losses over one month or one quarter in order to qualify, universities must show the required decline from 1 January to 30 June.

The Innovative Research Universities executive director, Conor King, said after successive changes to jobkeeper it now appears “no university can claim it”.

“Universities have turned with every twist of the knife, only to be left to heal ourselves each time,” he said. “This seems to be the final twist of the knife.”

“The lack of support will impact how well universities will function in 2021 and beyond.”

The University of Sydney vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, told staff on Monday he believed it qualified and had applied on the basis of “the significant loss of revenue from student suspensions and withdrawals in March for semester 1”.

“The government has changed this rule for universities and extended the period in which to demonstrate revenue loss … this means we will no longer be eligible to receive jobkeeper funding,” he said.

Spence reassured staff that anyone who was paid a salary top-up in April in anticipation of receiving jobkeeper funding in May will be allowed to keep the payment.

A spokeswoman for La Trobe said the university believed it was eligible for jobkeeper based on a decline in projected GST turnover of more than 30% when comparing March 2020 with March 2019. But the university was then disqualified by the inclusion of commonwealth grant scheme funding.

“By applying for jobkeeper, we acted in good faith by following the published ATO guidelines,” she said. “We are very disappointed that the application criteria have changed again.”

In April the education minister, Dan Tehan, announced a support package including a guarantee on $18bn of projected university funding and $100m of regulator fee relief, shared with the rest of the tertiary sector.

Universities welcomed the package as a first step but warned it wouldn’t be enough to prevent an estimated 21,000 job cuts in the next six months in Australia’s third largest export sector.

Labor’s education spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said the government “seems determined to do nothing while universities suffer big job losses and campus closures”.

“That will hurt families and communities right across Australia, including in regional areas.”

A spokesperson for the education department said the rules were changed because the monthly measurement of revenue applied through the “normal test” was “potentially subject to larger variations due to timing issues than underlying economic drivers would suggest”.

“Accordingly, the six month test is designed to smooth out any timing variations.”


WA's decision to keep its mines open amid coronavirus may have saved Australia's economy

Stephen Easterbrook manages risk for a living and as he watched COVID-19 spreading across the globe and edging closer to Australia, he was nervous.

Mr Easterbrook is the managing director of Breight Group, a Perth based mining services company which prides itself on its safety training for scaffolding workers.

When he learned the West Australian Government had deemed mining an essential service, the former rigger breathed a big sigh of relief.

"Prior to hearing that, there was a lot of sleepless nights," he said.

But the reprieve has come with a price for fly-in, fly-out workers.

Some Breight Group staff are now working on mine sites in WA's north west for up to six weeks at a time.

The longer swings were an attempt to minimise people movement and prevent the spread of the virus.

"We've got guys that are working four, six weeks away from their families," Mr Easterbrook said.

"This shows a commitment to the value of the mining industry, that we're all prepared to [make sacrifices] to keep ourselves employed, and also what we're able to do by contributing to the Australian economy to keep it going."

WA's decision to keep workers flying in and out of mine sites has been praised by Federal Treasury Secretary Stephen Kennedy.

"Western Australia … deemed mining an essential service in the sense in which they were imposing their restrictions," he told a Senate committee late last month.

"These were important, carefully calibrated decisions. "As long as the health risks are well managed in what's a reasonably low employment environment, that's a very important economic flow."

Analyst Philip Kirchlechner, from Iron Ore Research, was even more explicit. "By keeping the mines open … Western Australia is supporting the whole country," he said.

"Iron ore miners are paying company tax which goes to the Federal Government, so it's all the Australian people [who] benefit from the taxes the mining companies pay."

It has helped that despite the virus, China has kept buying iron ore from Australia and two of the nation's biggest competitors, Brazil and South Africa, haven't been able to operate as normal.

Mr Kirchlechner said Brazil was on the brink of reopening two mines forced to close because of a deadly dam collapse when COVID-19 hit. "Because of the virus, the restart of those mines has been delayed," he said.

"South Africa and also India have put in stoppages, they have put in place lockdowns for the whole country, so South Africa's iron ore production has been affected and its guidance has been reduced about 50 per cent."

WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt said deciding whether to keep mines open was a big call, but he believed his Government got it right in keeping the industry going. "It was an incredible time, one of those things that I think I'll look back for the rest of my life," Mr Wyatt said.

"Because as the coronavirus was coming at us and our numbers were, you know, something like 20 a day … you got a real sense of fear in the community … how far we were going to have to put the brakes on everything to get the virus under control … and I think we got that right."

Mr Wyatt said the crisis had underlined the importance of WA's mining sector.

Ben Wyatt wearing a grey suit and pink tie, smiling outside an office building.
WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt said the coronavirus crisis underlined the state's economic importance.(ABC News: Julian Robins)
"I think Australians now really understand what Western Australia has been talking about for such a long period of time — that is, we have a world-class mining sector," he said.

"The fact we've been able to keep it operating during this time has not only protected the Western Australian economy, but has underwritten the Australian economy.

"I know Josh Frydenberg, the Commonwealth Treasurer, every day will be waking up and thanking Western Australia's mining sector."


 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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