Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Pointless splurge on pre-school education

It only has point as a child-minding service. Its educational benefits are illusory. But a free child-minding service will be popular with women who want or need to work.. It's only free to the user, however. The cost to the taxpayer will be huge

The huge "Head-start" progam in the USA started out with similar bright-eyed hopes but had no lasting benefit

On June 16, the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria announced ‘the greatest transformation of childhood education in a generation’.

The Victorian government will spend $9 billion to provide 30 hours a week of play-based learning for four-year-olds, with a rollout from 2025. They will also provide free kindergarten for three-year-olds, for up to 15 hours.

The New South Wales government will spend $5.8 billion on a similar scheme with later commencement, it reports that this would somehow eventually translate into $17 billion in increased economic activity; this is in addition to the federal government committing $5 billion to the cost of childcare.

Following Covid, the federal and state finances are in disarray.

Federal debt has ballooned towards $1 trillion. NSW debt stood at $50 billion in 2019, heading to $140 billion this year and under $200 billion by 2025. Figures for Victoria are equally parlous, increasing from under $50 billion in 2019 to $150 this year and $210 billion by 2025. The other states and territories have had relatively smaller increases as they were less damaged by Draconian, and perhaps unnecessary, lock-downs.

With these economic threats, it seems a bad time to introduce yet more welfare demand, a demand which we know, once introduced, will never be rescinded. Should we need a better example of where this leads, we have to look no further than the sky-rocketing cost of the NDIS.

Apart from the financial consequences, there are a number of political imperatives at work here. There is a belief that early commencement of education will result in improved educational outcomes; teachers and other unions are in favour of this job creation.

Also, that greater child care will allow more parents to return to the workforce. Underlying this debate is the changed concept of parenting, with the welfare state increasingly expected to take over the traditional role of rearing children, a role which was once considered not only a parental obligation but also their financial commitment.

Currently, there is a shortage of workers in many areas, it is tempting to think that freedom from the (self-inflicted) demands of parenting, would allow many women to return to work to fill those shortages. There are, fortunately, still some who consider involvement in their children’s development to be an obligation and a source of iuytrsatisfaction. At the other extreme, there are a number who look on this as a release from responsibility, but who have no intention of going to work. In view of the cost, it would seem logical to provide child-care, if considered appropriate, only for those who do return to work. There may also be only a short-term demand for workers, if predictions of a recession come to pass the situation may change dramatically, with unemployment rising.

The other big question is the predicted educational outcome, there is no doubt education is in disarray. A UNICEF study in 2017 showed that Australia had slipped down the league tables of educational achievement, coming in at 39 out of 41 in high and middle-income countries, ahead of only Turkey and Romania. In 2003, the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) ranked 15-year-old Australian students 10th in maths, 4th in reading, and 6th in science; 15 years later the results were 23rd in maths, 16th in reading, and 14th in science.

The problems besetting education relate to classroom discipline, distorted curricula, declining teaching standards, fad-driven teaching methods, and reduced parental input. As classroom size has declined and more money is invested, ($36 billion in 2019-2020), the deterioration continues, now enhanced by the Covid pandemic. It is nothing short of scandalous that after 12 years of schooling, 40 per cent of adults have achieved only a basic level of literacy; for many of my parents’ generation, leaving school at 14 had educated them better than those with 4 extra years

A quarter of a million children were enrolled in pre-school activity at 3 years age, part of Julia Gillard’s “education revolution” to develop a child’s “social and cognitive development”; this number had risen to 330,000 by 2021. The traditional education starting point had been at age 5 years, prior to commencing year 1 schooling at 6. Studies from America (whence all good things come) in the early 2000s suggested that improved economic outcomes could be achieved with an earlier start, but that misguided philosophy seems to have persisted. It is also concerning that children of this age are being subtly targeted by left-wing ideology in areas such as trans-gender, climate change, anti-colonialism, etc.

Parents in America have complained about drag queens in classrooms to promote ‘inclusivity’, New York schools have spent $200,000 on this activity; at least the parents (when informed) have the ability to demand change.

A suggestion of early improvement following pre-school does not carry through to later years. Several studies, both in Australia and overseas, have failed to show any long-term benefit from early education, in literacy and numeracy, on NAPLAN (National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy) testing. The latest 2021 US study has confirmed no academic benefit, it did suggest it resulted in better-adjusted children, but without considering the input of motivated parents who had to pay for this activity. NSW and Victoria appear intent on following the Biden playbook with free pre-schooling, in the case of America, an eye-watering extra $1.8 trillion over 10 years, would be needed from the debt-ridden economy.

We are already breaking the bank with debt, yet politics indicate, without evidence, we ‘must do more’ to improve both education and employment prospects. As is often the case, with welfare, education, health, care of the disabled or elderly, or the NDIS, we must be governed, not by what we would like, but by what we can afford.


NSW Auditor-General warns universities of China risk

NSW’s top universities are now much more reliant on Chinese students than before the Covid-19 pandemic and are creating risks for the entire sector, the state’s auditor-general has warned.

Chinese students accounted for 50.5 per cent of the state’s foreign students in 2021 – up nearly 6 per cent on the previous year – due to an enrolment boost of nearly 2300 more students from China, while the number of students from other countries fell, according to the Auditor-General’s latest report on NSW universities, released on Monday.

Chinese students flocked to the University of Sydney, whose revenue from Chinese students rose by a massive 35 per cent to $1.2bn last year.

Figures calculated from university financial statements and the Auditor-General’s report also show that the University of NSW’s revenue from Chinese students rose 12 per cent to about $580m last year.

The rise comes despite ­repeated warnings from governments and national security figures over the past two years on the need for universities to wean off the Chinese student market, amid growing tensions with Beijing and increased concerns about foreign interference on Australian campuses.

In her report, NSW Auditor-General Margaret Crawford slammed universities in the state for their failure to diversify their foreign student intakes and warned of a “concentration risk”.

“Seven out of the 10 universities now record China as the leading source of overseas student revenues. This creates not only a concentration risk for each university, but for the NSW university sector as a whole,” she said in her Universities 2021 report.

“For two universities, the University of Wollongong and Southern Cross University, the top country of origin changed from India to China in 2021.”

In her report Ms Crawford repeated warnings the Auditor-General made in previous years about universities’ over-reliance on students from a limited number of countries. “Unexpected shifts in demand arising from changes in the geo-political or geo-economic landscape, or from restrictions over visas or travel can impact revenues, operating results and cash flows,” she said.

Group of Eight universities CEO Vicki Thomson, who represents both the University of Sydney and the University of NSW, said the higher education sector was not different to any other sector of the economy, including mining, in its exposure to China.

“Our universities are very aware of the commercial risk and the need to balance their portfolios in their recruitment strategies, including with students from China. But, like other industry sectors, we will not walk away from the Chinese market,” she said.

Ms Thomson said Chinese students were choosing Australia because of its “quality offering”.

“We want Chinese students to continue to see Australia as a destination of choice. We are looking at other markets, as we always have, but building alternative markets takes time, investment and resources,” she said.

Overall the number of international students in NSW fell by 12.5 per cent in the first two years of the pandemic, the Auditor-General’s report says. Other universities highly reliant on Chinese students include UTS and University of Newcastle.


Families to pay double for electricity thanks to a net zero climate change policy with $3,200 bills expected

Australian families are set to pay double for their electricity by 2030 as part of a net zero by 2050 carbon emissions policy, a new report says.

The Institute of Public Affairs, a free market think tank, said the closure of six coal-fired power stations in NSW, Victoria and Queensland in less than a decade would see consumers on average pay $3,248 a year - or $812 a quarter - on electricity.

The absence of affordable baseload power would cause wholesale power prices to quadruple within eight years.

This would cause retail prices to double by 2030, rising by 103 per cent as wholesale prices, comprising a third of an electricity bill, soared by 310 per cent.

Australians are already paying $1,600 a year on average or $400 every three months for their electricity.

But a 103 per cent increase by 2030 would see average electricity bills climb to $3,248 a year or $812 a quarter.

The IPA feared the decommissioning of the Yallourn W, Eraring, Bayswater, Liddell, Vales Point B and Callide B plants would remove 11 gigawatts - or 11 billion watts - of generation capacity from the National Energy Market.

These six stations make up 20 per cent of the National Energy Market's total capacity and are slated for closure, respectively, in 2028, 2025, 2030, 2023, 2029 and 2028.

The closure of these stations was expected to cause national wholesale electricity prices to surge by 310 per cent by 2030.

'In the absence of reliable and affordable replacement baseload power supply facilities in the next decade, consumers can expect to see more than a doubling in their electricity bills as a result of the closures,' IPA report authors Kevin You and Daniel Wild said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's new Labor government last week pledged to the UN a 43 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. His predecessor Scott Morrison's Liberal Party had a less ambitious 26 to 28 per cent reduction within that time frame.

But both sides of politics were committed to a net zero by 2050 target.

'The policy of net zero emissions by 2050 presents a significant risk to job growth, economic development, and Australia’s energy reliability and affordability,' the IPA said.

A move to be carbon neutral would also see electric cars put pressure on the grid as new petrol cars were phased out.

Electric cars last year had a minuscule 1.57 per cent market share, when Tesla sales data was included in Electric Vehicle Council estimates.

But as electric vehicle popularity increased, a trial by Origin Energy and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency estimated EV recharging could cause electricity demand at peak times to rise by at least 30 per cent.

The report recommended financial incentives to encourage EV owners to recharge outside peak times.

Tasmania became Australia's first state to achieve net zero carbon emissions in 2015 by virtue of having vast forests.

Despite that, the IPA forecast the island state's average electricity bills rising by 125 per cent to $4,500 a year - the most expensive predicted for 2030.

Electricity bills were also expected to double in the other mainland states, with South Australia expected to have the next higher average annual bill of $3,200, followed by New South Wales on $2,600, and Queensland and Victoria on $2,500.

Coal-fired power stations have been faltering this year with energy companies reluctant to upgrade them ahead of their closure.

This saw wholesale electricity prices more than double, surging by 141 per cent in the year to March, Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) data showed.

The AEMO last week took the unprecedented step of suspending the national spot price of electricity but that $300 a megawatt hour cap was due to be lifted on Thursday morning.

Small electricity retailers are now advising their customers to find another provider from July 1.

Consumer group One Big Switch campaign director Joel Gibson noted Discover Energy had advised customers of a 285 per cent increase, estimating that would see bills almost quadruple by $1,563 a year.

'Hundreds of thousands of households with smaller retailers now need to switch ASAP or they will cop increases of 50 per cent to 285 per cent on their power bills and pay unfair prices,' he said.


Energy crisis won’t be solved by wind and sun

Nigerian Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo recently lambasted the rich West for its hypocrisy on energy policy. Writing in The Economist, he declared “rich countries, especially in Europe, have repeatedly called for African states to use only renewable power sources”.

Objecting to the patronising efforts of Westerners to prod Nigerians into “leapfrogging” over fossil fuels into wind and solar, Osinbajo points out that a moratorium on fossil fuel sentences Nigeria to poverty. “Though solar will provide most of our power in the future, we still need natural gas for baseload power.”

Osinbajo is right with regard to the African continent, but rich Westerners are hypocritical at home as well. Advocates of new-generation renewables will often argue that we must choose wind or solar – or submit to the ravages of a changing climate.

But this is a false choice. Some European countries get more than 90 per cent of their electricity from low carbon dioxide sources, such as France (nuclear energy) and Norway (hydropower). Yet no country gets most of their electricity from wind or solar.

In fact, the percentage of the world’s electricity that comes from clean sources has remained stagnant since the 1980s. Although there has been a boom in investment in wind and solar, there has been a lack of investment in nuclear. When nuclear plants shut down, coal-powered plants tend to replace them. Unfortunately, this lack of investment in nuclear has cancelled out the reductions in CO2 emissions made by new-generation renewables. In 1985, 35 per cent of the world’s electricity came from low-CO2 sources; by last year it was just 38.26 per cent.

One of the greatest lies told about climate change is that solving the problem is simply a matter of willpower. If only governments around the world would listen to Greta Thunberg and Simon Holmes a Court, and install solar panels and wind turbines at a faster rate, then temperatures would stabilise. Unfortunately, the problem of climate change is not simply a matter of goodwill. If it were, the Germans would not be reopening their mothballed coal-fired power plants after pledging to be coal-free by 2030.

The Dutch and the Austrians, similarly, would not be following the Germans in reopening their coal-fired plants as well, a week after Russia halted gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

“The cabinet has decided to im­mediately withdraw the restriction on production for coal-fired power stations from 2002 to 2024,” Dutch Climate and Energy Minister Rob Jetten told media.

“The situation is serious,” said German Economic Affairs and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck. “It is obviously Putin’s strategy to upset us, to drive prices upwards and to divide us … We won’t allow this to happen.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the biggest catastrophes of modern geopolitics has been Europe’s entanglement with Russia over energy. During the past five years, while the West was busy taking policy advice from a teenager, Russia was at work fracking and drilling for oil.

Back home, our politicians persist with the fanciful notion that an entire country’s electricity grid can be powered by wind turbines and solar panels.

On June 16, Andrew Wilkie tweeted: “While the Aus Govt’s target to cut emissions by 43% by 2030 is a step forward, it’s still not good enough. We need a 75% reduction by 2030 & net-zero by 2035. The only way to do this is to quickly phase out coal, gas & oil & fast-track to 100% renewables.”

When Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen was asked by Nine journalist Chris Uhlmann about whether the solution to Australia’s recent energy crisis (during which the Australian Energy Market Operator suspended the electricity market to ensure supply) was to invest in the continued maintenance of our coal-fired plants, Bowen fired off an angrily defensive reply. Yet just a week later, emergency powers were invoked to block the export of coal in the event of such a crisis happening again.

In response to our recent power crisis, environmentalists at home have called for a blockage on gas exports, a gas export tax and increased government subsidies for battery storage technologies. Yet these are simply Band-Aid solutions. To ensure energy security, Australia needs to extract more gas, invest in and maintain our existing coal-fired power plants, and think seriously about a long-term transition to nuclear energy.

While nuclear energy is often dismissed as being too costly, the question is: compared with what? The battery storage required to power the whole of Australia has been estimated to cost $6.5 trillion. If this is a cost-effective solution, then God help us all.

An inconvenient truth is that the push for wind and solar may have other motivations than simply concern about climate change.

Last year, The Economist constructed a portfolio of companies that would benefit from the world’s energy transition and estimated that these companies had a total market value of $US3.7 trillion. Tracking these companies’ economic performance, it found that since the start of 2020, they had performed twice as well as the S&P 500, with the “greenest 25% of firms (seeing) their share prices rise by 110%”. But the problem is, according to The Economist, that 30 per cent of these companies do not yet turn a profit.

Just as the cryptocurrency bubble has burst this year, the new-generation renewable energy bubble is likely to burst in the foreseeable future. While big money has piled into the push to transition energy – and this investor exuberance has led to increased pressure on politicians to “transition faster” – the real world presents obstacles in the form of physics and thugs such as Vladimir Putin.

When Putin continues to use energy as a weapon against Europeans, a Nigerian vice-president calls out the hypocrisy of Western leaders, and when countries such as Australia are threatened by blackouts, more people will start to see through the wind and solar hype. The question is, will Australian politicians continue living in a fantasy or will they have the courage to face up to reality?


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM -- daily)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)


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