Political and blog roundup

05 Apr

A few disparate stories today.

First, on Indigenous Australia, I see that Kevin Rudd has repeated serious intention on “closing the gap”; I also note that the overdue Apology has gone down well internationally.

During a visit to London, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced an annual progress statement on closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. He said this will build on the promise he made to improve Indigenous life expectancy, which is 17 years shorter than for non-Indigenous people. Mr Rudd said that in a modern and prosperous Australia, there should be no reason for these gaps to exist…

Mr Rudd gave the undertaking at a two-day meeting called the “progressive governance summit.” Other leaders attending it include Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. Mr Rudd is half way through a 17-day overseas tour and his apology to Indigenous Australians has been regularly praised by world leaders he has met.

Meanwhile The Australian is publicising (not reporting) the latest from the misnamed Centre for Independent Studies, better called Centre for Mining Interests or Centre for Howardite Nostalgia: ‘Education apartheid’ failing Aboriginal kids.

INDIGENOUS children in remote communities in the Northern Territory are being condemned to failure by a system of educational apartheid that offers a second-rate curriculum in make-believe schools. In a paper to be released next week by the Centre for Independent Studies, Helen Hughes, professor emeritus at the Australian National University and senior fellow at the CIS, says indigenous schooling in the Territory has “in effect not been extended to secondary education”.

“Because most indigenous primary school leavers, particularly in remote areas, are at Year 1 level, so-called secondary classes mostly teach elementary English, numeracy and literacy,” she says…

The claims of an apartheid education system with substandard teachers were rejected by education researchers who work in the homelands, the NT Government and the teachers union.

But the NT president of the Australian Education Union, Nadine Williams, agreed the teaching of English in remote communities was inadequate and poorly resourced.

“Refugees in Darwin get more help learning English than indigenous kids,” she said. “They don’t fund schools in remote areas any differently to a primary school in Darwin or Palmerston or, indeed, in Melbourne.”

Education professor Dianne Siemon, who has worked with homeland schools for about five years, described Professor Hughes’s paper as poorly researched and sensationalist.

“I’m extremely disappointed by the quality of so-called research,” she said. “The paper is very opinionated, relying on sensationalist and emotive anecdotes of one-off instances.”

Professor Hughes says schools in the homelands, which she says number more than 50, are not even called schools but “learning centres” and do not follow mainstream curriculums…

Professor Hughes cites the use of a picture book by children’s author Mem Fox called Wombat Divine as the sole book to teach literacy in homeland learning centres from Years 1 to 10 in term four of 2005.

Reading was principally taught by guessing whole words and children had to work from one large-scale laminated text in the junior class, another in the senior class.

“Elementary addition, subtraction, multiplication and division drills are not taught in maths classes,” Professor Hughes says. “Children are not taught mental arithmetic. Typically at high-school age, they are still counting on their fingers and thus cannot count beyond 10. Exercises set for a week’s work would represent one scant lesson’s set of exercises in a mainstream primary school.”

NT Education Minister Marion Scrymgour rejected Professor Hughes’ claims of two curriculums in operation.

“We are dealing with an historical deficit in resourcing and valuing remote education but we are working hard to provide the extra resources that are needed,” she said. “Many students in remote schools have English as a third or fourth language and attendance rates need to be improved. Accelerated literacy programs are in place and the department is signing remote learning partnerships with communities to improve attendance.”

While Ms Williams rejected the notion of educational apartheid and attacks on the quality of teachers, she said there was extremely poor funding and management by the federal and Territory governments of remote schools….

There are real issues here, of course, and no-one can claim satisfaction with what is, but it seems to me that Professor Hughes, a great figure on shows like ABC Radio National’s Counterpoint, has amply demonstrated her own baggage rather than commendable objectivity. Deep down she is on the side of cultural genocide; her comments time and again betray no sense of the complexity of the cultural conditions that apply in the circumstances she seeks to address. The literacy issues that apply there are very much those of teaching English as a second or foreign language in communities where bourgeois white folk culture is actually quite outlandish. Mental arithmetic indeed! If only it were so easy.

[UPDATE 7 April: see also Education failures creating a lost generation by Helen Hughes and the subsequent discussion. — ABC]

It might also be noted, in the bigger picture, that remote communities are very much the minority in terms of Aboriginal population and needs in Australia, serious and all as the issues are in those communities. Most Aboriginal Australians live in much more mainstream contexts, and the danger is that the very real housing, health, and educational issues of those Aboriginal Australians can get lost in the emphasis on remote communities.

On Kevin Rudd overseas, some sort of goose of the week award should be shared equally between the increasingly humourless Bob Brown of the Greens and Desperate Dan Nelson over the non-issue of Rudd’s Aussie salute to George Bush. Rudd’s laughter was the best response.

More serious are the issues Jim Belshaw raises in a thoughtful post, which I nonetheless don’t entirely agree with: Saturday Morning Musings – foreign policy, Mr Rudd and the dangers of Australia’s middle power status. Nonetheless, it is an excellent post; I am mulling over it…

Legal Eagle has been watching Fitna and has convinced me not to bother. There is a genus of Muslim Panic that has no appeal whatever, as far as I am concerned. I now just pass it over and let the victims stew in their apocalyptic fantasies. On the other hand, I totally agree with Legal Eagle on this point:

A plague on all the houses of those who seek to convert by the sword, kill and persecute those of different religions or oppress and use religion to justify violence towards women and homosexuals.

Otherwise, just go to category list in the side bar. I have said pretty much all I want to on the subject of Islam. If you want to know what I have thought, it’s all there.

Marcellous in Shame says some concise and insightful things about China. He also says in the entry before that some rather amazing things about bicycles. Marcellous and Sirdan have much in common on that one.

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Posted by on April 5, 2008 in Australia, blogging, Brendan Nelson, current affairs, education, Indigenous Australians, Kevin Rudd, Marcel, other blogs, Political, politics, right wing politics


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