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Category Archives: education

NSW Schools Spectacular – ABC TV

Every year I blog this, and every year I am amazed by this show put on by our NSW State Schools. Such talent! Such achievements! Such dedicated and brilliant teachers must be behind it!

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Those  captures from my TV give some idea, but for more go to the Schools Spectacular site.

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My right arm

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Why? See All hands on deck to bridge the indigenous reading gap.

 

Tanveer Ahmed’s interesting insight

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Above is a typical Sunday scene at Sydney’s Central Station, and a typical 21st century Sydney group.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Australian Muslim psychiatry registrar Tanveer Ahmed offers some thoughts I find worth noting on current demographic and educational issues.

… Members of the Great Public Schools, in particular, foster what sections of the establishment in many former British colonies do – being ”more English than the English”. The sight of children of Chinese or Indian backgrounds taking part in a regatta, singing hymns or baking scones for the tea break of a school cricket match was common.

But increasingly in Sydney, the schools with the narrowest social and ethnic student bodies are the selective public schools.

Much has been said about the dominance of students from Asian backgrounds in gaining entry to these schools. Statistics from the Department of Education last year suggest that close to two-thirds of students in fully selective schools such as James Ruse Agricultural High School are from such backgrounds. Census figures from 2006 back that up, and indicate the figure is much lower – closer to a quarter – in private and non-selective government schools.

But of more interest are the increasing complaints I hear from Asian parents that selective schools are too Asian.

This may reflect the reluctance of other parents to speak their minds for fear of being branded racist or a trend of aspiration among immigrant groups when they begin to mimic the tastes of the establishment, like taking up golf or developing a taste for fine wine.

Recently I had a patient of Korean background who was due to sit the selective schools test. He developed a phobic disorder, refusing to leave his room for days on end. It resembled a description of a similar disorder rife among adolescents in Japan…

 

A five-finger exercise

While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.

c) “My fondest childhood memories”

When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.

In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.

My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.

He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”

I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?

Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.

On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.

You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.

There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.

I was 21 when my grandfather died. He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.

 

League tables can play to fears of parents

It has been a while since I have had a rant on education. After all, I am, tutoring aside, pretty much out of the game now leaving it in the capable hands of people like The Rabbit, but League tables can play to fears of parents in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is worth noting because Ken Boston is right.

… Dr Boston, who served as the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in England for seven years before he resigned after a chaotic round of national curriculum tests last year, addressed a meeting of school principals in Sydney yesterday.

Dr Boston said league tables had damaged the curriculum in England and could not be relied on to provide fair and accurate comparisons.

”I am a supporter of national testing in England and in Australia,” he said. ”I am opposed to the use of league tables.”

Dr Boston said England’s system of school inspections and auditing had resulted in authoritative reports on schools, leading to improvements in their performance. However, simplistic league tables had gained greater public attention…

The high stakes attached to league tables in England had ”seriously damaged the breadth and quality” of the primary school curriculum, making it ”narrower and poorer”. The role of national tests had changed from providing a diagnostic tool for improvement to a determinant of a teacher’s future employment. As a result, a recent survey had shown 70 per cent of primary schools were spending three hours a week on prepping students for literacy and numeracy tests, which had narrowed the focus on other subjects…

Take note, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd: such may be the unintended consequences of running the tape measure over everything willy-nilly – not an education revolution but an education nightmare, not the sought transparency but further confusion.

 

Racism is not the main story: Four Corners last night

Last night Four Corners ran an expose on the scams run by certain private vocational training colleges and some immigration and education agents. I emphasise some because there are very many such agents who are totally ethical, and ditto for the better established private colleges. In fact one of the principal whistle blowers is himself an immigration and education agent.

According to ABC this morning the Indian press has reacted by invoking racism: ‘It’s racism’: Indian media seizes on student scam report.

Another storm of controversy has broken out in India over revelations that Indian students are being ripped off by unscrupulous operators in Australia.

Last night’s Four Corners program on ABC1 detailed how students had paid tens of thousands of dollars for services they claim they never received, and how allegations were made to the relevant government authorities but their complaints were ignored.

An Indian journalist, working undercover for the program, was also attacked after investigating alleged corruption by immigration agents.

The latest incident has seen the Indian media slip into tabloid high gear.

I am not for a moment denying there are racist elements in the story but would still say Australia is no more racist than anywhere else. I have addressed that before: More on “Racism? Yes and no” and here and here. It is true that the Flying School singled out in the Four Corners story is alleged to have behaved in a racist manner, but the other examples were of Indians here and in India exploiting both the system in Australia and their Indian clients.

Reporter Wendy Carlisle reveals how dodgy business practices are being used to rip off foreign students seeking legitimate qualifications in Australia. At the same time she also shows how vocational training for foreign students has become an immigration scam allowing thousands of foreigners to come to, and then remain in, Australia under false pretences.

For ten years now Australia’s foreign student education sector has been on a massive growth spurt. First it was foreign students seeking university degrees. More recently it’s the vocational education sector that’s been expanding.

Last year more than 70,000 Indian students came here to buy an education. Egged on by immigration and education agents, many were told if they enrolled in cooking, hairdressing and accounting courses they would not only get a diploma but they could also qualify for permanent residency in Australia.

Now a major Four Corners investigation reveals that foreign students in this country have been targeted by unscrupulous businessmen, who have set up training schools that supply qualifications that sometimes aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

"It is a fraud because we were shown so many rosy pictures about the school and it is not what it was really… it was just a scam." – Parent of Indian student

"We all know that they have sardine type cooking classes where there’s sixteen students to a frypan." (Corruption investigator)

Bogus courses though are not the only scam going on. If a student wants to apply for permanent residency they must pass an English language test. Four Corners has found clear evidence that unscrupulous immigration and education agents are offering English language tests for a price. In some cases the exam paper is worth up to $5,000…

In this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald we read that “Students have been dealt a major blow after a Sydney college went into administration on Monday night.”

More than 500 students have had their courses halted and face the loss of thousands of dollars in fees. All 35 college staff have been sacked.

"Late on Monday afternoon Dr Dharmappa Hagare, the sole director of Sterling College Pty Ltd, which operates the group’s Sydney training facilities, made a decision to appoint Quentin Olde and Matt Adams of Corporate Recovery Specialists, Taylor Woodings, as voluntary administrators," the administrator said in a statement.

Taylor Woodings said the college’s Brisbane campuses, part-owned by Dr Hagare, would remain open for the time being.

The Sydney campuses specialised in teaching IT, language and hospitality courses.

"Students have unfortunately been severely impacted by the failure of Sterling College and have had not only their education process suddenly halted, they also face the prospect of a financial loss as most of their tuition fees have been paid in advance," Taylor Woodings said…

So the story is primarily one about corruption, greed, exploitation, and government inaction. The cash cow was devised (unwittingly perhaps) by the Howard government, but the Rudd government has also sat on its hands rather too much, to the great detriment of Australia’s reputation in what is in fact one of its greatest export earners, greater than wool and wheat combined in fact. As Four Corners noted:

For some time now the Federal Government has boasted about the growth in the foreign education sector. But some experts now believe the time has come for the government to stop the corruption. The question is: does it have the will?

"Well basically they’ve been bedazzled by the dollars …they could proudly say this is a $15 billion industry, more than wheat, wool and meat put together, there’s perhaps an understandable reluctance to look at the foundation of the industry." – Bob Birrell, from the Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research

If the government refuses to clean up the scams and the corruption many believe it could destroy the $15 billion industry. As one young student told the program why would you pay for a service that is not provided?

"Obviously I am very angry. I’ve like taken a loan. It’s a big loan and I paid the money to the school. I came here for a purpose… I haven’t got anything." – Indian student.

One of the Australian Indian figures exposed on Four Corners has now become the object of Federal Police attention, we were informed in a note at the end of Four Corners.

Certainly this industry needs to have the cleaners put through it.

 

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When you become a teacher…

… by your pupils you’ll be taught. Yes, from The King and I. Several things prompt this post today, one being the comment thread on Not again! where I say:

… We need to embrace people of all faiths (or none) who share the desire to see this dreadful but demoniacally romantic idea of the terrorist martyr lose its hold on impressionable minds — usually, as ever, young minds. (As a teacher, again, I relate to that challenge and did whatever I could with the young Muslims I used to see daily from 9/11 through to 2005.) …

By engaging in conversation that treats people with respect you can learn so much! Now I am the first to admit that my achievement in this area varied greatly, but it was always the intention even if the desire to dogmatise or “play teacher” in a rather negative sense can also be strong. Over the years too I found that engaging with the students also involved engaging with their parents, and with the communities from which the parents came. One manifestation of this can be seen in my June post More on things I’m proud of….

Not just teachers of course. Jim Belshaw refers to something similar in his recent post Saturday Morning Musings – musings on three years of blogging.

I do not even know how to begin to describe the importance of the people. There have been different people at different times as their and my needs change. In all cases, they have forced me to change my views and given me new insights.

The other thing that prompts me is that it is my mother’s birthday today. She died in 1996 but would have been 98 today. Her father was a teacher, a city boy originally, but his many years in what were then remote rural communities shaped his vision of Australia and its people, and those insights, passed on to me, still stand in many ways. He was a master of listening, of talking to everyone, a great role model in that respect.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2009 in education, Jim Belshaw, personal