Saturday, January 30, 2010

MySchool Website

The MySchool website ( was launched this week, amid much controversy. As you read it, remember to "never confuse a test score with an education". The website crashed for significant amounts of time. From an IT perspective, that was either poor planning, or poor implementation because that traffic was foreseeable. I suspect the problem is more likely to be underlying database errors. Serious questions have also been asked about the following:
  • the resultant league tables created by the media. Remember the media do this simply to make a quick buck from sales, and possibly to denigrate some schools, or school system.
  • the site does NOT give amounts of Federal and State funding in total, or per student. That might well have been politically damaging for Julia Gillard, and the Federal and State Governments. Some reports say such information will be included in the a later version.
  • the site makes comparisons between statistically dissimilar groups/schools. eg boys-only schools with girls-only schools; high schools with primary schools; comprehensive schools with selective schools
  • the site assumes that all students from a school conform to the demographics of the suburb/town in which it is sited.
  • NAPLAN testing and performance does not measure an education.
Nevertheless, it was announced with much fanfare, and many media appearances from the Federal Education Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. This gives some clue to the sites real purpose: it is politically-driven. Ms Gillard wants to fight public and private school teachers, and state education systems. She wants what every Minister for Education wants: to be the 'Great Education Reformer'! The tests of reform will not be the media interviews, the press releases (with photo), or Parliamentary comments. The test of her reforms will be: more equitable distribution of public resources; provision of more staff for public schools (lower class sizes have been shown to improve educational outcomes). While she's at it, Ms Gillard might work to restore Federal funding for TAFE and Universities to reasonable operating levels. They have been screwed for money since Paul Keating was Prime Minister, and John Howard continued the policy almost relentlessly. I think that Julia Gillard won't do it, in which case she will have failed the public education reform test.

As for the MySchool site, and its data:
  • remember, like investing, "past performance is no indicator of future returns"
  • "Never confuse a test score with an education" (John)


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Politics Has No Holidays.

We've been on holiday for a few weeks. There has been so much to catch up on returning.

Politicians have holidays, too. But not, it seems politics, and the leaders of the major political parties are never far from a microphone, a journalist, and a 10 second gabfest.

Julia Gillard has been kicking deftly at a number of targets. Public School teachers, the Australian Education Union & its state teacher affiliates, and Private School teachers and teacher unions, and some parent organizations have come in for some sharp words over their opposition to the national publication of schools testing data. In one interview she even exhorted parents to approach teachers (directly) about thier school's, and students', performance. The message has been 'don't mess with me, I'm the Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Minister for Education'. So there!

Tony Abbott has hit the media with his advice to women to remain a virgin till marriage. That's not something he practised, and he didn't advocate it for men. Still hasn't. On this issue he seems to have used all of his appalling 'people skills' to have 51% of the population thinking 'who's he to tell me what to do or not do?', and the rest laughing at him. Nevertheless, for all Abbott's lack of people skills, perhaps the underlying issue is one of the sexual health of people. The Australian Government website makes the following points:
  • the rate of STI's is increasing. ie more people, mostly 15-29 have more infections.
  • Young people, 15-29, account for 75% of cases
  • HIV is increasing again
  • insufficient people use condoms, and using a condom reduces the chance of getting infected. (not that they provide absolute protection)
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott might have been better to raise the issue of rising rates of STI's on the health and well-being of people, rather than trying to preach to just 51% of the population. And Deputy PM Julia Gillard wasn't going to miss the chance to score easy political points against him. Shame she didn't come up with any sensible suggestions for policy.

2010 will be a year of politicians looking after politicians, and the chance to get (re)elected. It's a (Federal) election year. Good policy, and intelligent public debate, along with a functional Parliament, remain a dream.

Sir Henry Parkes said "All great questions will be dealt with in a broad light and with a view to the interests of the whole country." - Tenterfield Oration, 1889, arguing for a Federal Government. He is undoubtedly spinning in his grave at the cheap antics of our politicians.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Advertizing Fast Food And Racism

KFC has withdrawn an ad it used in Australia showing a Australian cricket fan sitting amongst West Indian cricket fans. The West Indian cricket team has just played 3 tests against Australia, and will play some one-day or 20/20 games soon. The concept was that everyone's happy when fried chicken is provided, that the product makes it "too easy" to quieten opponents' supporters, and the support for different teams is less important when the advertised product is provided. That is largely how viewers in Australia considered the ad.

However, some people in the US have taken offence, calling the ad racist, because it stereotypes African-Americans as only eating fried chicken. It is within their rights to take offence - that is driven partly by their individual, and collective, histories, and the societal context they have applied to the ad.

Is the ad racist? What's racist? Is racism a behavioural thing? That is, an action. Or is it driven by a n ideology that a person's outward appearance, or nationality, determines their position in society? I think there are elements of both behaviourist and ideology that drive racism. The behaviourist element often arises from those who act with a mob mentality, or who have not learnt to treat all people with respect. People who lead others to commit racist acts - some politicians, community 'leaders', some 'shock-jocks' in the media - are undoubtedly driven by an ideology.

I understand that in a different society, where there are different sensibilities, there are some who have interpreted it differently and have been offended. However, I do not believe the ad was created with any racist intent, and should not be seen that way. I'm not aware of any West Indian cricketer, or supporter, who has been offended.


Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year: What I hope For

WOW! Sydney's fireworks are still the best!! Awesome! You can see some images of NYE from around the world at:

It was great, but it is a moment in time. A moment where people forget their troubles, express their good wishes to others, and enjoy themselves.

Today, after the party hangover clears, brings a new reality. What do I want for this year? What are my "new year resolutions"? Mine is simple: I resolve to help our politicians develop better public policies - policies that are in the best interests of Australia, rather than political self-interest, or the interests of "the Party". Some examples of public policy that need a re-think:
  • Hospital / health management: How much, if any, should the Federal Government manage? It is undoubtedly in the best interests of Australia's people that the Federal Government be responsible. State politicians are reluctant to hand over anything - it would affect their budget, the size of government, and the number of Ministers drawing Ministerial salaries. The Federal Government knows it's a dog's breakfast, and will cost more to fix than the savings retrieved from the states & territories. Political self-interest is impeding good policy.
  • Climate Change: political half-truths & mis-truths are being used to protect the interests of large political donors,and to propagate populist (but largely incorrect) fears. IT is in human nature to try to control our environment, that's why we build houses, so why would politicians not try to control climate change to benefit people? The cynical, but correct, answer is political self-interest, or the financial interests of the political party.
  • Refugees: The release of Cabinet papers from 30 years ago show that our politicians, especially those from the Liberal & National Parties have learnt nothing. They still popularise xenophobic ideas, and seek political opportunism at the expense of good policy. Liberal Party and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's pronouncement that he would simply turn away boatloads of refugees knowing that they would likely sink and drown, is the latest example of bad policy for political expedience. The Federal Government politicians are little better - they seek to placate populist public opinions, and the Opposition, for their own benefit, rather than deal properly with a difficult issue.

Happy New Year for 2010 - now, go to work on our political leaders and local members.