Education

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Do we have an oversupply of degrees?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/04/2021 - 4:44am in

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A recent edition of ‘The Conversation’ carried an article, by Small, Shaw and McPhail, titled ‘1 in 4 unemployed Australians has a degree. How did we get to this point.’

The about three-fold increase in graduate numbers over the last 30 years has allowed;

  • A much broader diversity of undergraduate students, particularly those from various equity groups,
  • The increase in the number of working Australians with a degree from 12.4% in 1993 to over 35% now.

The article then points out the increase in the unemployment rate of graduates during the pandemic.

We can applaud the increase in number of indigenous students and those with a disability, even if it is from a low base. There have also been increases, above the total average increase, of students from a low SES background and those from regional and remote areas.

I have a more sanguine view of the impact of increases for this second group as I suspect that their completion and employment rates are lower than that for the student population overall. Also, their participation in the elite discipline degrees will be lower. More importantly Universities are only a part of a response to inequality, which starts where you were born, the income and qualifications of your parents, where you go to school etc. There is still a great gulf in the performance of schools in low SES areas compared to those in high SES areas.

The main point the paper makes is that at November 2020 some 23.29% of the unemployed had a degree. This increased from 18.66% at May 2019. At the same time a total of 36.89% of the labour force holds a degree, thus graduates are still substantially less likely to be unemployed. I suspect that the increase in the proportion of graduates among the unemployed is a result of the effects of the pandemic which has disproportionately impacted the employment of young people.

In my view the more important point is that the full-time employment rate of graduates, 4 months after completion, is only 72.6%. This has fallen about 10% points since 2008. Three years after completion the full-time employment rate increases to 90.1% but this has been relatively stable over the same period. So, it is taking longer for graduates to find a full-time job and career.

Taking longer to find full-time employment is a general phenomenon among both graduate and non-graduate young people. This is the conclusion of a report by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), titled ‘The New Work Reality’. The report shows the proportion of 25 year olds with full-time jobs has declined from 57% in 2006 to 50% in 2016. Of those without full-time jobs, 25% are employed part time including those also studying, 10% are studying and not working and 15% are not working or studying.

At the same time the wage premium for graduates has also declined, mainly since about 2010 and there are an increasing percentage of graduates working in jobs that don’t require a degree. This percentage was over 30% in 2016.

So, the question arises, are we producing too many Higher Education graduates?

My first observation is that there are many graduate labour markets. For example, the labour market for engineering degrees is very different to that for, say, a performing arts degree. On a utility basis such as relevant employment and wages, the general degrees have largely performed worse than the more specific vocational degrees. I do, however, find it a bit problematic and sad that we tend to judge higher education outcomes only on that basis. We don’t sufficiently value the intrinsic value of higher education for the individual and society generally.

Nevertheless, all the trends and forecast of the skill level requirements for jobs do support an increasing investment in Higher Education. The RBA, based on data put together by Coelli and Borland show that the proportion of total employment requiring level 1 skills (degree or above) has grown from about 15% to over 30% in the last 50 years.

Similarly, vacancy data from 2006 to now shows a growth in Skill Level 1, Level 2 (Advanced Diploma or Diploma) and Level 3 (Cert IV or III) vacancies over the period from 2006, but a decline in Skill Level 4 and 5 vacancies.

Workforce projections by the Australian Skills Commission (ASC) are for the period 2019-24. Some of the underlying assumptionswould have changed due to the effects of the pandemic, but given the strength of the recovery to date I would judge the trends are about right. The projections show a growth of Level 1 Jobs is 11.8% and Skill Level 2-4 jobs (VET quals or equivalent) is about 7.2%.

So, the policy of increasing enrolments is right, at least in terms of direction.

There may, however be some structural and cyclical trends in the labour market which is impacting on graduate opportunities.

We generally use the unemployment rate to measure the utilisation level of the available workforce. The current view is that full employment might be when unemployment drops to about 4%. This would suggest a current underutilisation rate of about 2%. There are several other factors in estimating workforce underutilisation levels including the underemployment rate and participation levels that are below historic highs. It is difficult to pull these together but a surrogate measure may be to use hours worked per head of population of workforce age and compare that over time. This measure can be calculated from ABS data. The high point of monthly hours worked per capita over the last 20 years was just before the GFC and during the then resources boom. If we assume that, at that stage we had reasonably full employment, we can compare subsequent workforce utilisation levels

Monthly hours worked per capita in 2008 was just over 90, at the bottom of the pandemic it was around 76. Before the pandemic it was 86 and is now 85. Based on the above an underutilisation of available labour of over 5% is suggested. Given that the timing of the decline in graduates in full time employment, 4 months after completion mirrors the decline in monthly hours worked per capita, increased underutilisation of available labour is likely a factor in that decline.

In addition to the current underutilisation in the labour market there are indications that something structural may also be happening that is leading to the relative decline in full-time entry level jobs for many graduates of higher education and also VET. The issue is even more significant for those without post school qualifications. My conjecture is that it may be related to;

  • The decline in entry level opportunities provided by large organisations and the public sector. This may be the result of an increasing short term and cost reduction focus,
  • Many labour markets are international and especially base level (inc. professional) services can be sourced from lower wage countries,
  • Similarly, the replacement of base level services by technology,
  • The large Australian migration program, which has provided an alternative source of skilled and professional labour.

So, what may be some of the policy responses to encourage the increase of entry-level job opportunities for graduates of Higher Education and indeed VET. Without attempting to be comprehensive, some ideas come to mind;

  • We should support and so should Governments, through fiscal settings the RBA objective of achieving full employment,
  • Focusing on the individual and the educational institutions, we might better build enterprise (generic) skills (see also FYA), substantially increase work experience in programs, encourage broader based content in education programs which focus on related occupations.

As part of this, we might foster the better linking of VET and Higher Education. As only one example, the 2 plus 2 programs available at RMIT, where the first two years is a practically focused Associate Diploma with an occupational outcome and if the student chooses the completion of the final 2 years thereby also gaining a degree,

  • Review the labour market testing requirements of the skilled migration program to further enhance the training and employment of Australian workers,
  • Better use of the public sector as a provider of initial professional and skilled employment,
  • Attaching targeted employment and training programs to Government expenditure as already happens with apprentices,
  • Broadening the current VET reform agenda to include a specific focus on entry level opportunities for VET graduates.

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Investment in early childhood education provides greatest benefit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/04/2021 - 4:30am in

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Education

In Part 1 – Policy and Progress, I pointed out the problem of focusing on schooling and the myths of its contribution to economic growth. In Part 2, I emphasise the importance of teacher-led assessment and the fundamental importance of early childhood.

Teachers and student assessment are critical 

The recently completed study of teachers and teaching in NSW by a panel chaired by Geoff Gallop, former Premier of Western Australia, and comprising experts in industrial relations and teacher education, recommended salary increases, more time for planning and assessment of student progress, specialist staff to assist teachers, fewer casual staff, a new state-wide standards-based promotions system and more school counsellors.

Minister Tudge’s speech announces an introduction online of “formative” assessments that will be completed in 2022. (Hopefully, the technology will work.) It is the one positive in his speech. Formative assessments, regular feedback given by the teacher, lead to significant gains if the assessment is a commentary, not a set of marks! Self-assessments are also important: students must be in charge of their own learning journey. Because of their temporal proximity to the teaching just experienced, such assessments identify what has worked and what has not.

Summative assessments, such as end-of-year standardised tests, cannot link results to what has influenced them because considerable time has elapsed between when the teaching and learning took place and when the tests are administered and published.

Tudge vows to protect NAPLAN. (But why are formative assessments linked to it? Different assessments give different results!) Opponents of NAPLAN are branded as trying to avoid accountability. It is opposed because the results aren’t useful. It distorts the curriculum, causes severe stress in students, and parents, and delivers no improvement in learning outcomes. Besides, results are the product of many influences, including a decade or so of teaching.

Unsurprisingly the Minister mentions the curriculum; Minister Tehan, his predecessor, ordered another review! Though teachers may have difficulty coping with curriculum demands, to require curricula to be revised in the name of “back to basics” every time student achievement falls short of expectations is to waste everyone’s time. The fact is the word curriculum is not even mentioned in PISA results. How will another review help?

In Finland and Singapore, and other education systems to which Minister Tudge refers, teachers are respected and have a high degree of autonomy. They provide extra support for those students having difficulty. Early childhood education is an extremely common government policy. Finnish children continue playing till they are aged 7, they learn music and other creative subjects. In Singapore, senior officials visit other countries to study the latest developments.

Schools and education departments have been targets for criticism for years. But when David Gonski, chair of the panel for two major reports on education, spoke of his tour of Australia in his Jean Blackburn oration of May 2014, he reported that he found principals with “a quality of leadership which was both impressive and inspiring”. He found schools with a “difference between [those] well-endowed schools and [others] in lower socioeconomic areas which is enormous”. Bureaucrats he met “were on the whole open to change, experienced, intelligent and well-meaning”.

Elsewhere Gonski emphasised, “It is important for the future of Australian schooling that the government sector continues to perform the role of a universal provider of high-quality education potentially open to all.” While money does make a difference, especially in the case of disadvantaged students, it isn’t everything, Gonski argued money definitely does matter and “the government needs to pump billions of extra dollars into schools.”

Every individual student is different: the industrial model is a failure

The second report by the panel chaired by Gonski, “Through Growth to Achievement, A Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools”, is one of the most important of recent decades. But it does not figure in Minister Tudge’s agenda and has largely been ignored by government. Instead, the first government event after its publication was to further increase funds for independent schools!

The Report’s aim was to identify evidence on “how to achieve educational excellence in schools”. The Panel consulted the best research around the world. The  “Call to Action” focuses on “students realising their full learning potential”. Attention should focus on each individual student, “enrich students’ lives [leaving them] inspired to pursue new ideas and set ambitious goals throughout life”. Isn’t that Tudge’s agenda?

The Report condemns the present industrial model, the focus on the entire class, everyone taught at the same rate. It criticises inflexible curriculum delivery, periodic assessment rather than continuous diagnosis of learning needs and progress. Principals need support and time for regular development of instructional skills. Every student should develop a “growth mindset and passion for learning; learning growth [should be] at the centre of the education model”.

And it finds many students, from higher SES backgrounds as well as others, were “cruising”, not engaged. Cobbold found that to be true in analyses of 2018 PISA results: 3 in 4 students taking the tests “did not try”. Cobbold also found “increasing student dissatisfaction with school which likely contributes to lack of effort on tests and [thereby] a factor, among others, behind Australia’s declining results”. Emeritus Professor Alan Reid also found that.

One of the early TED lectures by the late Sir Ken Robinson, “How to escape education’s death valley” identifies the elements of effective teaching and learning:

  • Treat all students individually;
  • Structure curriculum to cover a wide range of subjects;
  • Encourage curiosity in learning and creativity;
  • Treasure teachers and trust them;
  • No standardised testing!
  • And support those students experiencing difficulties.

Investment in Early Childhood gives the Highest Return

Governments must properly fund early childhood! Unless that is done not much will happen later and effort will cost more. Evidence for longer-term benefit is compelling.

Presently, parents seeking financial support for early childhood care and education are forced to ignore the mother’s unpriced role in looking after children and the home and instead show evidence of employment or current study! Private providers in the child-care sector have meant higher prices, as in aged care, and reduced participation.

The Productivity Commission found in its latest five-yearly productivity review, “There is evidence of immediate socialisation benefits for children, increased likelihood of a successful transition into formal schooling and improved performance in standardised test results in the early years of primary school as a result of participation in preschool programs. The benefits are even greater for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and can persist into adulthood.”

The Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children came to a similar conclusion. So did the OECD’s Starting Strong 2017 report. And another recent study. Australian voters, especially those with children under five, overwhelmingly support that. Most countries whose students do well have government-funded universal early childhood education.

Australia lags behind most other developed countries in early childhood support. When the expansion of early education and childcare support was raised in the Parliament just over a year ago, it was dismissed by Government speakers who responded by promoting their achievements in managing the economy (and not being frightened to mention the word “coal”).

Universal childcare is presently being strongly promoted by former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and the Mindoroo Foundation through the program “Thrive by Five“.

Humans are a social species

One of the most salient aspects of the present Coalition Government’s education policy is that it benefits the better off and positions education as training for work. The Government’s economic policy is promoted by mantras like “we are a low taxing government” (in response to questions about funding for aged care). The government budget is treated as one would a household budget.

Better support for less advantaged students would achieve better outcomes. Those scoring lower would more easily improve. Surely the last decades show that. The political response instead is to keep on with the old policies hoping they will eventually work. That fits the definition of madness.

A central feature of the foundational belief in neoliberal economics is “accountability”, measures everything. But as many have said, not everything that can be measured is important and not everything important can be measured. Often the processes in place, the way people work together and how decisions get made, are superior indicators!

Obsession with economics ignores the principal feature of humanity, that we are a social species: relationships between individuals and groups, families, friends and communities define us. One of the many comprehensive reviews of research in what is termed neuroethology says, “Friendship is a hallmark of human behaviour … a product of natural selection that serves an adaptive function in social animals.” Another, “the quality of our relationships determines our health, happiness and chance of a long life.” Only giving up smoking does better.

Human society is not all economics, education is not first and foremost about jobs. Government policies should give a high priority to developing every person’s capability to navigate the social landscape, to gain confidence in themselves. That is essential to the realisation of one’s potential: lack of confidence and support leads to poor performance. Instead inadequate government services, poor infrastructure, inadequate preparation for emergencies, insufficient support for people needing help have generated anxiety. All the time the talk is of a strong economy. The Minister and his colleagues should commit to the future of humanity, not economic and education myths.

The late Ken Robinson, quoted at the beginning of this essay, was a powerful speaker with a wonderful sense of humour. He saw education as an opportunity to find what really captivated each student. He was admired and more by all who came in contact with him. Among his greatest contributions was to emphasise that the truly unique feature of human beings was imagination.

Young children give free rein to imagination, they dare to be wrong, to make mistakes and see what happens. But in the world of Alan Tudge and his colleagues, imagination is forgotten. Instead, everyone must graduate with skills which lead to their being employable, consuming things. Mistakes are to be eschewed, even being different is a problem.

By the time the school child has become an adult whatever they imagined when they were young seems no longer relevant. For a lucky few, imagination is retained, creativity is constantly pursued, they wonder. They may have had to struggle, perhaps they were encouraged by someone important to them, even a teacher. It is they who drive the future.

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Education shouldn’t be about contribution to the economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/04/2021 - 4:30am in

The Coalition’s education policy deals only with schools, ignores the critical early years of life and the nature of learning and wrongly asserts a link between student education achievement and economic growth. Funding has produced gross inequity and no educational gain.

Education is “from the outside in. We start with what is considered necessary for work and then we construct schooling around what is thought necessary to equip people for work. The problems of education start with the premises on which it is built, the enlightenment idea of (rational) economic man and the need for cultural identity. The education system is anaesthetising children. Kids aren’t paying attention in school because what is being taught and the way it is being taught is of no interest to them.”

Sir Ken Robinson speaking at the Royal Society for the Arts, June 2008

On 11 March Education Minister Alan Tudge spoke on education policy, “Being our best: Returning Australia to the top group of education nations”. With one exception, the assertions in the Minister’s speech are not fundamental to improving learning achievement. The speech demonstrates an unacceptable lack of understanding of critical issues.

Education policy in Australia is about school. However, that is neither when nor where most important influences operate. It is the home environment which is critical. Greatest cognitive development occurs from birth through the first five or so years. That is when basic understandings develop through exploration and interactions with parents.

Socioeconomic background and education of the parents are the most significant agents: “the infant brain is hard-wired for relationships and optimal growth and development of the human brain in the early years is largely dependent on the nature and quality of a child’s few and most important human relationships”. Stimulating experiences are richer in homes of high SES parents.

Once the child reaches school, what happens outside the classroom is influential. Within school the teacher’s skills have greatest influence in engaging the student.

For Minister Tudge and his colleagues the purpose of education is to prepare the child for work! Often the parents reinforce that through conversations about the curriculum and its relevance to perceived job opportunities later. The future is discounted, a time hardly explored in favour of skills and knowledge imagined to be eventually important.

There are alternative visions of purpose. University of South Australia Emeritus Professor Alan Reid, in “Changing Australian Education” (Routledge, 2019) sees “the central work of schools in a democratic society as developing capacities for social practice, for citizenship and intercultural understanding that build the common good”.

The late Lord Robert May, one time advisor to the British Government, observed, “.. for Australia to flourish this century she will need students prompted to ask difficult questions about the world and our role in it.”

Tudge is inspired by the aspirations in the December 2019 Education Ministers’ Declaration in Alice Springs. His commitment to those aspirations in the context of his policies is an example of profound cognitive dissonance!

The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration contained two principal goals: promotion of excellence and equity; and that all young Australians should become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed community members.

Former school principal, now author, Chris Bonnor, accepting the goals were laudable, observed , “the methods we use to achieve the first usually end up undermining the second. Our decades-long focus on prescription, standardisation, testing and accountability seems to have done nothing to create “confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed community members”. Quite the reverse: there is no shortage of indicators of student disengagement from learning, from school and from community.”

A recent report, Structural Failure: Why Australia Keeps Falling Short of Its Educational Goals by Bonnor and colleagues reviews education policy. An introductory essay comments that the Declarations “place anything really challenging in the too hard basket, routinely overlooking some issues including the very structures that fail our schools”. Both Australia’s school system and political leaders have failed: “schools operate the best they can, but amid policies that are holding our country back.”

Ministers seem to believe that their intervention can cause significant change. Teachers have the requisite knowledge and experience to improve learning. What ministers can do is put in place the means by which teachers can effect change. That means social and material resources and a workplace environment which encourages continuous improvement and best practice. Instead intervention is often a disruption, their prescriptions anything but best practice.

Economic growth is not driven by student test scores or independent schools

Tudge makes the now familiar link with economic growth: if only students did better the economy would be stronger. He claims delivery of substantial funding increases. Both assertions are wrong!

Firstly, improvements around the world in education and health are due mainly to cross border transfer of ideas – learning from others: the UN Development Program report 2010 reveals little if any correlation with economic growth! Though prosperity is not unimportant it is not the main driver of gains. Imagining higher school student scores will improve Australia’s economic performance is as naïve as claiming that education reduces poverty.

Secondly, funding increases are only a reflection of increases in numbers of students and inflation.

One of the principal features of the formal education system, highlighted by PISA reports, is the gross disparity in funding between independent schools that choose who to enrol and public schools that must enrol all who arrive. Independent schools are privileged because politicians and many parents believe public schools deliver poorer results. They don’t. Independent school students come from higher SES backgrounds but they don’t do better educationally once SES background is considered. The policy has wasted billions of dollars.

Trevor Cobbold of Save Our Schools Australia has comprehensively demonstrated the inequities and does so in response to Tudge’s assertion that the funding wars are over.

Parents don’t choose the school their child should attend based just on academic performance. An OECD working paper points to proximity, social profile of students already enrolled, values espoused by the school and facilities.

Tudge asserts Australian students’ declining scores in international tests demonstrate Australia is being outcompeted. Competition is a dynamic involving limited resources, education is not a limited resource! Commentary on test scores considers only their rank, not any improvement in scores, and is marred by poor understanding of the statistics. The data has serious problems affecting validity and results need to be carefully considered: generally they aren’t.

Choice increases social segregation. Policies like mandatory tests masquerade as achieving accountability but fail to deliver, especially in the US school system, the subject of a special OECD Report based on PISA results for 2009.

Class composition influences outcomes. Students from low SES backgrounds achieve much better gains in mixed classes including high (and low) achievers. Independent schools tend toward homogeneous classes.

What independent schools do do is set students on a more successful career path, partly related to networks developed at school. Michael Marmot’s “Whitehall Study”, part of a long running project showing social factors to be a major determinant of health, found students from “better” schools cope better with stress because of their superior networks of support. Students from lower SES backgrounds, in Australia students from public schools, were generally employed in lower grades and suffered poorer health. Politics and the professions are dominated by graduates of independent “prestigious” schools.

Learning is a dynamic change process

Minister Tudge co-opts distinguished researcher John Hattie to the argument that teachers make a significant difference. Hattie points out that after what the child brings to the school experience on enrolling, the teacher’s expertise is the next most important influence on achievement. It is pedagogy that is critical! The project “Teach for Australia”, which recruits high-achieving university graduates into teaching and thereby privileges content, is not relevant. It doesn’t improve school outcomes or teacher retention in disadvantaged schools and is high cost.

A wealth of exciting research reveals new understandings of effective learning and the teacher’s role in it. Are critics of schools are aware of that? The OECD Report Teachers Matter says, “Student learning is influenced by many factors, including: students’ skills, expectations, motivation and behaviour; family resources, attitudes and support; peer group skills, attitudes and behaviour; school organisation, resources and climate; curriculum structure and content; and teacher skills, knowledge, attitudes and practices”.

Children develop cognitive strategies and effort-based beliefs about intelligence – the habits of mind associated with higher-order learning – when they are continuously pressed to raise questions and accept challenges, to find solutions that are not immediately apparent, to explain concepts, justify their reasoning, and seek information. Teaching cognitive skills in the absence of specific content rarely works: if explanation and reasoning are not demanded, knowledge is fragile and transient. Children become smart by being treated as if they already are intelligent. If they aren’t held accountable for this kind of behavior, they conclude they are not smart.

There are persistent references to poor results in math and some other subjects. A familiar example of successful teaching and learning is mathematics teacher Eddie Woo. His “wootube” attracts thousands of viewers. He delivers difficult concepts with enthusiasm, involves the students and accepts there is more than one way to reach an answer. Who said no-one was interested in math?

Teachers in the School Organisation: are they trusted and supported?

Present policies continue to ignore the school organisation and the pressures of added responsibilities facing teachers. Schools and classrooms are complex, dynamic environments. The school context, the teacher’s time for preparation and professional development, the role of the Principal, the way the school functions as an organisation, lack requisite policy attention.

Teachers have made clear their concerns about working in schools and what would make a difference. They are harried by continual calls by bureaucrats for more reports on what they have done, they feel a lack of recognition by the community at large. Quite reasonably, teachers want more time and better  salaries, which are low and have declined. They are not under-qualified but understandably can experience feelings of desperation, especially if they are called on to teach difficult subjects they have not studied extensively, such as math, science and history. They can’t access specialists who can assist.

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Not a bad philosophical start

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/04/2021 - 5:32am in

I agree with this post and with these 2 minutes from twitter: (For info -the Baroness of Yardley was the previous Labour Education Secretary, Estelle Morris.) Jess Phillips is often criticised for her lack of philosophy, and a Tory-like failure of systematic reasoning. This is her at her best – emotional engagement with people’s needs.... Read more

History Debunked Refutes Critical Race Theory’s Rejection of Objective Fact

In this video from History Debunked, YouTuber and author Simon Webb attacks Critical Race Theory’s epistemology. Critical Race Theory is the theory of racial politics, devised by American Marxists, that Blacks are the victims of institutional racism. As the video states, Critical Race Theory has largely been confined to the US for the past 40 years, but is now being adopted in Britain. It was the McPherson report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which introduced the idea of institutional racism in Britain with its conclusion that the Met was institutional racist. Since then a number of other organisations have also been accused of institutional racism, including the NHS.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with knowledge. There is a difference between subjective and objective knowledge. The statement that light moves at 186,000 miles per second is objectively true. It can be tested. But the statement that X hates someone is subjective, as it is difficult to prove objectively. In the West, knowledge is generally regarded as objective fact. But Critical Race Theory rejects objective fact in favour of ‘Standpoint Epistemology’. This is the view that the opinions and perceptions of minorities are what matter, and these should be accepted uncritically, as demanding objective proof or questioning them is a form of oppression. The video also states that the theory also promotes instead of facts the stories Black people tell amongst themselves. These stories, which may include myths, are to be regarded as incontrovertible truth, and should similarly not be subjected to criticism or testing.

The video illustrates this by citing the views of a young Black woman, Yomimi, in an article published by the Beeb, and the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle. The Beeb article is about the higher percentage of graduate unemployment among Blacks. Yomimi is quoted as saying that she feels it is due to institutional racism, and that employers automatically reject applicants from Black and Asian candidates, whose names are difficult to pronounce. This was the subject of a previous video by History Debunked yesterday, in which he argued against this assertion. Official statistics show that Chinese and Indians are slightly better at obtaining jobs than Whites, but Chinese names are notoriously difficult for westerners to pronounce. However, the Chinese generally do better in education than Whites, while fewer Blacks than Whites obtain two or more ‘A’ levels. Black unemployment may therefore have more to do with poor Black academic performance than institutional racism amongst employers. But what is important about the article is that Yomimi is not asked to provide supporting facts for her arguments. It is just how she feels or sees the situation.

Similarly, Markle said little in her interview with Winfrey that could be objectively verified. Significantly, Winfrey thanked Markle for speaking her ‘truth’. This sounds strange to British ears, but it’s part of the same viewpoint that rejects objective truth in favour of feelings and perceptions.

I’ve no doubt that racism exists in this country, and the police force, especially the Met, has been notorious for the racism of some of its officers. Racism appears to be one explanation for the Met’s failure to prosecute Lawrence’s murderers, but they were also the sons of notorious London gangsters. An alternative explanation was that the cops were afraid of prosecuting them because of their fathers, or else were corrupt and on their payroll. Private Eye also stated a few years ago that an Asian and White lad were also separately the victims of racist murders, and the Met was similarly negligent about finding and prosecuting their killers but that there was no mention of this.

The rejection of objective fact, however, is a fundamental element of Postmodernism and its moral and cultural relativism. Instead, it sees every culture and viewpoint as equal. Way back in the 1990s I tried to do an MA on British Islam at my old College. As part of it, my supervisor sent me to several Cultural Studies seminars, which were thoroughly postmodern. These were on colonial or western views of extra-European cultures. The attitude really did seem to be that westerners really couldn’t understand or appreciate other cultures, who should thus be exempt from western criticism. Any attempt to do so was dangerously prejudiced and ‘othering’.

Unfortunately, parts of the women’s movement have also been contaminated by this irratrionalism. In their book Intellectual Impostures, Sokal and Bricmont, one an American left-wing mathematician and physicist, the other a Belgian philosopher, attack postmodern philosophy and particularly its appropriation of scientific concepts. These are used nonsensically to give an appearance of depth and profundity to arguments that are actually absurd and incoherent nonsense. In one chapter they attack a number of postmodern feminist writers, who refuse to use conventional logical argument because logic and objective are patriarchal concepts that mentally imprison women. I am not joking, and this is most definitely not a wind-up.

A friend of mine came across this attitude, also back in the 1990s, in the women’s committee of the local branch of the National Union of Students. He was told by someone who worked with it, that it was one of three autonomous committees, whose conclusions were automatically passed as NUS policy. The other committees were for Black and LGBTQ students. The women’s committee similarly rejected logic and objective fact. Instead their debates supposedly consisted of them largely talking about their experiences of sexual abuse before concluding with their recommendation on a particularly issue. Which was passed with no debate. This situation should have been unacceptable. I have every sympathy for anyone who has been sexually abused, but official decisions need to be based on logical argument and proper debate, not entirely subjective feelings and personal history unless these are directly relevant to the matter.

Sokal and Bricmont were highly critical of this feminist rejection of logic, not least because it was based on a very traditional view, that has been used to exclude women from authority. For centuries women were largely excluded from a number of professions and political power on the basis that they, unlike men, were emotional rather than reasonable and logical. The Nazis used the same argument to justify their removal of women from the workplace and politics. They also believed in Cultural Relativism, and what was appropriate for one race was unsuitable for others. This is shown in their denunciation of democracy as ‘Jewish’. Now cultural relativism and the rejection of objective fact in favour of feelings and perceptions is being promoted as empowering for Blacks and women.

Proper discussion of racism is entirely appropriate, especially given the continuing poverty and marginalisation of the Black community. But this has to be done through rational discussion and argument, backed up with facts and statistics. And this means a rejection of Postmodernism and Critical Race Theory’s theory of knowledge.

We Don’t Need Another Hero

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/04/2021 - 3:01pm in

The much quoted linguist Noam Chomsky said we shouldn't be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas. Yet in the age of individualism, we regularly confuse good ideas with a search for a hero.

Has the pernicious creation of hero or saviour complexes derailed the collective good? Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with Journalist and Author, Jordan Flaherty and Executive Director of Adeso, Degan Ali, to discuss.

The post We Don’t Need Another Hero appeared first on Renegade Inc.

We Don’t Need Another Hero

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/04/2021 - 3:01pm in

The much quoted linguist Noam Chomsky said we shouldn't be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas. Yet in the age of individualism, we regularly confuse good ideas with a search for a hero.

Has the pernicious creation of hero or saviour complexes derailed the collective good? Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with Journalist and Author, Jordan Flaherty and Executive Director of Adeso, Degan Ali, to discuss.

The post We Don’t Need Another Hero appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Private Eye on Johnson’s Appointment of Neocon as Anti-Extremism Chief

A few weeks ago the Labour left staged an event on Zoom in which a series of Labour MPs and activists, including the head of the Stop the War Coalition, explained why socialists needed to be anti-war. They stated that after going quiet following the debacles of the Iraq invasion, Libya and elsewhere, the Neocons were being rehabilitated. There was therefore a real danger that the ideology behind those wars was returning, and Britain and America would embark on further imperialist, colonialist wars. And now, according to this fortnight’s Private Eye, for 16th – 29th April, 2021, Boris Johnson has appointed Robin Simcox, a Neocon, as head of the government’s Commission on Countering Extremism. Simcox is a member of the extreme right-wing Henry Jackson Society, firmly backing the wars in the Middle East. He also supported the rendition of terrorists to countries, where they would be tortured, as well as drone strikes and detention without trial. And when he was in another right-wing American think tank, the Heritage Foundation, he objected to White supremacist organisations also being included in the American government’s efforts to counter violent extremism.

The Eye’s article about his appointment, ‘Brave Neo World’, on page 14, runs

Robin Simcox, appointed as the new head of the government’s Commission on Countering Extremism (CCE), has neoconservative view that will themselves seem pretty extreme to many observers. He replaces Sara Khan, the first head of the CCE, which Theresa May set up in 2017 as “a statutory body to help fight hatred and extremism”.

Simcox was researcher at the neoconservative think tank the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), before leaving for the US to become “Margaret Thatcher fellow” at the conservative Heritage Foundation. He was also a regular contributor to Tory website ConservativeHome, writing there in 2011 that David Cameron was wrong to criticise neoconservatives “what has been happening in the Middle East is proving the neocons right” (ie that invasions could build democracies.

In a 2013 study for the HJS, Simcox argued: “Rendition, drones, detention without trial, preventative arrests and deportations are the realities of the ongoing struggle against today’s form of terrorism; they are not going to disappear, because they have proved extremely effective.” Rendition meant the US and UK handing terror suspects over to nations such as Libya or Egypt so they could be tortured for information. He complained that politicians “failed to adequately explain to the public” why these methods were needed and were “failing to explain that the complexities of dealing with modern-day terrorism meant that not all roads lead to a court of law”.

Simcox spent many years looking at Islamist terrorism, but at the Heritage Foundation he argued that making “white supremacy” the subject of a “countering violent extremism policy” was mostly driven by “political correctness” and could be “overreach”, regardless of the terrorist acts by white racists in the UK, US and elsewhere.

Simcox has been appointed interim lead commissioner of the CCE, possibly because bring him in as a temp means his recruitment wasn’t subject to the same competition and inspection as a permanent appointment.

Johnson has therefore appointed as head of the commission an extreme right-winger, who supports unprovoked attacks on countries like Iraq and Libya. The argument that these invasions were intended to liberate these nations from their dictators was a lie. It was purely for western geopolitical purposes, and particularly to remove obstacles to western political hegemony and dominance of the oil industry in the region. In the case of Iraq, what followed was the wholesale looting of the country. Its oil industry was acquired by American-Saudi oil interests, American and western multinationals stole its privatised state industries. The country’s economy was wrecked by the lowering of protectionist trade tariffs and unemployment shot up to 60 per cent. The country was riven with sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia, American mercenaries ran drugs and prostitution rings and shot ordinary Iraqis for kicks. The relatively secular, welfare states in Iraq and Libya, which gave their citizens free education and healthcare vanished. As did a relatively liberal social environment, in which women were to be regarded as equals and were free to pursue careers outside the home. And western intervention in the Middle East created an environment leading to the further, massive growth in Islamist extremism in al-Qaeda and then Daesh. And this has led to the return of slavery. This was Islamist sex-slavery under Daesh in the parts of Iraq under their jackboot, while Black Africans are being enslaved and sold by Islamists in slave markets that have reappeared in Libya.

Domestically, Simcox’s appointment is also ominous. He clearly doesn’t believe in human rights and the protection of the law. Just as he doesn’t believe in tackling White supremacist extremism, even though at one point there were more outrages committed by White racists than Islamists.

His appointment is part of continuing trend towards real Fascism, identified by Mike over at Vox Political, of which the Tories proposed curtailment of the freedom to demonstrate and protest in public is a major part. At the same time, it also appears to bear out the Labour left’s statement that the warmongers responsible for atrocities like Iraq and Libya are coming back. And I fear very much that they will start more wars.

The people warning against this and organising to defend real freedom of speech is the Labour left, whatever the Tories might say about ill-thought out legislation designed to outlaw ‘hate speech’. We need to support left politicos like Richard Burgon, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Diana Abbott and Apsana Begum. The last three ladies, along with former head of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, held another Zoom event as part of the Arise festival of left Labour ideas, Our right to resist – the Tory attacks on our civil liberties & human rights, in March. We need to support the Stop the War Coalition, because I’m afraid the Tories and the Blairite right in the Labour party will start more wars.

Blair lied, people died. And Johnson lies as easily and as often as other people breathe. If not stopped, the Neocons will start more wars and more innocents will be massacred for the profit of big business.

The Debate over School Reopening

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/04/2021 - 6:46am in

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Education

In this episode, Niki, Neil, and Natalia discuss the debate over school reopening. Here are some links and references mentioned...

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Africa’s Wikipedia Editors Are Changing How the World Sees Their Continent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 6:00pm in

Years ago, while working in Uganda on an emergency relief program, Adama Sanneh had an epiphany. 

“I had this strange feeling,” he says. “I think I questioned myself whether I was on the wrong side of history.” 

Born and raised in Milan to a Catholic Italian mother and a Muslim Senegalese-Gambian father, Sanneh had always reveled in diversity, adventure and knowledge. But while working in East Africa a realization dawned on him: his knowledge of Africa, like so many people’s, barely scratched the surface of the continent’s reality. 

He realized that information about Africa’s diverse languages, colorful cultures, lively politics and over one billion citizens was scarce. What’s more, much of the information that was available came from a Western gaze through the prisms of foreign journalism, academia and entertainment. So Sanneh set out to transform Africans from “passive knowledge consumers to active knowledge producers.”

africaWikipedia editors at the December 2019 Moleskine Foundation AfroCuration event. Photo courtesy Moleskine Foundation

Their primary tool? Wikipedia, the world’s most widely used reference compendium, and one of the few spaces where Africans can directly write and edit the story of their own continent. Wikipedia’s English website attracts an average of around seven billion page views monthly, making it one of the most visited websites in the world. 

And yet, it suffers from a paucity of information about Africa. There’s more information about the country of France than the entire continent of Africa on Wikipedia, says Sanneh. So, since 2018, the WikiAfrica Education initiative has been working to change that by enlisting and organizing a new generation of Africa-based Wikipedia editors. Funded by the Moleskine Foundation, of which Sanneh is cofounder and CEO, the WikiAfrica Education initiative is a boldly creative attempt to decentralize Wikipedia — and, in turn, knowledge of Africa — through contributions from those who know the place best.

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AfroCuration, the initiative’s flagship event, holds edit-a-thons where youths edit and create encyclopedic content for Wikipedia in both English and Indigenous languages. The first event took place in October 2019. Over 120 students aged 15 through 18 set out to write Wikipedia profiles about South African history-makers, some of whose biographies were absent from the website, and some, like anti-apartheid activists Winnie Mandela and Steve Biko, that needed expanding. 

africaParticipants in the first edit-a-thon were educated about democracy, freedom and constitution-making, and taught how to translate what they learned into isiZulu, isiXhosa, Tshivenda, siSwati, Sesotho and Afrikaans. Photo courtesy Moleskine Foundation

The edit-a-thons were held at the Constitution Hill Trust in Johannesburg, a former prison complex now transformed into a cultural heritage site. Iconic South Africans such as activists Justice Edwin Cameron and Dumisa Ntsebeza were on hand to impart their first-hand knowledge of South Africa’s constitution and history to the participants. Then, armed with this knowledge, the youths formed working groups to create and expand Wikipedia entries about the protagonists of their country’s democracy.

“These young people had the chance to, first of all, go there and learn about the constitution through the voices and stories of incredible people like Judge Edwin Cameron, who is the former constitutional judge in South Africa,” Sanneh recalls. 

Strategic partnerships with groups like the Constitution Hill Trust have been crucial to the endeavor’s success. Other partners included the South Africa Wikimedia chapter Wikimedia ZA, which provided technical assistance and language editors, and BRIDGE, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving teaching and learning in the country. “We saw that there was alignment with our work on constitutionalism and [BRIDGE’s] work on education,” says Lwando Xaso, a historian and constitutional lawyer at Constitution Hill Trust. 

africaWikipedia is the world’s largest reference compendium, yet it suffers from a lack of information about Africa. “There’s more information about the city of Paris than the entire continent of Africa on Wikipedia,” says Sanneh. Photo courtesy Moleskine Foundation

With the help of these groups, participants were educated about democracy, freedom and constitution-making, and taught how to translate what they learned into 112 entries in isiZulu, isiXhosa, Tshivenda, siSwati, Sesotho and Afrikaans, as well as expand existing English entries. 

The second AfroCuration event, themed “Writing Black Women into History,” was held in partnership with Afropunk Army, the volunteer arm of the global music Afropunk Festival, in Johannesburg on December 29, 2019. At that edit-a-thon, 70 volunteers aged 18 and 25 created 71 new entries for women, from executive director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to South African jazz legend Letta Mbulu.

“I remembered thinking, what an amazing, amazing initiative,” says Perry-Mason Adams, an Afropunk volunteer who witnessed the event. “What a way to use and preserve the language. So for me, it was a breathtaking initiative.” 

africa“I remembered thinking, what an amazing, amazing initiative. What a way to use and preserve the language,” says one edit-a-thon participant. Photo courtesy Moleskine Foundation

Inspired, Adams registered to participate in a future AfroCuration event. But when the pandemic struck, WikiAfrica’s boisterous, in-person edit-a-thons shut down. The endeavor went remote, and pivoted to translating Covid-19 articles into Indigenous African languages. Volunteers were sourced through an Africa-wide social media campaign called “The solution will not be televised.”

Adams, 29, dove into the effort, seeking help from his mother and community in the capital city of Pretoria as he attempted isiZulu and Xhosa translations remotely. “I did the article in collaboration with my mom,” he recalls. “She helped me translate the contents into isiZulu. I’d translate and she’d read, proofread the stuff for me and be like, ‘Okay, this sounds right. Let’s put that.’” For Xhosa translations, he got help from native speakers in his community. “I learned a lot and it made me appreciate the language,” he says. 

Other youths had similar experiences. In Tamale, the capital city of the Northern Region of Ghana, 27-year-old university student Hajara Baba is using her contributions to have her native Dagbani language, with over three million native speakers, internationally recognized. (Her efforts highlight one of the less appreciated benefits of Wikipedia: according to Nigerian linguist Opeyemi Ademola, because of the site’s vast reach, the mere presence of language on it has a multiplying effect on that language’s use on other platforms and websites.)

Last year, Baba translated Covid-19 articles into Dagbani. She and Adams are among the 390 volunteers from across Africa who have produced 145 new articles about the virus across 16 African languages, amassing over a million views.

“I think from a legal perspective, there is a need to widen what is considered a legitimate source for citation for Wikipedia, because in Africa, oral history is just as important as what’s found in textbooks,” says one program curator. Photo courtesy Moleskine Foundation

On Wikipedia, there is a low barrier to entry for Indigenous African languages. “It’s much easier to upload an entry in Venda or in Yoruba or Zulu compared to doing the same thing in English,” says Sanneh. “The scrutiny that you have in English is higher.” However, citation poses an issue. “I think from a legal perspective, there is a need to widen what is considered a legitimate source for citation for Wikipedia,” says Xaso, also the program curator, “because in Africa, oral history is just as important as what’s found in textbooks. You’d find that Indigenous forms of knowledge are being excluded because they do not fit a Western idea of what a legitimate source is.”

In spite of this, Sanneh’s dream of expanding knowledge about Africa, as told by Africans, is becoming a reality one entry at a time. “Our vision is to say that, through technology, young people will have enough access to resources to check in their own language, to really think about their own lives and build a greater life and become the citizen that they want,” he says.

The post Africa’s Wikipedia Editors Are Changing How the World Sees Their Continent appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

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