Archives for posts with tag: children

We all seem to be agreed that there have been huge advances made in world knowledge in the past 30+ years yet we tend not to take this, and its implications, any further. My oft expressed feeling is that much of the increase has bypassed many of our leaders on the world stage and they don’t recognise its how dangerous this is. For example, it is nearly 50 years since Trump went anywhere near a text-book, assuming he hasn’t done so since he did his undergraduate degree. Much of the knowledge revolution will have bypassed him and others in similar positions of influence and power.

An even bigger disadvantage of this ‘head in the sand’ attitude to learning is that much of the new knowledge will also bypass our young people in school unless we realise what is happening. We can’t continue with this ‘what was good enough for us is good enough for them’ attitude. We live in a world of new and progressive knowledge and it is dangerous to try to pretend it isn’t happening.

A few years ago we had a review of our education system in Australia and seemed to take the view that real change was largely too expensive so lets forget about it. Some of the changes will be implemented, such as new equipment, but much won’t be, particularly ideas which enable teachers to have a new attitude and provide an environment in which their creativity can be enabled. Far too much stress, and money, is currently directed at national testing which at best is severely limited. The current model includes labelling the neighbourhoods in which schools are located in terms of economic status! Thank goodness nobody labelled me at school. My life would have taken a very different path and would have been unlikely to include 5 degrees, with 3 higher degrees and a Ph.D!

School principals should be the knowledge leaders in their schools, which implies updating their qualifications, leaving the everyday running of the school to non-teachers. This would enable them to concentrate on bringing out the creativity in their teaching staff and providing an environment in which this could flourish. True and productive leadership.

A few weeks ago I attended an assembly at a local primary school. It was beautifully coordinated, with children involved as much as possible but on the teachers’ terms. The children sang well, standing tall and with their arms neatly tucked in beside them, a good reflection of 20th century discipline! A modern 21st century school would have had the children fully participating, letting their bodies express the music too. Ownership was well and truly in the hands of the staff.

To me full participation means that the children are really immersed in their learning, whether it be music, robotics, English or mathematics or any other subject, and it isn’t compartmentalised into what happens inside the often prisonlike school structures and the external learning which defines the world we live in. The two worlds would be complementary.

Schools seem to have changed little in the last 50 years, with only marginal improvements in class size and replacement of blackboards etc. The change we need is to recognise that our teachers are artists and should be given freedom to use their imaginations and be recognised as the backbone and strength of the system. This would help to marry what is taught and learned in schools to be applicable to the world outside. I suspect our failure rate, and drop out rate amongst the students, would decline and teachers would have more pride in their work and be less likely to drop out themselves. Real, up-to-date modern education.

The other day I watched the American debate between the two major candidates for President. Both of them are very wealthy, with one boasting of his wealth to prove how successful he is in life, the currently accepted measure. The picture would be very different if people in so-called developed countries worshipped different goals, one in which everyone was equal, with some having more appropriate talents than others, a group of succeeders who felt obliged to help those less well-endowed. This of course would be a very different world in which war, misery and suffering were greatly reduced  and we could take a common pride in our world, our planet and our achievements. We would go a long way towards this if we stopped applying the word ‘wealthy’ to people who are actually money addicts whose craving for the substance is never satisfied. The problem is that the object of their desire can’t be grown, it has to be taken from other people. Yet these are the people we look up to as potential leaders.

Another word which is frequently abused is the word ‘education’. I think most people would define it as an opportunity to gain knowledge. Unfortunately our definition stops there, particularly when we try to define how such a desirable situation is to be achieved. If we do try, we continue we use words like schools and books, with today adding more sophisticated equipment, such as computers.

These thoughts arose when I took my granddaughters to a school holiday program run by the National Museum of Australia. The theme for every program is based on whatever exhibition the museum currently has running, in this case medieval life. The children were firstly given some knowledge about the topic and then they were asked to make something appropriate, in this case their own crown and shield, which they take home, and they also help to build a castle which successive groups of children will add to. The magic in this program is the talent and imagination the teachers (and helpers) have put into it. It is a non-competitive environment and the children automatically strive to produce their best efforts simply because they are interested and want to. The fact that the teaching staff are also really enjoying what they are doing is the magic ingredient which makes this work.

Our problem is that when we think about education we rarely think in terms of creating a non-competitive environment in which all concerned, from classroom teachers, to school principals, to education departments of universities, to ministries of education can encourage students to be imaginative, to think differently, and to come up with new ideas. Yet these are the talents people living and working in the 21st century need. The problem is that those involved in education are either innovative young teachers who frequently end up toeing the line, or older people whose goal is the next promotion. We then test the success of the current system by using past methods which are no longer relevant in the 21st century, national testing which really measures little yet takes up a lot of time and money.

If we really want a world in which most people can be successful and achieve then we need to rethink our values and the words we use to define them. We need to work out what the world and its populations need and work towards it. We all need to move into the 21st century with more appropriate definitions and goals. Otherwise the planet will become  unlivable and our descendants will die out.

Yesterday I had the privilege of watching a Webinar of a meeting of a group of Australian Aboriginal people, hearing the views of young and old, male and female. All of them are achievers, all of them have suffered as Aboriginal people who are treated as second class citizens in their country. Importantly the whole event was convened by Aboriginal people. It did strike me as a sharp contrast to the conferences I attend on ageing, which are organised by younger people, the speakers are largely younger people, as are the attendees. One day hopefully all groups who are treated as second class people will have their voices heard at a national level, although I suspect it will not happen in my lifetime.

Yesterday’s Webinar happened not long after a respected TV show had exposed the unintelligent, and cruel, treatment of Aboriginal youngsters in a state-run detention facility. The cruelty of those involved, from ministers responsible for overseeing it, to administers responsible for running it, to staff involved in handling the inmates, was unbelievable. Australia was shocked. Many years ago an investigation had been undertaken into the fact that Aboriginals end up in prison far more frequently than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Since then the situation has worsened. I think, and hope, last week’s report is more likely to be effective because it had visual footage of the situation and therefore reached more people.

What struck me about yesterday’s Webinar was the lack of the ‘blame game’. The speakers were all being positive about what needs to be done, looking forward, not backward. They had very intelligent suggestions about the future, without blame or finger-pointing. These were the views of highly intelligent people, keen to look forward, not backwards.

If only those running this country, and I suspect the same applies in most other countries, would listen to such groups. The current situation leads to a lack of respect for parliamentarians, and one has only to look at current and past members of Parliament to realise the low standard required to be elected, for an answer to the current situation to be obvious. The behaviour of those , including those involved in positions of authority, particularly in places such as the juvenile detention centres, is often inexcusable. One way to overcome this is to expect and demand a high level of behaviour of all those whose salaries are paid by governments.

Meanwhile the Aboriginals I had the privilege of listening to yesterday, struggle to have their voices heard. We need to create an environment in which those who struggle to create a better world for all are given the respect they deserve and their voices are heard, particularly when they speak on behalf of those groups whose talents are frequently overlooked, from young to old. Think of the rich, in all meanings of that word, world it would create.

May those who are speaking up continue their fight until we have the better world they are fighting for. One day it will happen, I hope.

I have recently joined a group which is interested in this topic so I am on a sharp learning curve. Being older has its restrictions but not having a place you can call home must make the problems even harder.

I now realise that the topic ‘Homeless’ actually covers two different groups of people. One group have no specific place which they can label ‘home’ but can usually find a place of shelter, the other group are what we normally regard as homeless and literally sleep wherever they can find some shelter from the elements, such as under bridges. This latter group is of real concern, particularly when we mix it with the ageing process.

The sad part is that what I suspect is a very small minority actually prefer this way of life. Some years ago I saw a documentary about one such young man with a respectable job who suddenly got tired of what he felt was a controlling life and took to the roads. His family never knew where he was but every few months he would turn up at the family home, clean himself up, eat well for a few days, and then set off again, living off whatever he could find beside the road. We have to respect people who find fitting in with modern life oppressive but our concern must be with those who don’t have a place to live, not out of choice.

The homeless group includes all ages, including young people who live by surfing couches at friends homes but a homeless life is particularly hard for vulnerable older people who, among other problems, are more at risk of health complications. In the next few weeks I also hope to interview someone who has specialised in the beginning of this problem, recognising impending homelessness and trying to prevent it.

Our winter nights here are particularly cold, with below freezing temperatures the norm. Some of the homeless are likely to find shelter in accommodation provided usually by charities who specialise in this work. If there is enough of this the problem is partially solved, although I also hope to interview the providers and find out what the situation is in my own rather wealthy city. My main concern is with those who can’t find even this type of accommodation and have to sleep in their cars, if they have one, or rough on the streets, particularly if children are involved.

If a city or town has managed to solve the problem for its own residents then another problem arises. The homeless in surrounding areas hear that if they go to that particular centre they will find accommodation of some sort and it becomes a bottomless problem. I’m not sure what the answer to this is.

I look forward to being part of this group as all the members either work in this field or are keen to try to find a solution to the problem. Some years ago one charitable organisation in another city, Melbourne, had provided small housing units for the elderly homeless. I will never forget one resident saying it was the first time in her life she had had a key to her own place. In other words a place where she and her belongings were safe. If only we could make this a world-wide goal.

Come with me on my journey.

Earlier this week Playschool, an Australian children’s TV programme, celebrated 50 years of providing entertainment and learning to Australia’s youngest people. The programme has been, and hopefully always will be, under the guidance of experts in early education. A brilliant idea that children should have the best right from the beginning. If you mention the word ‘Playschool’ to millions of Australians the opening tune pops up in their heads. Not only did the program teach that it’s OK to be different but included such differences through the presenters themselves and the participating children. Music, dancing and singing, which I believe are essential to all human beings, were, and are, a major part of each episode. To those Australians trying to deny their connections to this programme I only have to mention Big Ted and Jemima to bring back memories.

On the actual birthday ABC TV aired their Q and A programme featuring the leader of a political party based on highlighting political and religious differences, and fostering a lack of understanding between them, a group which has recently re-entered our parliament. France has just suffered yet another mass murder based once again on religious differences. And in the US a money addict has been anointed head of one of their major parties and will stand for President later in the year. Not a happy and prosperous world.

If only all these people had started their early lives, and education, by learning that people are different and that these differences should be respected. We all have the right to live together working towards a common good. We all have the right to be different and pull together, through understanding each other, to create a prosperous and safe world for us all. These were the messages that Playschool taught millions of young Australians through love and understanding. I wonder if that is why we live in such a relatively peaceful country today? Thanks Playschool for what you have done for us individually, for our families and for what you contributed to Australia for over 50 years.






Australia is currently preparing for a general election at the beginning of July. This time it is for the whole of both houses because the prime minister told upper house members that if they didn’t vote for two pieces of his legislation he would cause a spill of all their positions. Bills should be passed on their merits, not because members are being bullied to pass them or risk losing their jobs. This undemocratic behaviour was accepted without a word of dissent by parliamentarians and members of the public. Is bullying so entrenched in our society that we don’t even recognise it?

A couple of years ago one lady saw her former husband murder their son very publically- he then killed himself so he avoided retribution. She had suffered years of bullying from him before this event and had a police order against him approaching her. Unfortunately the death of her son took place at a public event ( cricket practice) so the order would have been difficult to apply.

As a result of her ordeal she set up a campaign to raise awareness of physical bullying which has now resulted in a series of television ads showing scenes of physical bullying. I think that this is a wonderful outcome of the mother’s suffering and will result in their being less of this type of violence. It also shows how one ordinary citizen can make a difference to other people’s lives.

My concern is that there are two types of bullying- physical and mental and unfortunately the latter is harder to recognise and prevent, hence the ease with which the prime minister got away with it, even though it violated our democracy.

One of the huge problems with the present situation is that to my knowledge there is no research into what makes a bully, which it is why it is hard to recognise and deal with. As a teacher I was aware of it, particularly amongst the staff. It was mental bullying, in which these people were determined to establish their superiority, which is what motivates bullying of either type. It was so successful that one teacher rose to be head of one of the largest public schools. He certainly didn’t have the normal leadership qualities.

We need to recognise this cancer within our society, and through recognition, eliminate it. It isn’t good for society and is a detriment to genuine progress. It is going to be interesting to see the outcomes of the election – whether the prime minister’s bullying paid off or not  and whether it eliminated what he felt was an obstructionist upper house, or strengthened it, and whether he himself is re-elected.

To finish off my story about the two bullies I worked with. Both of them were called in to their sons’ primary schools over bullying issues- one son was also being a bully, the other was being bullied (apparently his behaviour attracted the school’s bullies). Is this where bullying is learned, at home?


This week a report was issued about the appalling situation of children being kept in detention with their parents who came over to Australia in boats, generally called the boat people. These arrivals have now stopped because the government used exceedingly harsh methods to stop them. This was mainly centred on deporting them immediately to a poor neighbouring country who were happy to take them in exchange for huge amounts of money to do so. As a result of this, many of them, including their children, are stashed away, out of sight and out of mind, in poverty and detention conditions which would not be acceptable here. The children have very low future prospects.

This recent report into the situation the children are in has been released by very highly qualified professionals, giving the number of children and conditions in this situation. The government’s immediate reaction was to say that there are now fewer children in detention than under the previous government. This is a completely irrelevant response that gets neither us, nor the children, anywhere. We are wrecking these children’s lives and the response is that it is being done less than it used to be, and parallels the wife beater who says in his defence that he is doing it less than he used to. The trouble is that such an unintelligent response is more understandable in the latter case. Apparently the government is not even prepared to tell us what it is doing (or not doing) to address the problem. We are told that they have asked for the resignation of the highly qualified author of the report – a ‘shoot the messenger’ approach.

Of course children in detention are not the only ones whose needs are not being met. Many children across the world are essentially being deprived of their real lives, mainly through poverty, with lack of access to essentials and education, the latter preventing them from taking their true place in the world. At the same time the number of extremely rich people in the world is growing. As I’ve pointed out many times this wealth is actually accrued by taking money off other people, either legally or otherwise. Then the rest of the world admires them.

I wonder if the attitude of the acquirers of this wealth think that because being rich is admired it automatically means that they have no obligation towards those in the world who lack basic essentials, particularly children in all situations, including in detention. If wealth were more evenly distributed many of the problems that people, and the world, face would disappear. Unfortunately we may not find out until the next life that this is what we are intended to work out for ourselves. Perhaps it may even be a test for us. We won’t know until it is too late. Meanwhile the children are the ones who suffer.

We older people have seen it happening for so long.

I grew up in England when ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland were very much in the news, particularly when they often spread to England through the killings. The war as I understood it was between the Anglican Irish and the Catholic Irish who were intent on wiping each other out. This didn’t make sense to me as it involved two branches of the Christian church, all affirmed followers of the God of love, each trying to kill off the other group. The cost was horrific, both in financial terms and in terms of human lives either wrecked or lost yet it continued for decades. Imagine growing up in a world in which each day you didn’t know whether you or a family member would be killed.
About this time the leaders of the two branches were starting to communicate with each other- it was regarded as a breakthrough in the Christian church. What I could never understand was why they didn’t make a joint visit to Northern Ireland to bring peace. After all, if the two leaders could do this what was the point of the two sets of followers killing each other, if there was any point in the first place?
I am reminded of this as Islamic terrorism tries to spread across the world. Some Muslim leaders say that violence is not part of the Islamic faith but they say it very quietly. Instead of the current waste of ammunition and lives wouldn’t it be possible for Muslim leaders in every country where ISIS is a problem, and this seems to be most at present, to organise their own demonstration marches condemning what is happening and saying that it is not part of their beliefs and isn’t being done on the prophet’s behalf.
We are now questioning how we elect our civil leaders given the mess each party seems to land us in, particularly financially. Shouldn’t we also be questioning how we elect our religious leaders, particularly where violence by their followers is involved . Why can’t they stand up for what they believe in and be real leaders of their followers, whatever their faith. We all share this same planet and we should all be working to make it the best place possible. Murder has no part in that.

I was horrified to hear a news item last night about the high cost of education for parents of school aged children before they even get into school. One estimate put a value of $2000 just to equip a primary school child. Few real details were included but items like stationary and uniform were mentioned.

To me this is ridiculous and suggests that we have lost sight of what we mean by education. It also suggests that there is an ever widening barrier between the haves and the have nots and an increasing stress on conformity and uniformity. Add to that the modern stress on testing of individual children according to ‘Naplan’, a short, limited measuring device which seems to involve an enormous amount of coaching (and resources) but which to me doesn’t prove very much about what a child has learned. Worst of all the results are available publically, putting even more pressure on teachers to prove how successful they are in what the rest of the country apparently feels is their job. Learning is an immensely complicated process which, if it is to be measured accurately, involves an enormous numbers of different aspects of life and knowledge.

We could just dismiss this anomaly between what we do and what we claim to do as unfortunate if education weren’t so important, particularly in the highly competitive world in which we live today. I believe that the most successful country, or countries, of the future will be the ones that really understand what education is and should be, not just in terms of what happens at school but also in the lifelong learning which should be part of all our lives.

Far too much of what we call education today is merely a repeat of what we have been doing for at least the past 70 years, with a few variations such as laptops and smart boards in the belief that this shows that we are progressives. Yet these measures are merely icing on the cake of real learning which should cover large areas of knowledge and be continuous throughout our lives. If we took this idea on board it would really make a difference in education, in our collective knowledge and in our ability to succeed in the world, both as individuals and as a nation.

Far too many of our leaders, particularly our politicians, finished their formal education in their early 20s and haven’t been near any in depth learning since. Unfortunately this also applies to the leaders in education which is why we struggle with a very limited understanding of what education is and what it should involve. People, particularly the decision makers, seem pleased with a system which exhibits conformity when real learning should be measured by its variety and its lack of conformity. Unfortunately those who question this, both students  and parents, are put under pressure to conform, and there are penalties if they don’t. This has more to do with power than education. The latter should be more focussed on the beautiful sponges which are what children have as brains, with a wonderful curiosity and desire to learn until we knock it out of them.

We are not going to progress or be successful as a country until we recognise what a wonderful wealth we have in our children’s, and our own, brains. We should be encouraging and enabling both to flourish. This is what we should be measuring but we put it into the too hard basket and measure our success by our conformity. This is more a measure of our failure.

As I get older I realise that changes in society are continuously happening although slowly. It’s quite fun to try to work out which direction we are heading in. Is the so-called democracy of developed nations going to be a model for every country, or will it be modified first (hopefully ironing out current problems) or will a completely different model emerge?
Last week I had coffee with a friend of nearly 40 years. She has moved interstate so I don’t see her very often. We met when our children were very little and now our grandchildren are at the same stage. In the early days women were struggling with the question of work/career versus motherhood. Most of us chose motherhood particularly as childcare was much less well developed that it is today. I laugh when I hear complaints about the high cost of it to the nation! We mothers did all that for free and it was taken for granted. That was still regarded as our role and the financial contribution we made to the economy through what we did was rarely considered. One of the advantages of not having well organised child care then (what was available wasn’t usually of a good standard) meant that we organised our own child care amongst ourselves. The huge advantage of this was that long lasting friendships were formed which become even more precious as we get older. Our friends became substitute aunts.
What about the other half of this situation- the fathers? They largely missed out, or only had limited opportunity to be involved with their children. Many of them today are finding out that it is as much a precious experience for men as it is for women.
The traditional roles of men as the breadwinners, their only roles, are now giving way to partnerships in which the tasks in the home need to be shared equally, particularly if the mother is employed full time. I don’t know if anyone enjoys housework but most of us find it merely a chore. Men are apparently finding that too and still seem to be trying to avoid it if the statistics are accurate.
This role change is part of the history we older people are witnessing in our lives. As we live longer our own roles are changing as we have more years to enjoy the next generation. I barely knew my grandparents yet my grandchildren spent quite a bit of time with all of theirs. Before long great grandparents will also be a part of everyday life for young children. Maybe this will give them also an understanding that history isn’t just something from the past but it is constantly being created as society changes. How long into the future will it be before great, great grandparents are also a part of young children’s lives and how will this affect society and the values passed on to succeeding generations?