Queensland schools

April 4, 2006

Education Queensland did what the other states have been doing for years yesterday by releasing a 'league table' of sorts, ranking secondary schools in Queensland according to the percentage of students who received an OP of 15 or better in their senior year. For the uninitiated, OPs are equivalent to TERs, ENTER etc scores in other states. An OP 1 is good, 25 is bad.

Most private schools and some of the top public schools in Queensland already give out this information in school newsletters and reports, presumably to give parents an objective idea of how the school is fairing academically, as well as trying to attract future enrollments.

Back in my days at Brisbane State High (ranked 50 – highest public school in Brisbane), the first newsletter of the year will always give a run-down of the school's senior academic performances from the previous year. It often included the destinations of students, listing the major universities and TAFEs around the region and the percentage of students who were offered a place there.

And it's not just the good schools that are doing it. Earlier this year, I remember seeing the big newsboard situated outside Centenary State High (ranked 189) saying – 'Congratulations seniors, three OP 1s!'

Which is why I got the shits when I read that principals and teachers tried to distance themselves from the report, claiming that the table is meaningless and parents should not pick a school for their children based on these results.

Shut the fuck up. It is OP scores which tertiary institutions look at when selecting students for enrolment, not bullshit like whether the school had a good rowing program. It seems to be more the case of shit schools not wanting people to know that they're shit rather than good schools not wanting to promote themselves.

While not perfect, OPs are the only objective indicator of academic performance across schools. Releasing this information provides a wealth of information for parents and educators to base their decisions on. More of the same, please.


Intelligent Design

October 25, 2005

The issue of teaching intelligent design along with evolution in the classroom seems to be getting quite a bit of media attention recently (or at least on the letters page of the Australian for the last three days).

Personally, I don’t ever remember being taught evolution in high school science, but that’s obviously because I never did senior biology. Somewhat ironically, my exposure to the theory of evolution came in logic class (read: discrete mathematics + psychology + philosophy).

Scientists claim that ID is not science, and is nothing but a ploy to get God in the classroom. ID supporters say kids should be exposed to both theories and make their minds up for themselves. Some say that scientists also make a ‘leap of faith’ when they think they can understand the world around them.

I’m not a scientist, and I won’t comment on the science behind ID, but I do know a few things – The theory of evolution has been around for around a hundred and fifty years. It has undergone extensive research and scientific evaluation and review, with tens of thousands of books and journal articles being written on it. This is why it is being taught in classrooms.

ID on the other hand, has been around for less than fifteen years. The amount of research and analysis into ID in the form of books and journal articles pales in comparison with that of evolution (are there even any credible journal articles on ID?).

Whether or not we are able to understand the world through science is irrelevant. If ID supporters really want to get their theory being taught in schools – do the research. Have a real debate with scientists over the science behind ID instead of hiding behind that leap of faith/let the kids decide crap. Shut the hell up otherwise.

Stupid Australians

October 24, 2005

One doesn’t have to wander far to know why Nguyen Tuong Van is hardly a household name in the country, despite having spent the last three years on death row in Singapore for drug possession.

Nguyen Tuong Van is neither white, nor has any tits, which of course means he’s of no interest to the mainstream-tabloid-reading Australian public, and is probably guilty anyway. Plus, ‘Our Tuong Van’ just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as well as ‘Our Schapelle’.

Industrial Relations

October 21, 2005

I’ve been meaning to do a post on the whole industrial relations issue for a while. Both the Government and the ACTU have spent an awful lot of time and money trying to convince us that they’re right, even though not one word of the legislation has been released. I think one thing is certain – it definitely will not be the doom and gloom which the unions will have us believe.

One the centrepieces of the Government’s proposal is that the Industrial Relations Commission will be replaced by a new Fair Pay Commission to set minimum wages. The FPC will set the minimum wage based on ‘parameters set in legislation to ensure minimum wages operate as a genuine safety net for agreement making’. Whatever this means, and how this differs from the current IRC, I don’t know. I gather that both the unions and business groups will continue to make wage submissions to the FPC, as they have done so in the past.

The other ‘big’ change being touted around is the elimination of unfair dismissal laws for businesses with less than one hundred employees, although it turns out that firing someone on discriminatory grounds such as race, sex, union membership, pregnancy and so on will still be illegal. Fair enough I guess, but then what other forms of dismissals are ‘unfair’? If you’re lazy, can’t handle the job, or steal from work, then surely the employer has every right to sack you. I’d imagine that even under the current unfair dismissal laws, these are not considered ‘unfair’.

There was a similar, if not much bigger, scare campaign against the Government before the introduction of the GST. These days, no one’s bothered. Although having said that, I suppose the difference with the GST and industrial relations is that people knew what they will gain directly with the implantation of the GST (income tax cuts, removal of a dozen or so other taxes etc.), but no one can really pinpoint how exactly the IR reforms will benefit them.

I don’t think anything will change drastically. Australia’s low unemployment is due to its healthy economic growth over the past decade or so, not its current industrial relations laws. Friendly IR laws will not help save jobs if the economy goes in the shits. I don’t think the current proposals will do change much at all. If the Government really wants to make its mark on IR, it may as well abolish unions and do away with the minimum wage. But that wouldn’t be very politically smart now, would it?

Electoral reform

October 8, 2005

There’s been talk this week of electoral reform, with the biggest attention focused on introducing voluntary voting, and excluding prisoners from voting. I haven’t really made up my mind up on either issue. I suppose that compulsory voting does kind of contradict the nature of a liberal democracy, although Australians already do, to an extent, enjoy voluntary voting. There is nothing ‘compulsory’ about the actual voting process. The only compulsory part is registering and then showing up at the local polling booth. What one then does with the ballot paper is completely up to them. I guess the real issue here is whether we should have compulsory enrolment.

Is religion the biggest threat to society?

September 28, 2005

These guys reckon it is. It turns out that the US, where religion plays a big role in daily life, suffers from much greater social problems than more secular developed countries such as the UK, Sweden, and France.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

I haven’t read the actual journal article (I will, if/when I get my hands on it), but it appears that the author made the classic correlation vs causality mistake. Just because the more social ills a country suffers from, the more religious its citizens are, does not mean that religion is the cause of these social ills. Correlation does not equal causality. To use a similar example – Christmas only occurs in the months when people start sending cards to each other. In the months when people don’t send cards, there’s no Christmas. So Therefore, Christmas is caused by people sending cards to each other. This is nonsense of course, but the authors seemed to have used a similar line of logic. There are plenty of other possible explanations for why Americans are more likely to kill each other than people in other developed countries. Poverty cycles, lenient gun laws, lack of decent welfare programs, education etc. etc. But that’s another debate altogether. While responsible for a lot of bad stuff, I don’t think religion is to blame here. Plus, you could argue the reverse – that because of the higher number of social problems in the US, more people turn to God for hope, guidance, an excuse, or whatever. UPDATE: For anyone who’s interested, here’s a link to the original journal article. Academic wanking, really.

Separated at birth?

September 15, 2005

I’ve been inclined to agree with most of the things Mark Latham has said about the ALP since retiring. Though it does make you wonder what type of Prime Minister he would’ve been… Update: Latham interview with Andrew Denton didn’t go to air tonight because of a ‘legal injunction’, according to the ABC voiceover. I guess Beazley’s not a happy camper. Update 2: Damn. Turns out the injunction was filed by News Limited. Nothing to do with defamation. Party-poopers.