Monthly archive for ‘ May, 2019 ’

Indian train kills 37 people, sparks riot

11th May 2019 | Closed

An express train has ploughed into a crowd of Hindu pilgrims in eastern India, killing 37 and triggering a riot that’s left one of the drivers dead and carriages ablaze.


The pilgrims were crossing the tracks at a station in the state of Bihar when the high-speed passenger train struck them, a senior police officer said.

“The death toll is now 37,” SK Bharadwaj, an additional director general of police, said.

Nine women and four children are among the dead.

“Dozens of people have been injured. We do not have exact figures of those injured because they were taken away to various hospitals,” he said.

Angry crowds went on the rampage, attacking the Rajya Rani Express which stopped after the accident. They attacked its drivers, killing one and seriously injuring another.

“One of the drivers of the train who was beaten up by the agitators has died. The other driver is struggling for his life in the hospital,” Bharadwaj said.

The crowd also set carriages on fire and ransacked the station in the small town of Dhamara Ghat, 248km from the state capital Patna.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “expressed deep sorrow and shock at the loss of lives” and appealed for calm.

Suman Kumar Jha, a college student on board the express when it rammed into the pilgrims, said he was “numbed” to see “so much blood all around”.

Bodies were placed in a line alongside the tracks, their faces covered by articles of clothing, as passengers gathered nearby.

Fire and smoke was also seen on TV billowing from carriages and windows smashed.

There are hundreds of accidents on the railways annually.

Comment: Election 2013 Issues – education

11th May 2019 | Closed

By Field Rickards, University of Melbourne

Welcome to the The Conversation Election 2013 State of the Nation essays.


These articles by leading experts in their field provide an in depth look at the key policy challenges affecting Australia as the nation heads to the polls. Today, we examine the issue of education, all the way from early childhood to tertiary level.

Most of us have a stake in education policy, for one reason or another: your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews might be currently in school; you might be planning to start a family; or, at the very least, you once were a school student yourself.

So it is quite right that education receive the attention it deserves from the media and from our politicians in this upcoming election.

However, if you have been paying attention to education coverage in recent weeks and months, you would be forgiven for thinking the Australian education system is on a verge of a major crisis. It is not. But there are some matters that need attention.

To bring it back to basics, Australia has a good education system and we perform well on international measures. However, there are some matters that need to be addressed.

Levels of participation in early childhood education are too low, and too many students start school below the expected level of capability. We have low levels of equity compared to other developed nations; the gap between our highest and lowest performing students is among the highest in the OECD. While our international performance is strong, it is slipping and our most able students are slipping the most. Our new teachers, on the whole, are not receiving the preparation they need to be as effective as possible in the classroom. The profession of teaching is generally held in low esteem, when it should be one of our most respected.

Essentially, the answer to all these challenges comes back to one basic principle: teaching is key. Research has shown time and again that teaching is by far the most crucial adjustable driver of student outcomes. With this in mind, I’d like to explore some of these challenges and potential solutions in a bit more detail.

Early childhood education

Education is a vital part of young children’s well-being and development, yet many of the young children who really need access to a high quality learning environment are not receiving it. Indeed, Australia’s levels of participation in early childhood education is well below the OECD average.

The children who suffer the most from this are those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who do not receive the support they need at an early age. They then start school behind their peers and it becomes difficult for them to catch up.

Quality is another issue in early childhood education – it is highly variable, to say the least. And yet, we know from research that quality early educational intervention makes significant long-term differences to IQ, social, educational and employment outcomes.

The Labor government under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard has made significant steps towards addressing both the participation and quality issues in Australian early childhood education, and this should be commended. However, there is still much to be done. In particular, clinically trained early childhood education experts should be deployed through the system, to work with local networks of early educators and families to provide specific guidance and coaching on infant and toddler education.

Meeting the needs of every learner

A major study led by Patrick Griffin from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education has found that improvement in student achievement is concentrated among less able students, with the performance of more able students almost flat-lining. Professor Griffin also found that teachers do not have the strategies to develop higher order skills in numeracy or literacy among their students. It is likely that this is a result of the recent focus on disadvantaged students.

These findings are consistent with Australia’s performance in the international Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, which show that our top 30 – 40% of students are underperforming. They point to a worrying trend – if Australia does not realise the potential of its brightest learners, we will not be able to compete internationally, particularly as our Asian neighbours continue to flourish.

It is vital every student in our system – regardless of their ability – receives a year of learning growth in return for a year of input. Our obsession with meeting “minimum standards” may be contributing to the lack of attention our most able students are receiving. To put it simply, a student may meet or exceed the minimum standards set by, for example, National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), but their learning may not have grown sufficiently over the past year.

We need a shift in focus from meeting set standards to demonstrating growth.

We also need to focus more on the learners’ needs and identify when they understand a concept on the surface or at a deeper level.

Greater attention needs to be given to using data and evidence to meet the needs of individual learners. Teachers can then determine what each student is ready to learn; have the capabilities to support learning; and are able to evaluate the impact they have on the learner. Teacher education courses and professional development for existing teachers needs to prepare teachers with these vital skills.

Teacher education

There has been a lot of debate this year about perceived falling entry standards into teacher education courses. While university entrance scores or ATARs are an imperfect measure of student ability, and high numbers of teacher education students enter at the graduate level (where ATAR scores are no longer relevant), the fact remains that, since 2009, the proportion of teacher education offers to school-leavers with an ATAR below 70 has increased to 52% last year from 45%.

At the same time, Australia has been increasing its over-supply of teaching graduates (particularly in primary and secondary humanities). This is being exacerbated by the demand driven system – a policy which saw the removal of the government cap on undergraduate places.

This higher education policy is contributing to the steady decline in the average ATARs of undergraduate teaching students nationally, in turn lowering the esteem in which society holds the profession and deterring high performing students from studying teaching.

As Ed Byrne, Vice Chancellor of Monash University, recently wrote, we would not accept low entry standards into other important professions, like medicine. What makes teaching an exception? I would argue that we cannot fix some of the major challenges facing our education system, including the low esteem in which teachers are held, until we fix this fundamental issue with teacher education.

We should also consider allocating commonwealth supported places in teacher education according to national supply and demand data, as currently happens in other professions. This will address issues of over-supply, and help target priority areas including special education, mathematics, science and foreign languages.

A note on funding

School funding has dominated the Australian education debate this year. The reforms proposed by businessman David Gonski and his panel are commendable; they offer a practical solution to address Australia’s overly-complicated and vastly inequitable system of school funding.

While the watered-down version currently under debate is far from perfect, it still represents a potentially large injection of additional funds into government schools, which is certainly called for. With the majority of states and territories now on board and newly announced bipartisan support, it looks as though the changes to school funding are here to stay.

However, it is important to bear in mind that additional funding, while necessary, is not a magic bullet in itself. How that money is spent is just as important, and I would argue this should be on measures that support teachers and teaching.


Governments have got some things right in education policy over recent years – notably the increased focus on quality early childhood education and ongoing reforms to Australia’s school funding system. However, there is still much to be done to ensure Australia continues to enjoy a high performing education system, and to make sure the needs of all our learners – no matter their background or their ability – are met.

In addressing these challenges, we need to remember that it all comes back to teaching; and in doing so, we need to give the profession the respect it deserves.

Field Rickards is the Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Activists launch ‘hot potato’ asylum policy campaign

11th May 2019 | Closed

Activists have launched a campaign that aims to change how many voters feel about asylum seekers before the September election.



They say it’s been prompted by what they call the myths and misinformation that have shaped the recent policy debate.


Santilla Chingaipe reports.


The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says it will be taking its campaign through Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland presenting facts to cool what’s become a highly-politicised debate.


It’s called the project ‘The Hot Potato’, a symbol of the politicisation of the asylum seeker debate in Australia.


The non-government organisation provides advice and resources for refugees, but its director Jana Favero, says there’s a real need for it to speak out, too.


Jana Favero says the move to keep asylum seekers out of Australia would not be an election issue if politicians didn’t keep telling voters it was.


She says the debate has deteriorated from a bipartisan issue in the Whitlam-Fraser eras to become an issue full of lies and fear-mongering.


“You’ve got our Immigration Minister talking about asylum seekers and saying they’ll never be resettled here. You’ve got our Foreign Affairs Minister saying they’re economic migrants. They’re called illegals. They’re called queue jumpers. So the attitudes have been shaped and formed with this sort of rhetoric over the last 30 to 40 years and so no wonder the public are demanding a hard line because they’ve only heard of the myths and misperceptions from our politicians and our media as well.”


Jana Favero says the Hot Potato campaign will aim to take the heat out of the debate, enabling people to have a conversation based on facts, not fears.


She says the Resource Centre will be stressing its view that the major parties’ policies are inhumane and not in line with their stated aim of saving lives.


“The government, and supported by the Opposition as well, are very much putting forward a punitive approach and an approach based on deterrence, which is not we agree with. So it’s really hard on the one side they’re saying ‘ we are so compassionate we want to avoid deaths at sea but we will put people in prisons, in detention centres including children, we will send them overseas, they’ll never have a chance of being resettled in Australia’. So it is quite a contradictory message that’s coming from them. I’ve no doubt that people want to stop deaths at sea. I absolutely agree with that. But the way that the government has chosen to go about it is in a completely inhumane way.”


Imogen Bailey, who appeared on the SBS Television program “Go Back to Where You Came From” is working with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre on their campaign.


She says while making program she was exposed to the rawest side of the asylum seeker issue and now can’t turn her back on it.


Ms Bailey says she’s concerned that public is being told that asylum seekers are criminals and in competition for jobs and resources with Australians.


“But what I am positive about is that Australians are starting to wake up to the disgusting politics that’s going in in this country. The first thing is that we are rejecting the current leaders. And the second thing is that we will begin and we are beginning to reject what is being sold to us about asylum seekers and refugees. I have never had more people, since I’ve become involved in this cause, come up to me and say ‘you know what? I want to know what’s the truth? What’s really going on?’ And I think that’s because Australians know they’re being lied to.”


The Hot Potato campaign launch at Federation Square in Melbourne included a panel of asylum seeker activists and others interested in the issue.


The crowd heard from singer Mark Seymour, who told of how performing an immigration detention centre led to him raising asylum seeker issues at his regular gigs across the country.


“The consequences of me saying that I had played in a detention centre, I have had nothing but positives responses. People just can’t believe I’ve mentioned the ‘A’ word, asylum seekers, and they come up to me after the show, they’re really keen to talk, they’re really thankful that someone is actually bringing it home in that environment that’s normally associated with consuming fairly large sums of alcohol and leaping around the room in excitement. So I think that this conversation has huge amount of potential to change people’s attitude to asylum seekers.”


Barrister Julian Burnside, a high profile critic of successive government policies towards asylum seekers, was also part of the panel that launched the Hot Potato campaign.


“It’s the way you feel changed when you actually meet some refugees, when you come face to face with people who have been demonise by the politicians and suddenly you’re there in front of them and you realise that they are frightened human beings just like yourself. It’s much harder to be cruel to someone when you’ve looked them in the eye. And our governments and the opposition are trying to prevent us from looking them in the eye so that they can keep on being popular by being horrible to them. It’s a great thing. I guess a lot of people here have met refugees. If you haven’t, suspend judgement about the whole issue until you meet some.”





No.1 pick Whitfield happy Sydney is home

11th May 2019 | Closed

Lachie Whitfield has endured a season of flattenings and not all that much flattery, but the No.


1 draft pick wouldn’t trade it for anything.

It’s been almost nine months since Victorian Whitfield was uprooted by fledgling AFL club Greater Western Sydney.

In that time, Whitfield says Sydney has come to feel like home as he learned how to cook and clean while playing 17 games for the Giants.

The spectre of losing all but one of those matches has sometimes bothered Whitfield.

“It can be a bit flattening, having only had the one win. It can be hard getting up some Mondays,” he told AAP.

“But the joy last week (when GWS beat Melbourne) was something else.

“On the whole it’s been a blast. One of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life was last week when we beat the Dees.

“I never expected to play so many games. I’m getting quite a taste of league footy and learning a lot.”

Those Melbourne clubs hoping the carrot of family and a pinch of homesickness will prise Whitfield from the Giants’ grasp may be in trouble.

Contract talks between Whitfield’s management and GWS are in the early stages, with the 19-year-old wanting to wait until the end of the season before thinking about a new deal for 2015.

But the talented midfielder is enjoying everything about the Giants – especially the chance to escape Victoria’s unbridled obsession with the game.

It’s something Whitfield knows all too well, having been touted as a No.1 draft pick since March last year.

“It was quite a full-on year, finishing VCE and juggling that with footy and the tags you get along the way,” Whitfield said.

“But I got through it. Moving up this year has been really good.

“I love it (Sydney), you go to Bondi or Coogee and you’re just another person on the beach.

“We don’t hear as much about footy. I still don’t even know the extent of the Essendon saga – and nobody asks you what’s going on.”

Although not everyone in NSW has been quite so welcoming.

“I’ve played Sydney twice, and the following weeks were some of the hardest of my life – just trying to get up for the next week,” he said.

Acid attack on two UK women in Zanzibar

11th May 2019 | Closed

Two young British women are recovering after unknown attackers in the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar threw acid into their faces, the first such assault against foreigners in the popular tourist destination, police say.


Late on Wednesday night two men on a moped threw the acid at the 18-year-old women as they strolled through the streets of Stone Town, the historical centre of the capital of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian archipelago, splashing their faces, chests and hands.

“Police in Zanzibar have launched a manhunt, and we ask for public assistance in identifying the attackers,” deputy police commissioner Mkadam Khamis said on Thursday.

The attack on the women, both working as volunteer teachers at a school on the island, came at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, and as people began to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

“The motive for the attack on the volunteers aged 18 years, has not been established. Investigations are on until we apprehend the criminals,” Khamis said.

The women were flown to Tanzania’s economic capital Dar es Salaam for treatment, where their injuries were said to be “not life-threatening”, said Saleh Mohammed Jidawi, a senior health ministry official.

Britain’s Foreign Office said they were “providing consular assistance” to the women, but gave no further details.

Tourism is the main foreign currency earner for Zanzibar, famed for its white-sand beaches and historical buildings in Stone Town, which is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

“It may threaten tourists,” said Abdul Samad, chairman of the Zanzibar Association for Tourism Investors.

Tensions between the majority Muslim population and Christians in the archipelago (some three per cent of the 1.2 million people on the islands) have risen in recent years, as well as on mainland Tanzania.

In Tanzania, where both Muslims and Christians each make up around a third of the population, the communities traditionally live peacefully side-by-side.

In Zanzibar, some more conservative elements of the Muslim community object to foreign tourists who wear revealing clothes, as well as bars selling alcohol.

There have been a series of attacks in the archipelago, including an acid attack on a Muslim cleric in November, and the shooting death of a Catholic priest in February.

In December another priest was shot and wounded.