Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Courageous Tom Zreika

Tom Zrieka – President of the LMA – has shown enormous courage by instituting a ban on certain Muslim clerics talking to the media. He is to be congratulated for taking this stand which will surely have a negative reaction amongst many of the various clerics' supporters. It is to be seen whether any of them will show him the respect that is due, and for their own sake, keep out of the media.

Childcare Scandals

The Australian on Thursday reported the appalling and overwhelming number of childcare protection instances that have been reported to the various State departments charged with handling the welfare of children. Unfortunately this is a ‘too little, too late’ solution to the huge crisis affecting child welfare in this country.

Leadership begins at the top, and while John Howard and his team require espouse their well publicized ‘9 Australian Values’ they do little to demonstrate it or actively follow it. Their hardline policies which support the big end of town, and religious pursuit of wealth and economic progress, will inevitably result in suffering for those who do not succeed.

Long term solutions where real ‘ care and compassion’ are exercised at all levels of government, with genuine support for the underprivileged and suffering will make a huge difference to the stress on struggling Australian families, and almost certainly reduce the number of children casualties. More funding for mental health programs in schools, reduction in the amount of gambling and alcohol related facilities will also assist. While the Liberal government along with their State counterparts reap a huge reward from the vast gambling industry in Australia, the amount of stress brought into families from gambling, along with the abuse of alcohol, contributes significantly to deteriorating family situations. When this is combined with a lack of support for mental illness, crumbling social structures which are needed to support families in crisis, is it any wonder that hundreds of thousands of families release their stress on the most vulnerable in this society – their own children.

A complete change of attitude is needed to begin reversing this horrendous situation before Australia reaps a reward of damaged children developing into angry, unhappy adults.

Homeless Children

The recent report on homeless children and families by Brian Burdekin is an appalling blight on the Howard government’s reckless pursuit of material and economic wealth without any real consideration for the poor. Caring for the less fortunate in a society is a mark of the real progress of any nation, its ethics and values. While John Howard continues to call on schools (with a particular spotlight on Muslim schools) to teach about ‘Australian values’ he does little to practice or role model such values himself. He demonstrates little responsibility for the mentally ill, the disabled or infirm, or the poor. He requires that schools teach the value of a ‘Fair Go’ while his government enacts policies which essentially prohibit a fair go for the thousands of struggling Australians, and demonstrates the exact opposite of ‘Care and Compassion’ in his treatment of the refugees, asylum seekers, the homeless, the mentally ill, and carers of the disabled.

Shame on you, Mr. Howard.

Be Inspired!

Be Inspired!

On Thursday I was delighted to be invited to present a short speech to the Methodist Ladies College in Melbourne for International Women’s Day at a dinner function. MLC has long been a school that I admired for its leading educational initatives, particularly in relation to Information Technology. It was one of the first laptop schools in Australia, has taught the International Baccalaureate for many years and is extremely active in community work, charity, fund-raising and mentoring of many different groups in other parts of the world, as well as the less fortunate in rural areas of Australia.

The topic was “Making A Difference”. The first speaker – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a community activist who has made incredible progress against the odds in fighting for the rights of her native Philippine people. Amongst other positions she is a member of the International Advisory Council of the Third World Network, and chairperson for the UN permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The next speaker, Dawn Robertson who was until recently, CEO of Myer, spoke about her determination and progression through the ranks of various companies and what she has managed to achieve in attracting customers and turning businesses around. There is still a problem for women in achieving equality in pay and conditions for capable professional women. Her example was certainly inspiring and will almost certainly ensure that many other young women follow in her determined footsteps.

My own efforts seem much less significant in comparison. As there were so many talented young girls in the audience I spoke about my own background and the factors – including unhappy childhood experiences and depression – which could have derailed my own progress. I emphasized the importance of having good support networks, faith in yourself, and learning to love yourself before you can adequately give to others. Women make a difference in so many ways, but most importantly through the love, care and inspiration that they provide to their own children. Having six children of my own, 4 of whom have now married and are now successfully pursuing their careers after University education, I rate my other initiatives as secondary to the importance of assisting with their development.

The best part of the night for me was sitting next to Marcia Hines. In the panel discussions she talked about her own difficulties struggling with the cold in winter and her asthma affliction. The time alone at home from school during the long, cold, winter months, gave her determination at the early age of 4 to be a singer. A very sensitive and warm person, I managed to score an autograph for my son before the night ended!

Many struggling parents whose children are educated in public schools would probably resent schools such as MLC. Certainly the divide between rich and poor, public and private schools is widening daily. The very talented and impressive Principal – Rosa Storelli – shared with me briefly my concerns about the difficulty in working with public schools, sharing knowledge and mentoring.

Public schools cannot compete or adequately develop in the current environment of under-funding. I continue to be appalled at the amount of money that is poured into wealthy private schools, without the consequent support given to the vast majority of students who attend public schools. Although a private school Principal myself, our fees, legal struggles and problems with Council effectively deprived us of the opportunity to develop as most other private schools have. In fact, Noor Al Houda as it was, certainly had less facilities and support than any other city public school. However, teachers and administrators should be able to work as colleagues whether they are in a public or a private school. It is my intention to work for substantially increased funding for public schools, and far greater co-operation between public and private schools in knowledge, administration techniques and overall professional support.

Many thanks to MLC for a wonderful night and congratulations on the beautiful students that I saw there.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Encourage Reading First Carmel Tebbut

Morris Iemma’s initiative to introduce testing into Kindergarten discredits the very capable work already being done by Kindergarten teachers. Particularly in NSW the teaching profession has long been aware of the importance of progress in the first years. Extra funding for Reading Recovery teachers is a very expensive but certainly worthwhile program.

The biggest drawback to early development of children’s literature from my own experience, is the lack of interest in literacy due to the family situation. Families – especially those of hard-working and financially struggling or recent migrant groups, need ongoing support to assist them with improving the literacy and numeracy of their children. Parenting programs, videos, literature and free short-term childcare which demonstrate the importance of reading to children with substantial quantities of good children’s literature, may help to stimulate those critical years when young children’s brains develop. Of course whatever is done should not be decided upon just before elections, with little accountability, planning or discussion with those child-care providers and kindergarten teachers who are truly the experts.

My own children have been excellent readers, as I read to them from before they could talk or walk. The ongoing discussions about pictures, storylines and concepts encouraged language development. One of the first items that I am organizing prior to the birth of my first grandchild, is a selection of well-used favourite books in preparation for long hours of comfortable story telling in my lap.

Clean Up Australia in Auburn

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to be an attendant at the Clean Up Australia in the area. There I met with Ghassan Al Assadi who told me that he has organized the local Clean Up for more than 12 years.
With a free barbeque and lots of children running around, such excellent work demonstrates the importance of volunteers and a good community attitude. Well done Ghassan and your fellow
The Auburn Lidcombe area has one of the highest rates of multicultural communities in Australia. Many of our residents are still working exceptionally hard to establish themselves. Migrant Resources provide for the Turkish, Chinese, Asian and Arabic communities, although there is a growing population of Afghans and Somalis.
It is essential that this vast array of communities are supported not only through the voluntary efforts of community members but through strong government funding and adequate facilities.
The attached picture shows Ghassan Al Assadi with his team of volunteers on the weekend.