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Going back to basics is more helpful than school cash

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Yes, Jack Waterford (''Schools slow with political dividends'', February 27, p9) politicians just love educational slogans, and they positively thrill to the thud of dollars against a school wall. While my experience was mainly in secondary schools, the significance of the following ideas goes wider.

Failing those old but sadly eliminated systemic quality controls - such as compulsory class programs, a standardised exam hurdle instead of localised fudging, a system-wide list of topics for each subject, and visits by experts to watch a teacher in action - parents must exercise a watching brief or things will go badly wrong.

Parents must insist and persist in the following matters: Does your child have a notebook and is there evidence of the teacher seeing it from time to time, a textbook if appropriate, or just handouts day after day? How much one-on-one help is there? Could your son or daughter fall through the cracks? Is there a term program for the class? Is it scrutinised by a senior teacher? Are there regular little achievement tests? Do manners and consideration for others prevail (in your child's class and in the school as a whole) - or mob rule?

Parents are not experts but they are taxpayers. By asking such questions from time to time, they can have far more influence on a school's productivity than slogans and dollars ever will.

Barrie Smillie, Duffy

It is refreshing that Jack Waterford (''Schools slow with political dividends'', February 217, p9) highlights the facts surrounding the decision by a Liberal prime minister, Bob Menzies, to fund Catholic and other religious schools in the 1950s. This was indeed a fundamental reason why legions of rusted-on Labor voting families moved en masse away from their traditional voting base to the conservative side of politics. That single decision drew a line in the sand in the sectarian religious hatred that had fractured Australian society in the education of our kids since the First Fleet.

Up to that time, most private Catholic school students were from poor and struggling Labor-voting families who paid for their own education, at the same time paying taxes to support the state's public school system. From that time on, the heat went out of the sectarian hatreds that held Australia back, leaving only a small dissatisfield rump of those who begrudged state support in education for those less advantaged. With the sectarian bogeyman defused, governments were then free to concentrate on improving the standard of education equality set by Menzies. The basic education skills that give children the tools to move with confidence to higher levels of education - reading, writing and arithmetic - underpinned the private and public school system up until then, and continue to do so today.

Unfortunately, modern-day governments are unable to recognise these basic education principles and have lost the way when it comes to providing appropriate funding for today's students, whether in the private or public sector.

John Bell, Lyneham

 

Lesson of Hypatia

March serves as a reminder that this is the 1598th anniversary of the death by flaying of the progressive intellectual Hypatia at the hands of her conservative political rival Cyril's team of mad monks. This year we should hope the demise of Julia, at the hands of Tony's team doesn't similarly result in a triumph for conservative ideology over intelligent thinking and mark the commencement of a millennium-long dark age. While Cyril's lust for power and bloodied services to the church were rewarded with a sainthood, for progressives the idea of having a ''St Tony'' running the show is unappealing to say the least.

Jim Graham, Carwoola, NSW

 

Tough to recruit

Simon Corbell is to be applauded for accepting all 28 recommendations of the Getting Home Safely report.

Increasing the number of WorkSafe inspectors is one of the recommendations and is long overdue and with their focus will hopefully create a level playing field for those builders who take their commitments to OHS legislative compliance seriously.

I wish the WorkSafe ACT Commissioner all the best in recruiting 12 new inspectors, however. The private industry generally pays well above what inspectors are currently paid, and WorkSafe ACT still struggles to attract experienced and qualified OHS managers for the construction industry, where there is a high degree of both theory and technical knowledge required.

James Bodsworth, Gilmore

 

Beautiful phoenix

The National Arboretum was the stand-out highlight of a long overdue holiday in Canberra. The concept is inspiring and its achievement, even at this nursery stage, is delightful. Out of fire has come a land canvas for Canberra's citizens to paint their potential.

As a symbol of community purpose it is on a par with the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; in both cases, intergenerational commitment to a grand vision speaks as strongly as the final reality. The Arboretum thus represents a statement that Canberra has come of age as a place to live.

Ken Ryan, Surry Hills, NSW

 

Bus questions

I have no issues with Ken Brewer's letter (February 21) regarding services delivered by ACTION buses. As a former regular user of a service that provided virtually door-to-door transport from Bonython to Civic, I have no complaints at all. I agree that overall the service is effective but would doubt its efficiency.

The annual subsidy which grew to $77.3 million in 2009-10 and continues to grow needs to be managed. Do ACTION costs for middle management and administrative/technical/trades staff numbers compare favourably with private sector bus companies? Does ACTION absorb overheads for Territory and Municipal Services management and other business units that provide it with services? Does it pay the costs of the Transport Planning Business Unit? ACTION has about one overhead staff member for every three drivers - is this realistic?

Do private bus operators have to comply with the level of red tape ACTION has to and includes everything from public transport legislation through to the Human Rights and Discrimination Acts? I'm aware of the economic benefits that accrue from public transport through reduced demand for car spaces in town centres and less pollution.

This service deserves to be subsidised but with $3.78 being spent for every $1 of revenue earned in 2008-09 something is not right with the business model and it may in part be a case of, ''this is how we've always done things'', rather than adopting more efficient methods.

Les Brennan, Sunshine Bay

 

Habitat the issue

There is another reason small birds are disappearing from our suburbs, other than currawongs and cats, as lamented by Brian Smith (Letters, February 16), and others. Territory and Municipal Services (in charge of parks, reserves, nature strips), although doing an excellent job in many regards, has for many years been clearing native shrubs and small trees such as wattles and bottlebrushes from public open spaces. Many are not replaced. Just recently, all the native shrubs were ripped out from a long section of the nature park on the western side of lake Ginninderra, between Coulter Drive and the lake.

The shrubs were replaced with woodchips and only large old trees remain. There will have been a lot of displaced honeyeaters; they really need a variety of such shrubs for food year-round. And these provide cover and nesting sites for all small birds.

I hope the ACT government will consider replacing these particular native wattles and shrubs, and also filling some empty public spaces elsewhere with same. They play an important role in supporting wildlife. The token exotic saplings and grasses being used by developers for landscaping nowadays, do not do this.

A. Curtis, Florey

 

Running astray

ACT Olympic Council president Robin Poke (Letters, February 25) responded to a previous letter-writer who wrongly said that John Landy did not win an Olympic medal.

Mr Poke corrected that mistake. Landy, the then world record-holder for the mile (but not the 1500 metres), indeed came third, running with what most commentators at the time reported as a leg injury. Which is to take nothing away from gold medallist Ron Delaney of Eire or silver medallist Klaus Richtzenhain of ''East Germany''.

Just to add to the correction: Klaus Richtzenhain was, at that time in political/geographic terms, an East German. But not in Olympic terms.

In 1956 the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic were at the Melbourne Olympics as a ''united team''; in the Olympic-speak of the time, the ''Unified Team of Germany''. That arrangement continued to the 1964 Olympics. (The GDR didn't compete in 1952 united or otherwise - and neither East nor West Germany competed in 1948 because ''Germany'' was not invited, but that's another long story.)

Philip Knox, Footscray, Vic

 

A proper gent

Ric Hingee (Letters, February 27) suggests that Senator Humphries looks tired and is apathetic on the superannuation indexation debate. On the contrary Senator Humphries is a decent human being and behaves like a gentleman at all times. He hasn't got an abrasive style and that does not make him a non-active person.

Ric also takes Senator Lundy to task for the drug culture in the Australian sporting world. The culture didn't start after Senator Lundy took over the ministry. It existed before. I would hope Ric appreciates the measures Senator Lundy has taken.

Sankar Kumar Chatterjee, Evatt

 

New Pope could benefit from Mary Robinson's example

Being irreligious, it may seem pretentious of me to comment on Judy Courtin's article ''Atonement not in the Catholic Church's best interests'', (February 26, p9). But from sporadic dipping into the Bible I've gathered that the fundamental message of the New Testament, reinforced by my parents' ethical values, is love.

This seems far removed from the behaviours of misogyny, homophobia, violence and silence that are said to be common among the Catholic priesthood, who are commanded to follow the unnatural practice of celibacy - introduced by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) - surely a major causative influence of these crimes. The Vatican is immensely wealthy, and could do more to reduce inequalities and overpopulation in developing countries through education and access to family planning.

A shining example of practical love has been demonstrated by Mary Robinson, a staunch Catholic and author of the inspiring book Everybody Matters who is a strong supporter of women's rights and critic of the Irish clergy's misogyny. When president of Ireland, she legalised contraception, and later extended her practical love through her role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, becoming committed to reducing poverty and warfare in Africa, using conciliation as a weapon.

The incoming Pope could do worse than follow Mary Robinson's example by reconverting the Vatican to Christianity through its original exhortation to love, and allowing women into the priesthood to teach him and his cardinals some common sense.

Bryan Furnass, Hughes

 

Still warming up

I am disappointed to see comments from IPCC chief Dr Rajendra Pachauri misrepresented by Doug Hurst (Letters, February 25). Dr Pachauri's recent comments highlighted a prolonged pause in global temperature increases, which is certainly different to saying that there has been no global warming in recent years, as claimed by Mr Hurst. While the upward trend in global temperatures has slowed since 1998, temperatures have remained at more than 0.5 degrees above the long-term average. The trend has slowed, but the warming signal is still well and truly there.

Dr Pachauri also continues to echo that there is strong evidence the global warming trend will continue into the future. During his recent address to the UN Climate Talks held in Doha, Qatar, in December 2012, Dr Pachauri confirmed: ''Models project substantial warming in temperature extremes by the end of the 21st century. It is virtually certain that increases in the frequency and magnitude of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur in the 21st century at the global scale.''

Comments on climate change are welcomed and constructive to the debate about the best approach to solving the issue. However, the misrepresentation of facts and science is irresponsible, and prevents the wider public from engaging properly in the conversation.

Michael Mazengarb, Monash

Doug Hurst (Letters, February 25) says there is ''a complete lack of correlation between CO2 levels and temperature change over the last 150 years''. In fact, over the past hundred years, CO2 levels have risen steadily from near-natural levels while average global surface temperature has risen by about 0.8 degrees Celsius, making nonsense of Hurst's assertion. Moreover, deviations over that century from a constant linear relationship have been shown to be due to temporary phenomena such as aerosol pollution, solar cycles and volcanoes, with the underlying relationship of increased anthropogenic greenhouse gases and temperature being clear.

Hurst's assertion, that any changes humanity makes to CO2 levels have little or no effect on climate, is not a scientific statement unless he backs it up by reference to research proving it so; at present it stands as a faith-based statement. While climate is complex, the overwhelming evidence so far is that there is a significant risk for humans (though not a certainty) from increased greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. We would be crazy to ignore this risk just because there's more to learn.

Paul Pollard, O'Connor

 

Quietly departing

So CEO Mitch Hooke is to leave the Minerals Council of Australia. This is the group that broke the heart of Australian democracy with a brutal political media attack on an elected Rudd government that had proposed a super-profits tax to spread the benefits of mining iron and coal belonging to all Australians.

That shock-and-awe worked, but never again. And, knowing it, the top perpetrators are quietly departing, over-rewarded by the smug profiteers who sooled them on.

Bryan Lobascher, Chapman

 

To the point:

GRASSROOTS POLITICS - SORT OF

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is planning an expedition to Sydney's western suburbs to try and reconnect with Labor's once traditional working class constituency (''PM's pilgrimage to quell the disquiet on the western front'', canberratimes.com.au, February 27).

Apparently Ms Gillard will mount her campaign to recapture Labor's heartland from the 4½-star resort, the Rooty Hill RSL. Says it all really.

John Richardson, Wallagoot, NSW

Poor Julia Gillard rides off west into the setting sun. Just like at the end of the old cowboy movies.

George Casson, Evatt

GET IN THE REAL WORLD

I watched some of the Academy Awards on Monday evening, and noted that all those interviewed simply gushed about how awesome their co-stars were, how fabulous the director, producer and crew were and how great their designer gown was. It made me think of our politicians who make similar desperate, embarrassing and empty or false statements simply in the hope of securing their jobs. We deserve better.

Jevon Kinder, Murrumbateman, NSW

WORDS, WORDS EVERYWHERE

Was it just me or did anyone else have difficulty in reading and absorbing the CT editorial ''Sour taste from Senate Ambush'' (February 25, p8). The editorial managed over 800 words - and in just three paragraphs. The second paragraph alone was a record-breaking 53 lines and over 500 words. A pedantic criticism perhaps and not a major issue, but wow what an effort by the author.

J. Mungoven, Stirling

SOCIAL PROBLEM EVIDENT

Clubs ACT's postponement of a poker machine restrictions trial until they see the outcome of the federal election indicates that the clubs acknowledge the persistent underlying social problem.

Jack Kershaw, Kambah

EVERYONE PITCHES IN

Following the first Test in India, several players will have nervous waits regarding future selection. On the other hand, the curator and his staff have never been more secure in their employment!

Charles Smith, Nicholls

A RASH(ER) QUESTION PERHAPS

Both major supermarkets sell bacon labelled ''Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients'', which leads to the question as to how this is achieved? Are rashers sourced in Australia interspersed with rashers from overseas (each rasher appears to be homogenous, not a composite)? And from which overseas countries do the imported rashers come?

Ken McPhan, Spence

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