University degree vs. vocational training.

Forty-five percent of all Australian youths should attend a university – so decided the federal government. Such a move would obviously keep the job-seeker level low for a while. Yet, the same government allows the entry of a very large number of immigrants and refugees each year. The belief-theory underlying this entry policy is that the consumer demand generated would benefit the economy. What of development?

Australia is already deficient in necessary infrastructure and needed housing. Development, however, requires investment by entrepreneurs and qualified tradespeople. Would the 30 or so universities which are re-badged vocational colleges produce the needed tradespeople?

An article in the 28 Feb. 2018 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald by Ross Gittins is pertinent. Ross is an account who explains economics more clearly than many of the economists I have read. In his article ‘Back to school with job training,’ he wrote “Don’t be so sure that going to university is the best way to get a good job.”

He points out that:
• Less than 10% of the increase in employment forecast by the government will be for those with no post-school qualifications
• 43% of the jobs will require a bachelor or higher degree (In what?)
• 47% will therefore require trade qualifications
• Median pre-tax earnings by employees with a bachelor degree was $1280/week whereas an employee with a trade qualification would earn $1035/week.
• While funding for trade training was reduced, university entrance was ‘demand-driven.’ “The vice-chancellors couldn’t believe their luck. Particularly, those at regional and outer suburbs unis went crazy, lowering their admission standards and admitting largely increased numbers.” (And competing with one another.)
• “It’s likely that many of those extra students will struggle to reach university standards – unless, of course, exams have been made easier to accommodate them.” (Multiple-choice questions for first degrees, and no essay for a postgraduate degree?)
• “Those who abandon their studies may find themselves lumbered with … debt without much to show for it.”
• Trade and related training was then exposed to “competition from private providers of ‘vocational education and training.’ To attract … more entrepreneurial for-profit training providers, the feds extended … a version of the uni system of deferred loans to cover tuition fees.”
• “… the supposed trainers could get paid upfront by a federal bureaucracy that took an age to realise it was being done over.”
• “Far too little is being done to get TAFE (Technical & Further Education) training properly back in business after most of the for-profit providers have folded into the night.”
• There is a need for a “thoroughgoing review of our malfunctioning post-school education arrangements.”

(Comment: Could a nation which has no forward plans be expected to avoid the mess its bureaucrats had allowed to happen?)

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An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 1)

“When I fell out of the boat taking me to a career and lost my family, my self-respect, and faith in my abilities, I gave away my god (and everybody else’s). Struggling in rough and strange waters, I had time to think.

The first non-textbook I read when I settled down to academic study, strangely enough, was about Abraham (a nostalgic look at a past-life period?). Reading laterally, I then covered the belief systems of some early societies. I read about the nature of religious belief, and about the major religions. I came across a simple and very useful framework for examining religions, which I used some years later when I was on a school board.

When I came to enjoy the bliss of my own family, I recovered my faith in a Creator – logic (yes, logic) took me to this position. Reflecting (perhaps) the experiences of my formative years (and what I was taught) and drawing upon my reading, I realised that all faiths are beneficial and equal; one would have to be brainwashed or an egomaniac to claim that one faith was somehow superior to the others.

While I continue to hold this view, I prefer the Hindu philosophy because it is more comprehensive in its explanatory scope and yet, at its core, quite simple. It took me many years to reach this position.

All religions offer a devotional component. We all pray, in different ways, but for the same reasons. Some of us are a little bit more selfish at times than others. The forms of prayer vary, but their intent is the same. Is one form better, more effective, or better liked than God? If you do not like the way I pray, you probably do not like the way I look.”

(The above is an extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ Chapter 16)

The British came – and went (Part 1 )

In 2012, when I felt keenly that I could hear the whisper of the wings of Death, I wrote 44 articles (of a somewhat intellectual flavour) for exinearticles.com. I wished to leave my thoughts on some serious topics.

Since then, each month, a number of readers have looked at my articles. The article attracting the most interest is titled “The pros and cons of British colonialism.”

That anyone could find any benefits to a subject society from European colonialism must attract some attention. To then find that the author is a former colonial subject who is avowedly anti-colonial (but clearly not anti-British), would be more surprising.

The principal benefit I and my age cohort received in British Malaya was a sound education in English. This was based on a curriculum in Britain. It was truly broad-based. My classmates succeeded in various disciplines post-school, studying in Britain and certain colonial outposts offering competitive professional qualifications. One classmate became a professor at Harwell, UK, the atomic research institution.

Our education was, in my experience, superior to that provided to my offspring in Australia. This assessment is based upon my substantial involvement in the education system in the national capital. My children’s education was superior to that offered to their children. By then, there were many fads creeping into what should have been a focused preparation of the nation’s youth to become viable in a highly competitive global realm.

My first grandchild, near the end of her second year in school, could not read. Why? Phonics was out – by fiat, by the teaching profession. The rationale? Semantically unclear verbiage of such a high abstraction that one would need a bank of anvils to ground the attempted rationale to an operationally-definable level. We do have many, many excellent teachers – but they had to toe the line. In two 20-minute sessions with me, my grand-daughter could read. She turned out to be a bookworm. What a waste of 2 years!

The second benefit of colonialism which I accepted was British law, codified, and based on precedence. That justice does not always match the intent of the law, is covered in another post.

The third benefit is the concept of democracy. It has surface merit. However, regrettably, from my 70-year exposure to Australian democracy, I now assert that what is known as Western democracy is a sham. Yet, as the former Prime Minister of Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) showed, there are other viable versions of democracy. Refer my later post.

Countering Indigenous disadvantage

Australia’s politicians talk frequently about ‘bridging the gap.’ This gap refers to the relative socio-economic status of the First Nation People of Australia. They represent the underclass of society. There are, however, quite a few achievers of note within this community, mainly through personal effort.

One Prime Minister said “Sorry” on behalf of the nation. Other politicians come across as sincere in their wish to reduce indigenous disadvantage. Against that, a State Government was once accused of deflecting federal funds to other policy objectives. And there was a lot of talk once of fly-in and fly-out consultants.

Remarkably, an African-American established 8 years ago an organisation in Australia involving the private sector, “Career Trackers,” which “mentors indigenous university students into professional jobs.” Its success has attracted the attention of Maori and Pacifika leaders.

Here are extracts from an article by Caitlin Fitzsimmons in the Sydney Morning Herald of 7 Feb. 2018.

Modelled on the INROADS program for African-Americans, Career Trackers provides support for participants during their studies and matches them with paid internships during university holidays.

Despite being 2.8% of the population, Indigenous Australians compose 1.7% of the workforce. Career Trackers is trying to change that – and it’s reporting amazing results. There are 1354 students in the program and 108 corporate partners. A number of companies have committed to take paid interns from the program for at least 10 years, including major law and engineering firms.

Less than half of Indigenous university students make it to graduation, according to the Australian Council for Educational Research, but Career Trackers says nearly 9 out of 10 of its participants do.

Career Trackers says a whopping 95% of its alumni are in full-time employment within three months of graduating.

 The median weekly income for all Australians is $662 and for Indigenous Australians only $441 – but for Career Trackers alumni it is $1192.

It would be naive to think Indigenous disadvantage will be solved by a few corporate internships.

(Comment: Some real progress – at last. This comment is based on 70 years of observation of Australian society.)

Multicultural, ethnically diverse or one people?

In the 1970s and 1980s, ethnic empowerment (my phrase) became federal government policy. Since 1948, selected able-bodied European immigrants had to find their way wherever they lived in Australia. Now, their successor entrants had to be shown their way by social workers. These would be employed by their ethnic communities at taxpayer expense. Settled ethnic (European) populations, with few new entrants, were to be served too!

Coincidently, during that period, both sides of politics decided (on obviously faulty advice) to chase the so-called ethnic vote. Instead of a residence of 5 years out of 8 to qualify for the grant of citizenship, one government reduced the qualifying period to 3 years; this was followed by the other government reducing it to 2years. The beneficiaries would have included those with a criminal intent; by keeping their heads down for only 2 years, they could go back with Australian citizenship. Dual citizenship was not then available.

Multicultural policy was also introduced – to manage multiculturalism; that is, to tell us ethnics how to relate to one another. Quaintly, some British then claimed to be an ethnic community too, displaying a revived Morris dance. Since the Anglo-Aussies had already accepted us foreigners as fellow-Australians, what was there to manage? By the very fact of being foreigners, we got along with one another. Ethnic enclaves had not been formed as yet.

To guide the government, ethnic advisory committees were established. There was also a Minister for Multiculturalism, with attendant public service staff. What did they all do? The parallel migrant-settlement service managed by the ethnic committees was also never evaluated for its effectiveness.

State governments were not slow in establishing counterpart ethnicity-focused structures. What did they achieve? In essence, what ethnic tribal chiefs opposed was ‘mainstreaming,’ where governments provided necessary services to the public irrespective of ethnicity; that would have saved a great deal of taxpayer money. Needed services, when ethnicity based, emphasised cultural differences.

Why were cultural differences relevant? Interpreters were available in both public and private agencies. Gone were the days when children interpreted for their parents; or when some host people raised their voices to be understood.

A prime minister and a state premier then replaced culture retention with shared citizenship, and pride in being one integrated people. Most of our children had already led the way to one people through their education, socialisation, sport, and habituation.

In what ways do people display their ethnic origins in day to day living? Are not diverse clothing styles over-laid by a shared Australian accent in spoken English? And in shared community attitudes?

Could we just be Aussies without burbling about how culturally diverse our origins were? Do allow our young to lead us.

Aftercare for children

Is this what child bearing and caring is about? ‘Aftercare’ is also such an innocuous word. After-what care? After-school, of course. Children in aftercare would presumably spend all day in an institutionalised environment. Why? Because mothers are at work. Strangely, the government seems to want mothers to go to work. Why? Isn’t mothering the most valuable job in society?

How does a child feel about being educated and minded hour after hour outside the home? A 3-week old baby brought to childcare in a basket may not – never – know the difference between growing up in the care of the mother and growing up in an institutionalised setting. Children growing up in the comfort-surround of their mothers will know, both experientially and subconsciously, the difference between a mother’s hug and other equally-caring hugs.

When I was responsible for federal government policy in migrant hostels – there were 13 such hostels then – I noticed that motherly childcare workers, with no university degrees, provided both care and mothering to such a high level that little children from Chile, Poland, and Vietnam were attempting to talk to one another while in the childcare room.
Absolutely fantastic! I used to point out that these children, guided and loved by our childcare workers, represented the future of a multi-ethnic Australia. These children did not, however, spend all day in childcare.

In the recent past, much has been written in the media about the rights of women, and an acceptance of marriage break-up as reflecting the needs and rights of adults. There does not seem to be much emphasis on the psychological needs of children in split families.

I note that Francis Fukuyama had written in depth about the societal deterioration in the USA associated with marriage collapse of considerable magnitude.

Who is responsible for the future of society, when the family is not valued for its contribution to stability in the community, and the psychological needs of children, especially the very young ones, are seemingly ignored?

The myth of racial discrimination (2)

Instead of the confusing use of the semantically misleading terms race and racial, as argued in my previous post, statements of prejudice, as well as acts of discrimination, can sensibly refer to skin colour – a major trigger of hate (or stupidity). There could, however, also be an inherited cultural sensitivity associated with ignorance.

I do admit to being sensitive about colour in one instance. I will not eat beetroot because I do not like its purple colour.

Returning to reality, being a foreigner (or outsider) can be accepted as another trigger for prejudice and discrimination. This would include entering not only ‘white space’ but also British white space (although the latter is now seemingly superseded).

Another trigger is tribal superiority and prejudice. This would cover religion (a major source of claimed superiority); cultural values and practices (eg. the taboo in Australia against killing a goat in one’s backyard for a festival); and social mores (eg. spitting in public) – quite a catchall! Using ethnicity as a marker for abuse can have no future when there is so much cross-ethnic marriage (including partnership and cohabitation).

Countering prejudice and discrimination through the law is available only to the wealthy; or to those with access to pro bono lawyers. Education? The ignorant will probably ignore any media campaign (if they are aware of it); while the opportunists will do what it takes to achieve their ends. Morality (like Grace) needs to be bestowed; although it may of course be learned.

In the sphere of international relations, where there is no place for morality, there is a strange assertion about racial discrimination. Anyone criticising Israel for one of its policies (while clearly not anti-Israel) can be accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’. Yet Western Asia has speakers of a range of Semitic languages who subscribe to a variety of religions; they are all equally Semitic!

There is clearly a need to get rid of the concept of ‘race.’ Which government will dare take necessary action? A recent attempt to go part of the way foundered on a confusion of semantics, politics, human rights, free (but responsible) speech, egoism and exceptionalism. There were hidden ‘sacred cows’ behind some of the waffle.

Is modern Australia lacking the necessary intellectual depth to deal with human rights and free public expression? When voluntary euthanasia is described during a recent debate as ‘killing’ (reflecting only a particular theology), I wonder whether there is a place for not only compassion but also for honesty in public policy.