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Reminder not to support opposition was ‘fatherly advice’, says Mahdzir’s press team

EDUCATION Minister Mahdzir Khalid was giving “fatherly advice” when he reminded teachers and education officers not to support the opposition, the minister’s press team said on Twitter.

“What he said was like the advice that a father would give his children and not as the media have made it out to be in news that have gone viral,” the Education Ministry’s Media and Communications Office posted on Twitter late last night.

“He advises everyone, especially the civil servants, to be wise when making decisions and when issuing statements against the government, because they serve the government for the sake of the people.

“The statements you make can undermine your (civil servants) position in the public sector. Hence, he was only advising you not to make statements that could negatively affect your future. Thank you.”

The tweets were accompanied by a report of Mahdzir being quoted by Chinese daily Kwong Wah telling teachers that disciplinary action would be taken against them if they backed the opposition.

He said civil servants, including education department officers and teachers, were barred from joining any opposition party or criticising the government as these were tantamount to sabotaging the government and tarnishing its image. 

Mahdzir, who was delivering the ministry’s new year message at an event in Putrajaya, was quoted telling teachers who were guilty of such acts to resign before the ministry asked them to do so. 

It was all right, however, if the teachers were to join any of the ruling political parties, he said. 

National news agency Bernama reported a less strident version of  Mahdzir’s speech, quoting him as saying teachers in opposition political parties had to put a “buffer” between their political ideology and their work.

He reportedly said the ministry did not “want to disturb educators to the point of removing them from service” and hoped the teachers would  “act professionally”. – January 20, 2018.

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More than 17000 UK students face university rent arrears

Figures show 16% rise in those facing housing debt and a doubling of evictions

Sat 20 Jan 2018

Last modified on Sat 20 Jan 2018

Izzy Lenga, NUS vice-president, has warned that students are being ‘priced out’ of accommodation.
Photograph: NUS

More than 17,000 students living in university halls of residence fell behind with their rent payments in the last year, according to figures that suggest thousands more face financial hardship during their courses.

There has been a significant 16% rise in the numbers facing rental arrears in university accommodation, new statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. A small but rising number of students are also being evicted from halls or having their tenancies cancelled after falling behind with payments.

According to data uncovered by the Liberal Democrats, 97 students were evicted from halls in the last year, more than double the 40 who had their tenancies cancelled the previous year. About 17,300 students living in university halls have fallen into rental arrears in the past year.

The data was based on responses from 90 universities in the UK. It showed that 21 had evicted a student or cancelled their contract due to failure to pay rent on time in the past five years. Average fees at halls from the universities surveyed have risen from £4,583 a year in 2012-13 to £5,208 in 2016-17, up 13.6%.

The revelations have emerged amid a long-running row in government over how best to help students with debt. Justine Greening, the former education secretary, is understood to have favoured reducing the interest rate on student loans and using maintenance grants for poorer students. But Theresa May is keen to reduce tuition fees in the wake of Labour’s pledge to abolish them.

Brunel, York, Leicester, Leeds and Warwick topped the list of universities with students in rent arrears.

Brunel University London said that it had a budgetary advice service to help students plan their spending, and support for those who found themselves overstretched. No students had been asked to leave, it said.

Warwick said that as a campus university that had chosen to continue to own its accommodation, it had a “great many more students renting accommodation from us than other universities”, which explained its high levels of arrears. York, Leicester and Leeds declined to comment.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of higher education lobby group Universities UK, said there was now a need to reintroduce maintenance grants for those who were struggling. “It is very important that a student’s lack of access to funds at the start of their course does not present a barrier to entering higher education, and that students can meet their costs of living,” he said.

“The evidence shows that students are most concerned about the money in their pockets while studying. Universities UK has called on the government to consider reintroducing targeted maintenance grants for those most in need.”

Izzy Lenga, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said the figures came as no surprise “given our broken system of student financial support – which doesn’t even begin to cover the ever-increasing cost of basic accommodation”.

“This leaves students in the precarious situation where they’re uncertain how they’ll even pay their next month’s rent,” she said. “Rather than falling into the easy temptation to label these as cases of rent avoidance, we instead need to urge the government and the higher education sector to wake up to the reality that students are being priced out of housing and their education.“

The Department for Education said: “Students from the lowest-income households who started their courses this year have access to the largest ever amounts of cash-in-hand support for living costs. This government increased means-tested maintenance support for full-time students on the lowest incomes by 10.3% in 2016-17 compared with the previous grants and loans package, with further increases in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.”

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Local professionals provide career advice to students

Those fields were engineering/manufacturing, communication, business/marketing, health services, natural resources and human services.

Kelly Schincariol, the Lakeshore program manager for JA of the Michigan Great Lakes, said it’s important to introduce students to a variety of careers because it helps motivate them to set goals and connect what they’re learning in the classroom with real-world experiences. Friday’s job shadow event also helps highlight local opportunities and educate students about the necessary skills required to follow their interests, Schincariol said.

After hearing from four professionals, fifth-grader Zane Stahl said he had learned that you have to put a lot of hard work into pursuing your passion.

“It’s amazing,” he said.


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Integrate ‘lessons on corruption’ into Ghana’s Education System – Pastor

General News of Friday, 19 January 2018



Pastor Ransford ObengHead Pastor of the Calvary Charismatic Center, Ransford Obeng

Head Pastor of the Calvary Charismatic Center (CCC), Ransford Obeng, is calling for the inclusion of lessons about corruption into the country’s educational system.

According to him, such lessons must be taught in schools from the basic to the tertiary level.

This he believes will equip the younger generation about the negative effects of corrupt practices, and how they can desist from such acts.

He said tackling corruption from the top will be meaningless if leaders fail to begin from the bottom.
Pastor Obeng made the remarks at a news conference in Kumasi to announce a three-day programme to host the Founder of the International Central Gospel Church [ICGC], Dr. Mensah Otabil.

He said corruption has become a canker that has eaten deep into the moral fiber of the Ghanaian society and called for a concerted effort from all sectors to end the menace.

“In fact, one of the advice I will give to the Government is that they should start teaching corruption in our schools, they should start it from the basic level. They should teach our children what corruption is and everything about it. There must be different subjects about corruption from the basic to the University level.”

The CCC Pastor indicated that, every successful society was built on truthfulness and such attitudes must be imbibed in the younger generation.

He cited further that the biggest problems that have affected Ghana’s growth are dishonesty and stealing.

He called for a change of mindset to end the corruption menace in Ghana.

The clergyman called on the media to play an active role in ensuring President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s commitment to fight corruption is achieved.

Herdsmen and farmers clashes

On how to end the long-standing conflict between nomadic herdsmen and some indigenes of Agogo and Drobonso, Pastor Obeng charged the Ghana Immigration Service and other security agencies to up their game in finding a lasting solution.

He said foreigners who come into the country were not above the laws, and that the laws must protect the citizens first.

Dr. Otabil’s visit

The CCC is hosting Dr. Mensah Otabil from Friday, 19th to Sunday, 21st January, 2018, to share the word of God with residents of Kumasi and the Ashanti Region as a whole.

Pastor Obeng described Dr. Otabil as a man of wisdom who will use the encounter to impact the lives of persons who will be attending the event.

He said the event will also seek to inspire students, managers and business persons who will be in attendance.

He indicated that the event has become necessary because it was right for every believer to begin every New Year with the word of God to enable them plan well and succeed.

He called on residents to come in their numbers and listen to words of wisdom from the guest speaker.

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Gary’s early schools set standard for education

Roosevelt School domestic science class, Gary, circa 1935. Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt High School opened in 1931 to serve the city’s African-American population. “Domestic science” (later known as home economics) was part of school Superintendent William Wirt’s Work-Study-Play System to educate the “whole child,” that is, academically and practically.

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Second wave of ‘opportunity area’ plans published: What do schools need to know?

The education secretary Damian Hinds has released delivery plans for the government’s next six “opportunity areas”, after publishing the first set three months ago.

The plans are for Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and east Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent, which were named as the second wave last year. Each area will spend £6 million, aimed at improving social mobility over the next three years.

A lot of the plans focus on school improvement, particularly for numeracy and literacy, with another common theme being careers advice. They also name the people who will chair each area’s “partnership board”.

Here is a summary of what each area plans to do for schools…

1. Bradford

The chair of the Bradford opportunity area partnership board is Anne-Marie Canning, who is director of social mobility and student success at King’s College London.

A former access officer at the University College Oxford, Canning is also a member of the Universities UK Ministerial Advisory Group, and has served as chair of the Russell Group Widening Participation Association.

She also served as a Labour Party councillor on Oxford City Council.

She says she grew up in one of the poorest postcodes in Yorkshire and is determined to “make Bradford’s social mobility aspirations a reality”.

Priorities for schools in Bradford

  • Teaching and leadership – school leaders will design master classes to attract education professionals to the city. Fifty leaders will start National Professional Qualification leadership classes.
  • Reading – whole-school literacy training will be available for nine primary schools, and an English hub will be established in the area.
  • Careers advice – each school will have an enterprise adviser – a volunteer from the business world – and a primary school careers programme will also be considered.
  • Removing barriers to learning –  the Education Endowment Foundation will help promote evidence-based interventions on handwriting, teacher training and other issues in 50 schools. Health partners will identify pupils with uncorrected eyesight problems across 80 schools.

2. Doncaster

Chris Husbands

The chair of the Doncaster opportunity area partnership board is Professor Chris Husbands, who is vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University.

Husbands has held senior leadership posts in universities for more than 15 years.

Formerly the head of the Institute of Education at Warwick University, he has also been dean of education and lifelong learning at the University of East Anglia, and director of the Institute of Education in London, with the last post held for eight years up until 2015.

He says “too many children are being held back based on where they live in the town” of Doncaster, and emphasised that collaboration across the borough was central to the plan to turn their fortunes around.

Priorities for schools in Doncaster

  • Reading and maths – a new CPD programme will support good teaching, and schools with low outcomes will get an education adviser.
  • Teaching and leadership – the number of Teach First placements in secondary schools will be doubled, and 80 leaders will be offered the National Professional Qualification.
  • Careers advice – every school will have an enterprise adviser, and six schools and one college will get outreach staff to double the number of poor pupils going into higher education.
  • Mentoring – a programme will be launched for vulnerable pupils to raise school attendance and increase their confidence.

3. Fenland and East Cambridgeshire

The chair of the Fenland and East Cambridgeshire opportunity area partnership board is Patricia Pritchard, who also sits on the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust board.

She is a self-employed education consultant, who also works with the Woodard Academies Trust, Woodard Corporation, the Church Schools of Cambridge Trust and the Cambridge Centre for Sixth Form Studies.

Pritchard says she wants the opportunity area to “become a beacon of excellence for promoting social mobility and transforming the life chances of every pupil”.


Priorities for schools in Fenland and East Cambridgeshire

  • Speaking and reading – at least 20 early-years educators will be trained with a focus on early speech, and at least five new breakfast clubs will open this year.
  • SEND and methal health – mental health first aid training will be delivered to one member of staff in each secondary school, and four support centres will be set up for parents whose children have an Education Health and Care Plan.
  • Careers advice – each secondary school will get an enterprise adviser, as well as training to get a qualification in  Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) and to act as “careers champions”.
  • Teacher supply – ten more Teach First placements will be made available, up to 100 school leaders will take the National Professional Qualifications and 20 new foundation teacher training places will be created.

4. Hastings

The chair for the Hastings opportunity area partnerships board is Richard Meddings, a former finance chief to Standard Chartered, the banking and financial services company.

In September he was appointed as a non-executive director to TSB, with the Financial Times reporting this places him in line to become chairman at the bank.

He had been a longstanding finance director at Standard Chartered, and was considered a candidate to become chief executive, but then left in 2014 ahead of an overhaul of its business.

Having lived in Hastings for more than 20 years, Meddings said the town’s educational outcomes are improving but it “still lags a long way behind other areas”.

Priorities for schools in Hastings

  • Reading – 15 target schools will be offered professional development including for teaching assistants, and schools will have access to more resources on teaching phonics.
  • Maths – regular “teach meets” will see teachers get together to learn about international evidence-based approaches, a STEM hub will be established and 24 teachers will be trained in the maths mastery approach.
  • Mental health – a training programme will be available for all schools and will identify mental health leads in each, while a parenting programme will also be developed.
  • Careers advice – every school will get an enterprise adviser.

5. Ipswich

The chair of the Ipswich opportunity area partnership board is Richard Lister, who is also the founding vice-chancellor at the University of Suffolk.

He was recently awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to higher education over a career of nearly 40 years.

He has worked at the University of Suffolk since 2006, and previously worked at Brunel, Hull and Essex Universities.

“We are determined to show that by working as a whole community we can transform opportunities for everyone,” he said.

Priorities for schools in Ipswich

  • Character – a delivery team will support disadvantaged families to develop positive learning behaviours.
  • Teaching – up to 80 leaders will take the National Professional Qualifications this year, and two will become National Leaders in Education.
  • Improving attainment – an Ipswich evidence-based practice fund will provide grants to improve English and maths attainment for the poorest pupils. Three schools will participate in a research project about transition between key stages.
  • Careers advice – secondary pupils will all get four “encounters” with the world of work, and a provider will deliver a programme to support young people not in employment, education or training to return to those pathways.

6. Stoke-on-Trent

The co-chairs of the Stoke-on-Trent opportunity area partnership board are Dr Carol Shanahan and Professor Liz Barnes.

Shanahan is the managing director of Synectics Solutions, a data company which works with businesses to reduce risk, financial crime and meet regulatory requirements.

Barnes is the vice-chancellor and chief executive of Staffordshire University. Before that she was deputy vice-chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University and Derby University, after time spent at Teeside University in Newcastle.

“We will work to make sure that all Stoke-on-Trent’s children get a good start in life and grow into happy, confident and successful adults,” they said.

Priorities for Stoke-on-Trent schools

  • Early years –  engage parents with their children’s  earning through a “parent ambassador” initiative. Deliver specialist support at 25 schools with low levels of development in reception.
  • English, maths and science – “pupil premium catch-up reviews” with schools to make sure money is being used effectively, and one-on-one tuition for disadvantaged year 7 pupils.
  • Citizenship – improve access to the National Citizen Service extracurricular programme for the city’s poorest pupils, and increase holiday provision that keeps disadvantaged pupils on track with learning.
  • Careers advice – expand an “inspiring females and males” event to half of the city’s secondary schools, and making sure all secondary school pupils have four high-quality encounters with employers.

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Texas attorney general says it’s illegal for schools to bus kids to polling places

*This story has been updated throughout. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an official, nonbinding opinion Wednesday saying school districts cannot drive students to polling places unless the trip serves an educational purpose.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, asked Paxton to weigh in on the issue last month, arguing that a civic engagement group called Texas Educators Vote was violating state law by encouraging school administrators to incentivize voting. The group’s leaders have said they are doing their civic duty and have not run afoul of the law; they said Bettencourt’s question is part of a backlash against public education.

After the opinion was issued Wednesday, both Bettencourt and the group’s leaders stuck to their guns on the issue. 

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Paxton’s opinion said school districts can’t pay to drive kids to polling places “absent an educational purpose.” The same goes for driving employees: “Absent the performance of some educational function on behalf of the district’s students, we question whether providing transportation for employees to and from polling places serves a public purpose of the school district,” the opinion reads.

Paxton also said school employees cannot promote specific candidates or measures with public money, school district equipment or on school time. That includes distributing flyers or sending emails with links to campaign websites.

School districts aren’t required to follow Paxton’s advice, but government officials often consult written attorney general opinions when determining what is allowable under state law. 

Bettencourt first asked for the opinion after learning that Texas Educators Vote had been encouraging school boards to adopt a resolution that authorizes administrators to implement “no-cost incentives” for students and employees to vote. The resolution says administrators should check district policy to see if they can use district-owned vehicles to transport voters to polling places. And it includes an “oath” educators can sign promising to “vote in support of the more than 5.4 million Texas school children.”

That language concerned Bettencourt, who interpreted it as a violation of state law. He said Wednesday afternoon that the opinion is “what the law of Texas intended as well as what is on the books.” He said that Texas Educators Vote’s form of advocacy — asking school boards to sign resolutions to encourage voting — has not been seen before in the state’s history.

“This is the first time this behavior has occurred. That’s why it’s different and needs to be commented on,” he said. “It needed to be stopped before it got out of hand.”

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Laura Yeager, founder of Texas Educators Vote, said she was “disappointed” with the opinion, which she said did not take into account the briefs the group had registered with the attorney general’s office.

“Both the request and the speedy response appear to be a political stunt intended to intimidate the hundreds of thousands of Texas educators from voting,” she said. “Texas Educators Vote neither supports nor opposes the election of any candidate or the success or defeat of any ballot measure.”

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the Association of Texas Professional Educators disagreed with Paxton’s opinion, saying it would continue with non-partisan efforts to encourage students and educators to vote.

The association’s leaders said school districts should make their own decisions about whether to fund transportation to the polls.

“We trust that school boards will continue to make prudent decisions on this matter in light of all the legal advice available to them,” said Jennifer Canaday, ATPE governmental relations director.

A current Texas law on the books requires school administrators or other designated registrars to circulate voter registration forms and notices to eligible high schoolers at least twice a year. Voting rights advocates have argued school administrators are doing poorly on that front.

Disclosure: Laura Yeager and the Association of Texas Professional Educators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A state lawmaker is seeking a legal opinion on whether an educator group is encouraging improper use of public funds to get out the vote. Teachers say they are modeling civic engagement for their students within legal limits, and the letter is motivated by a backlash against public education. [Full story]

  • Thirty-four years ago, the Texas Legislature enacted a novel law requiring high school principals to register eligible students to vote. But many aren’t complying, and voter participation remains chronically low. [Full story]

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Outrage over each new education policy does nothing but harm

Thu 18 Jan 2018

Last modified on Thu 18 Jan 2018

‘Of course not all academics or educators will agree on how much time should be spent on direct teaching as opposed to play-based learning.’
Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian

As I sat marking maths books with the radio on in the background – I caught the end of a news report saying that more 1,850 academics, educators, opposition politicians and most notably Robert Winston had asked for a new report on how to educate our children to be withdrawn. My first reaction was to immediately agree with them – they are after all on “my team”.

But I read the actual open letter and realised they were referring to an Ofsted report called Bold Beginnings, I realised an all too familiar situation had arisen. While I am inclined to agree with Winston, and many of the others who signed the letter, on most things – the man was after all the sum total of much of the sexual education I received when at school – I just could not and still can’t see what has caused all this fuss.

The way education policy is currently debated perfectly encapsulates our current political discourse. We are so accustomed, so programmed, to agree with “our team” – and be outraged by any opposition – that we don’t always listen to what the other side is actually saying. As a result, debate becomes polarised, entrenched and filled with false dichotomies. This “team first” approach leaves us without further space on our outrage-o-meters when confronted with policy or actions that are morally, factually and/or theoretically almost indefensible, making it far more difficult to persuade the other side. 

Bold Beginnings, for those of you that are not up to date on your Ofsted reports, was released two months ago and sought to give advice to early-years providers based on what the authors had found in a series of “good” and “outstanding” schools. Quite unremarkably, or so I thought, the report suggests that quality reception classes provision includes, among other things, a combination of play, group work and direct instruction.

Now of course the report had an agenda and of course there is scope for discussion and disagreement with some elements of it – especially if it is cited in the future as the basis to narrow the curriculum or implement overly formalised assessments (none of which are actually suggested) – but are its recommendations really that outrageous that it needs to be withdrawn?

Of course not all academics or educators will agree on how much time should be spent on direct teaching as opposed to play-based learning – and any such blanket agreement probably wouldn’t be a good thing in any case. As a primary maths specialist, who has taught in all levels of primary school, I for one know exactly where I come down on the debate and what I would like to see more of. But that is not the point. We as educators are not listening to each other.

While this has been and will always be, to some degree, the case, our confirmation and group biases seem to be tuned to their maximum at the moment. When it is coming from someone with whom we usually agree then we ignore anything contradictory they might be saying and cheer from the sidelines. And of course the opposite is also true. 

The consequences of this theoretical and pedagogical partisanship is nothing but negative. For starters it would seem to encourage binary thinking within teaching without empowering educators – and indeed schools – to think for themselves or to understand that in teaching many things are context dependent. As Dylan Wiliam – one of my educational heroes – often says: “Everything works somewhere, but nothing works everywhere.” You would have thought that, if nothing else, the past 20 years has taught us that binary top-down approaches to educational improvement do little to improve overall educational outcomes.

A further, and potentially more damaging, impact of the nature of our educational discourse is the lack of space it affords us when responding to truly black and white issues, such as grammar schools. The justifiable, fact-based outrage in academic and educational circles to this policy just didn’t seem able to permeate through to the public as much as it should have. Instead it may have just seemed to many like another my team-your team issue, which was, of course, not the case. It was only Theresa May’s disastrous decision to call an election, and her inability to control her own party, that means that we don’t have new grammar schools, and Toby Young working in the Office for Students.

So teachers, Robert Winston, academics, let’s save our outrage for those moments when we most need it. In the meantime – just as we do with our students – we should embrace the diversity, complexity and contradictions of each other and education as a whole. In doing this and in celebrating these characteristics, maybe education can serve not only as a vehicle for social and political progress – as it always has – but also as an example to society of how we can move forward.

Richard Russell is a primary school teacher

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Alwyn Poole: Ministry of Education needs a shake-up

The crises in the New Zealand education system are well documented; a teacher shortage (quantity and quality), significant actual and comparative decline against international measures, a qualification system of messy and mixed credibility, the failed numeracy project, millions spent on national standards (and thrown away) …

A population unconvinced by 1970s style open-plan schools, huge underfunding of special needs education and teacher aiding, the ongoing and massive achievement gaps between different ethnicities … I could go on, and on.

Governments change – Labour for nine years, National for nine years, back to Labour – as do Ministers of Education. The constant factor is the bureaucracy, the Ministry of Education.

Who are these people? It is something of a saying in New Zealand schools that the ministry is where careers go to die.

According to the recently published briefing for the incoming minister, there are currently 3000 careers in process there. This includes a whopping 975 in the central office in Wellington as well as 244 in the Wellington regional office.

I am not going to imply the ministry is useless. There is always an argument that broader changes in New Zealand society have impacted on our education and things could be a lot worse without a competent bureaucracy. They also clearly don’t set out to do a bad job.

However, along with the system results, the footer on their emails is somewhat telling:
“We get the job done. We are respectful, we listen, we learn. We back ourselves and others to win. We work together for maximum impact. Great results are our bottom line.”

I could comment on the evidential truth of each statement but will restrain myself to suggesting they simplify and strategise to: “Serving the public to provide great education to New Zealand.” I won’t even charge as a consultant on that.

There are some fantastic ministry people at the level of service to schools and our staff appreciates them. I have also met two superb people at the Deputy Secretary level who both left soon after, one to Australia. But the ministry is responsible for two of the strangest interactions with adults I have ever had.

One was a phone call to follow up after a journalist quoted me, accurately, saying I was disappointed with a factually incorrect and non-consulted report on our organisation. The person on the other end of the line, a ministry contractor, informed me, “There are people at the upper end in Wellington who are significantly unhappy with you.”

“Who cares” was not apparently an appreciated, or expected, response. The other was when, at a large formal meeting, an upper level ministry employee sidled up to me and in tones Maxwell Smart would have been proud of stated, “I have a message for you. You are doing well but don’t fight battles you cannot win.” Bizarre.

It is basic to both teaching and parenting that, although life is not always fair, the best approach is an action-consequences model. For the past two decades in New Zealand our system has been in measurable decline. The ministry recently told the incoming minister their key roles are, “a focus on the long-term health and performance of the education system as a whole, and the provision of support to enable sector leaders to raise achievement where needed”.

Its key responsibilities and functions were, “to administer Vote Education and Vote Tertiary Education” and “provide advice on education, from early childhood education through schooling to tertiary education”.

So, given all of the advice they must have provided around the disasters listed in my first paragraph what are the consequences for the ministry? Where is the massive revamp of the organisation? Where are the inspirational, innovative and creative people being brought in to effectively drive our education well into the 21st century – facing up to challenges and being truly world leading?

We treat the ministry like Pike River and a collapsed building in Christchurch. No one is actually accountable for the messes and the pain caused.

The new minister, Chris Hipkins, will no doubt be well meaning, as I am sure previous ministers were, but until he addresses the hole in the doughnut our slide will continue.

• Alwyn Poole of the Villa Education Trust is academic manager of Mt Hobson Middle School and is involved with two Auckland charter schools.

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Moon: Flat Earthers — science deniers, trolls or just kind of, well, not that bright?

Kyrie Irving is a very talented point guard for the Boston Celtics.

These are subjects I would take his advice on:

  • Dribbling a ball.
  • Passing a ball.
  • Shooting a ball into a basketball hoop.
  • Being tall.

These are subjects I would not take his advice on:

  • Playing a fiddle.
  • Tort reform. (Is that still a thing?)
  • What soda to drink.
  • The architecture of the cosmos.

Probably — especially — the last one, I think. 

Yet the talented athlete has become one of the brightest beacons of the not-so-new intellectual movement pushing that classic wackadoodle “theory” that the earth is flat.

Some of you wise folks might have thought the Flat Earth Theory went away once humans learned to walk and chew gum at the same time. But no, it seems society is in a bit of a de-evolution these days. We’re listening to celebrities and athletes for insight into science. Next, Katy Perry will probably persuade a segment of gullibles that the stars above are made out of candy glitter and Pop Rocks. And Snoop Dogg will push the theory that his specially marketed edibles will make the human nervous system less nervous and much more chill.

More: Moon: Army says we’re too chubby to fight. We say we’re just big-boned

Hard to believe that with all the scientific knowledge we have acquired, we still have impressionable people willing to believe silly pseudo-science espoused as truth by people who can jump and sing real well. (Rapper B.o.B. is another celebrity flat-earther, and an avid proponent of the theory that the earth is flat and surrounded by a wall of ice that we unenlightened mistake for Antarctica.)

Where did these folks learn about the long-discredited Flat Earth Theory? Where else? That fountain of scientific insight that is the internet. Heck, Irving admitted he learned of the theory — and the conspiracy that includes scientists, governments, astronauts, military, anyone who has been in a hot air balloon — on Instagram.

Earlier this week, a Facebook friend of mine posted a query about the Flat Earth Theory and expressed he was possibly open to the suggestion that all of the astronauts lied and if you travel far enough in any direction you’ll hit the giant ice wall that surrounds our little plate of a world. When others tried to argue with science, the person responded with rebuttals pulled from the silliest corners of the internet. (The internet is a rectangle, by the way.)

Poor Bill Nye — you know, the Science Guy — and other credentialed scientists are having migraines trying to contain the damage done to our collective I.Q. by battling the celebrities with facts, science and proof, but so many of us are willing to believe whatever famous people tell us — including what soda to drink, what shoes to wear and why gravity is a plot by the Illuminati — because, you know, they’re on TV a lot.

I was having a little chit-chat with Bob Graham, the former Florida governor and U.S. senator, on Tuesday and he said the flat earth juggernaut is just another casualty of the “fake news” that has infiltrated all corners of the internet, and threatens to bring the comic cautionary tale “Idiocracy” to life. (Yes, I just name-dropped. On purpose. But it was Bob Graham — one of the greatest Floridians of my lifetime. Of course I’m going to name drop him. I was starstruck. But I probably would fact-check him if he told me the moon really was made out of cheese.)

What’s the solution to reversing the possibility of a generation of people being led off the edge of the flat earth by poisonous pied pipers who try to pass off fame as knowledge?

Maybe it’s trusting proven scientific research and learning true science on our own. Trust scientific research? Shouldn’t we question everything? Well, sure, kinda, within limits. And with an understanding of our personal scientific limitations.

Look, if I say the universe is 13.7 billion years old — give or take — it’s not because I personally did the calculations. There is trust in the scientific method. It’s not like I’m on a ladder with a tape measure trying to see how far it is to the edge of the universe.

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That’s why we trust doctors. Not because they’re magic. But, you know, because of science and stuff. When they suggest a procedure or a drug, we most often accept their suggestion, because we don’t have the knowledge ourselves. That’s why we trust them instead of having our friends and family perform surgeries on us and prescribe our medications.

Doctors have the requisite training and scientific knowledge required. I wouldn’t let Irving give me a colonoscopy. And I’m not going to take his word on the architecture of the cosmos.

We need more science, less pseudo-science marketed like shoes or soft drinks. And we need to start early, before the fakesters and trolls turn all our brains into mush.

Fortunately, we have plenty of opportunities for real science in Pensacola. And one of the best for young people is the Pensacola MESS Hall, a downtown science and math-based program that offers classes and camps for young people.

A new set of camps is set to open at the Pensacola MESS Hall for toddlers to teens.

The Tinker Tots camp for 3-year-olds to pre-kindergarten students begins Jan. 22 and runs through May and will feature age-appropriate classes on “Your Body,” “Building Bridges,” Robotics” and “Astronomy.” (Maybe Irving and B.o.B. can sit in with the toddlers and learn something.)

For older children, Curiosity Days begin in January and run through May with the same topics that the Tinker Tots will cover, but at a slightly more advanced level.

For prices, times and dates go to

And remember, knowing stuff and things is like, good for you and will make you smarter than the average bear, B.o.B. or Celtic.

Troy Moon can be reached at and 850-435-8541.

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