Blog: South Sudanese return to homeland

Since South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 many south Sudanese Australians have returned to their homeland.

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And whether it’s because of a love for their country, cultural ties, or a sense of duty of it’s been a very challenging experience of many of them.

By Santilla Chingaipe, SBS

On July 9th, 2011, I was fortunate enough to cover the Melbourne celebrations of South Sudan’s independence. Even though many of the South Sudanese Australians at the celebrations were thousands of kilometres away from their homeland, it was just as significant celebrating here as it must have been in the capital Juba. The pride that filled them all as they sang their national anthem in public for the first time, waved their flag and could finally – as it seemed at the time — identify with a particular place. No longer were they just refugees who’d fled the war, they now had a place they could proudly call home. Many of the South Sudanese Australians I spoke to told me about their need to go back and help build the new nation.

A few months later, in January of this year, I travelled to South Sudan and met some of them that had indeed gone back after independence. What I later discovered was just how complex Australia’s South Sudanese community is. Despite being just nine months independent, many still struggle with their ‘identity’. Some were not even born in Sudan, but instead in refugee camps around East and North Africa. To some, calling Australia home added an even more confusing and often confronting view of what it means to be a South Sudanese living in the diaspora.

One man I met in South Sudan, Akoc Manheim, moved there just before independence to witness the occasion first hand. He is the former director of the Lost Boys Association in Australia and left behind his family in Melbourne to work at the Passport and Nationality office in Juba. He said it was a dream of his to come back and help his people, and he found that he was more ‘useful’ in South Sudan than in Australia. He talked about the frustrations he faced after moving back to South Sudan and how difficult the first few months were transitioning back to life there. But in spite of this, he strongly believed that if he didn’t go back and help, he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. I asked him if even with the small salary he received (he told me it was around $200), was it still worth making such a commitment? He said he believed he was doing the right thing. He has plans of coming back to Melbourne and considers Australia to be his second home.

I met Gabriell Agur and Awan Kwet by chance while grabbing a coffee after meeting with Akoc. They were both friends from Melbourne who had come back to South Sudan for the first time in many years. Gabriell said that he couldn’t stay back for so long after independence without seeing his new country. He also came to see his brothers and sisters who had stayed behind during the war. Thirty-seven-year-old Awan Kwet also said that he came back to see his family, including his mother whom he hadn’t seen in 21 years! They both expressed their views of returning again and helping their country build from the ground up.

In Melbourne, I met a Nyadol Nyuol, a young woman studying law at Melbourne University. She expressed her frustrations with aspects of her culture and identity that make her question who she really is. Unlike most of those I spoke to, Nyadol was born in Ethiopia, and as a result of the war there in the early 90s, she was forced to flee to Kenya were she sought refuge until coming to Australia in 2005. She said she felt she had a complicated relationship with South Sudan. Although she’s returned a few times, she said she felt more Australian than she did South Sudanese. Perhaps her biggest frustration with her culture was with what she believes are certain standards and expectations that are required of women within the South Sudanese community. She said because of this, she didn’t really feel like she would ‘fit in’ in South Sudan because her views on some of the traditions were completely different to what was expected.

David Vincent works at the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence in Melbourne’s Fitzroy suburb, where he oversees programs mainly dealing with migrants and refugees settling in the community. He fled with his father to Ethiopia at the age of seven, and when the war broke out in Ethiopia, he was forced to return to Sudan. Upon returning, he joined the army at a young age to fight in the war. He wasn’t conscripted, but says it was what happened at the time, when most people were fighting for an independent state. When the war broke out again, he fled to Kenya were he stayed before being granted a humanitarian visa. He said he felt more Australian than he did South Sudanese simply because of the privileges Australia has afforded him. However, he says he won’t be abandoning Australia and does travel back to assist in many areas.

Archangelo Madut Nyuol Paul also lives in Melbourne and he’s the father of two little girls. He said he plans to move back permanently to South Sudan later this year, and his young family will join him at a later stage. He said after what he experienced as a child soldier and what he witnessed during the war, seeing people being killed, women raped, villages razed, a part of him strongly feels and obligation to give back to his homeland and he could not live with the guilt of knowing that he hasn’t at least tried to make a difference in South Sudan.

Adut Akec is a 20-year-old woman from Geelong. She was born in Egypt and has never been to Sudan or now, South Sudan. She does however have plans to visit South Sudan later this year. Tradition and culture are very important to her and going back to see South Sudan for herself is significant.

Despite the complexity, and often times harrowing accounts of these South Sudanese Australians experiences during the war and what they went to, what was interesting to see was how they’ve all managed to carve their own idea of what being South Sudanese means — which has at times not been by choice. After many years of associating themselves with an ethnic group, to suddenly having a national identity brought many questions into focus. Some continue to travel back to find these answers, others choose to stay. But whatever the decision, the journey of being a South Sudanese Australia is more than skin deep.

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Broncos pip Cowboys with late Hodges try

Brisbane centre Justin Hodges orchestrated a crucial 18-16 win over North Queensland on Friday night to keep the Broncos’ slim NRL finals hopes alive.

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Hodges put on the winning try with just under seven minutes to go and veteran five-eighth Scott Prince cooly slotted the conversion to seal a dramatic comeback victory in Townsville.

The Queensland and Test centre’s influence in the lead-up to the four-pointer was also pivotal.

His cut-out pass down the left edge to Corey Oates – a combination which led to the 18-year-old winger scoring a 14th-minute try – released the pressure on Brisbane after a half of sustained pressure by the Cowboys.

In a game crucial to both teams’ seasons, the Broncos went up 12-0 in the first 15 minutes thanks to tries from Ben Hunt and Oates.

North Queensland winger Kalifa Faifai Loa put his team back in the contest four minutes before the half-time break with a crucial try and the Cowboys dominated after the break.

It was a cliched game of two halves and after being under the pump for most of the opening half, a 52nd-minute try to Gavin Cooper and some vintage Matt Bowen magic six minutes later gave the Townsville team the lead for the first time.

But just when the Cowboys looked set for a victory which would have kept their season alive, Hodges stepped up and delivered his team the win.

It wasn’t all positive for the Broncos – Oates was perhaps unlucky to be put on report for a high tackle on Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan, who appeared to fall into the contact.

North Queensland lock Dallas Johnson, who this week announced his retirement from the game at the end of the season, went off with an injured knee after falling awkwardly in a second-half collision.

Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin said the defensive effort down the middle in the second half kept them within four points and it proved the difference.

“They had us by the throat there for probably 30 minutes of that second half and to their credit, Thurston and Bowen just wouldn’t let us out,” Griffin said.

“I thought we obviously had the run of the first 20 to 30 minutes but I thought they then had the next 30 to 40.

“If we’d leaked any more than 16 (points) I think we were gone and that’s the story of the night for us.”

It was Brisbane’s first win in four starts and captain Sam Thaiday said he was proud of the effort to stay in the game after going behind.

“It’s been a few weeks since we’ve celebrated a win as a team but to really hang in there and fight for one is a good step forward into the next couple of weeks,” he said.

Under-pressure Cowboys coach Neil Henry said his right edge, down which all three Broncos tries were scored, had been hurt by Hodges and Oates and they had been made to rue missed opportunities.

“It’s a bit of a heart-breaking loss really, to get back into the game and dominate field position for large parts of the second half,” he said.

“And to not get on a loose ball or lose a bit of possession to them and we pay the price.”

Comment: Rest up! Too much exercise could send you to an early grave

By Adrian Elliott

Exercise is said to foster better health and well-being as well as increasing life expectancy.

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But you can have too much of a good thing, it seems, as evidence shows that there may an optimal level of exercise and exceeding it may be harmful.

Even 15 minutes of exercise a day is said to increase life expectancy by three years. So it seems odd that research published in PLOS ONE last week shows that less active female mice have a longer life expectancy.

In the study, researchers examined a genetic variant in mice (the t haplotype) that they predicted would express a personality trait, characterised by a shy, less explorative and less active nature. Previously, mice with this genetic variant have been shown to live longer.

They found the mice were indeed less active, less exploratory and tended to consume less food.

So should you hang up your training shoes in favour of a less active lifestyle? Well, no. But there is a growing body of evidence suggesting there may be an optimal amount of exercise for improvements in health and life expectancy.

Wearing yourself out

Research shows that people who exercise vigorously can reduce their risk of early death by 40% with up to approximately 50 minutes a day of activity. Beyond this, there appears to be little additional benefit from exercise.

Similar findings reported elsewhere from large-scale studies suggest people who exercise at moderate intensity and duration may experience greater health and survival benefits than keen athletes who exercise daily at high intensities for much longer.

If you are following exercise guidelines (30 minutes a day, five days a week), it’s unlikely that you will see any negative consequences.

But excessive exercise (such as completing a marathon or ultra-endurance event) places a significant load on the heart that can result in temporary reductions in function.

While this decline is often reversed within one week, the long-term effects of repetitive high-intensity exercise may counteract the benefits of moderate physical activity for your heart.

Studies have shown a high incidence of cardiac fibrosis in older, life-long elite athletes, compared to their younger or non-athletic counterparts.

And the prevalence of a common disturbance in heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation), is considerably higher in athletes, particularly in those who have taken part in more than 1,500 lifetime hours of endurance sport practice.

If you follow exercise guidelines (30 minutes a day, five days a week), it’s unlikely that you will see any negative consequences. Image from www.shutterstock.com

A greater danger

Despite these findings, the advantages of participating in physical activity are considerable for the majority of the population who choose not to participate in regular extreme endurance events, or in any exercise at all.

It is well documented that sedentary time, whether it be the number of hours sitting or watching television, is independently associated with poorer life expectancy.

The World Health Organization predicts that physical inactivity is responsible for the same number of global deaths per year (over five million) as smoking.

An intriguing series of recent studies has examined the potential metabolic and cardiovascular benefits of interrupting prolonged sitting time (such as during work hours) with short (approximately two minutes) bursts of mild exercise.

They draw attention to more achievable improvements in physical activity levels in the more sedentary parts of the population.

What about the mice?

But what should we understand from the PLOS ONE study on mice? Well, it aimed to evaluate how animal personality relates to behavioural differences, which is quite a different concept to examining how humans approach health and longevity in the 21st century.

While decreasing activity and saving energy may be beneficial for rodents in the face of potential predators or a reduction in food availability (or both), neither tends to be an issue for the modern human in a developed country.

And while the study suggests there’s greater life expectancy with the genetic variant that made the mice timid and sedentary, it wasn’t actually measured.

Finally, a number of additional behavioural differences (lower food consumption, for instance, and a less explorative nature) potentially contributed to improvements in their life expectancy – less movement and activity may reduce the chances of a rodent being detected by a predator.

Associations are one thing, cause and effect is quite another. Just because two things are observed together, doesn’t mean one causes the other or vice versa. So the lower levels of activity in mice may not be the cause of their increased longevity.

Increasing physical activity for both healthy people and those suffering from a chronic disease is undoubtedly beneficial, providing the approach is sensible and within recommended guidelines.

Although there’s a growing trend for greater participation in endurance events such as the marathon, you should consider how prolonged engagement in such activities may negatively impact your health.

For now, stick with the wise words of Dr James O’Keefe and Dr Carl Lavie:

run for your life….at a comfortable speed and not too far.

Adrian Elliott does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Explainer: quantum computation and communication technology

By Howard Wiseman, Griffith University

What is a quantum technology?

Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics that explains the behaviour of matter and energy at the atomic scale.

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So does “quantum technology” just mean technology based on very small things? Is it just a cool-sounding synonym for nanotechnology.

No! Quantum mechanics is certainly needed for designing a nanotechnology such as flash memory, but a quantum technology is something different.

It is a technology that makes use of the weirdness of quantum mechanics in a fundamental way – a technology whose operation makes no sense if you don’t understand quantum mechanics.

In particular, quantum weirdness allows for impossibly fast computers and unhackable communication, which will be some of the defining technologies of the 21st century.

What’s so weird about quantum mechanics?

In everyday life, we usually have a good sense of intuition regarding how the physical world will behave. Drop a glass and it will smash on the floor. Punch a concrete wall and your fist won’t go through it.

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But in the world of the ultra-small – atoms, electrons, even very dim light ­– none of the normal rules apply. Instead particles follow quantum rules that are quite baffling.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says that if you are sure how fast a particle is moving, you won’t be able to predict where you would find it if you look for it. And if you are sure where the particle is, you won’t be able to predict the value you’d get for its speed if you measure that instead.

Moreover, quantum theory says that this is not due to any limitations on our experimental abilities – the world itself is uncertain!

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The really disturbing thing is that, according to quantum theory, there is nothing to stop this intrinsic uncertainty about microscopic matter growing into intrinsic uncertainty about everyday objects.

This is illustrated by the infamous Schrödinger’s cat paradox, which says that a cat in a box could end up in a state where it’s impossible to say whether it’s alive or dead. It’s not just that we are ignorant of whether the cat’s alive or dead – until we open the box to look, it’s neither.

Or both. Even quantum physicists disagree about how to describe it.

Ultrafast quantum computing

Quantum computing is Schrödinger’s cat put to work. By building a computer out of quantum particles, it’s possible to make the entire memory of the computer intrinsically uncertain, just like the health of the cat. This allows the computer to carry out astronomically many different computations in parallel.

The real trick is to bring all those computations together at the end to give the single answer you want. But if this could be done, a relatively small quantum computer could solve mathematical problems that couldn’t be solved with all the present computers in the world running for a million years.

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The first useful quantum algorithm – a piece of software for a quantum computer – that managed this trick was discovered in the 1990s.

The far greater challenge is to build the quantum computer hardware that will work reliably enough, and is big enough, to run this software.

Worldwide there is a huge experimental effort to do just that. In Australia, the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) is a world-leader in two of the most promising types of hardware for a quantum computer: photons (particles of light), and the electrons of phosphorus atoms embedded in silicon.

Ultrasecure quantum communication

The other principal application of quantum technology is to make a message secure against any sort of hacker, no matter how powerful their computer is – even a quantum computer!

The basic idea is simple. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle implies that if you find out one property of a particle you necessarily create uncertainty in other properties. That is, quantum particles are disturbed by measurements. Because of this, an eavesdropper trying to read a secret message encoded on photons can be detected before they have a chance to obtain any real information.

Quantum communication protocols were first developed in the 1980s, and there are short-range systems in commercial operation in many countries, including an Australian one developed by CQC2T researchers.

The grand challenge, which is being tackled worldwide, including in CQC2T, is to extend the range of the communication. Because quantum messages cannot be copied, this requires other weird quantum effects, such as quantum teleportation.

The ultimate goal is to network quantum computers all over the globe, creating a global quantum internet.

As of now, we can only speculate about the scientific and other uses we will find for that, should it become a reality.

Howard Wiseman is the Director of the Centre for Quantum Dynamics, Griffith University, and an Executive Research Leader in the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence). His research group is also funded by the ARC through Discovery Projects, by the Templeton Foundation, and by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Canada). He has no other relevant affiliations, funding sources, or financial interests.

Finnish education guru Pasi Sahlberg In Conversation: full transcript

By John Hattie, University of Melbourne

John Hattie: Welcome to The Conversation.

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My name is John Hattie from the University of Melbourne and I have here today, Pasi Sahlberg from the Department of Education in Finland.

It’s certainly exciting to have you here and we look to your country all the time. What’s it like to be in the top five education league tables?

Pasi Sahlberg: You know, most Finnish people don’t think like this, unless you remind us that we are there but most people don’t really care about where we are. But I think it’s like always when you’re on the top of the hill, it’s windy, it’s busy and in a way, it’s not a comfortable place to be.

In Finland, we say it’s easier to ski behind somebody else, you have the track and you know where to go. But if you’re the first one, you don’t see anything, it’s just snow and white.

We have been a little bit in this type of situation where we have to choose which direction where to go and people are asking these questions – so I would much rather be number five than number one.

John Hattie: In terms of what we want to do here in Australia, our Prime Minister has aspirations to be in the top five [internationally]. Any sense of what we need to do here? That’s a horrifically large question but given your experience of what you’ve done in Finland, and we want to get there soon, we’re not going to wait for 30 or 40 years, so what would you say to us?

Pasi Sahlberg: When I read the Prime Minister’s goal, which is a kind of ambitious goal to have, [I don’t see it] literally to be number five but it’s kind of like a metaphor that you want to improve. So it doesn’t matter if you’re number five or number eight or number three, it’s a call for improvement.

And as I see Australia… you’re doing pretty well. That you are already on the map of the world’s best education systems, so I don’t see this as a situation, like in many other countries, where you have a much longer way to go, many of the basic issues are in place here.

John Hattie: But do you get the sense though that when you go to countries that are 20th and 30th, and we’re more like 10th and 12th, often I think the mood in Australia is like we’re 20th or 30th. It sounds like there’s a crisis going on because we’re not in the top five.

Pasi Sahlberg: What I hear here is much more of very pessimistic, critical views on what you’re doing. And as an external observer, and I’ve seen most of the OECD countries up close, I can say that things are much better here – here and in New Zealand – when I meet with principals and teachers.

But I think, of course, there are things that you need to do and I think you’re in a much better situation here in Australia today than in most countries ten years ago when you didn’t have this experience and evidence from the [Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)] and other things. So if you take a close look at what the well-performing countries have done, and what the countries who have been able to climb up this education performance pyramid, you have much more choices to make.

Some of the things you are already considering here include: how do you spend the money? How do you fund your education system? I think a very important question is: what do you do with the teachers? How should you prepare them? How can you provide them with more professional development? [There’s] the leadership issue.

And then finally one of the critical issues here is, if you compare Australia to the other high-performing education systems, is the question of equity.

John Hattie: Let’s just go back through those, on funding we actually spend more funding per student than you do in Finland by a long way.

Pasi Sahlberg: You do spend, if you use the current statistic a little bit more than Finland. But I think, this is because of your massive funding for structures…

John Hattie: The Building the Education Revolution…

Pasi Sahlberg: Yes, but if you take that away, and compare what Australia was spending three years ago, you have a significant gap between Finland and Australia, in favour of Finland, so we have been spending more.

John Hattie: Now, in terms of teacher quality – that’s the catch-all all the time. The message that often comes through from that is that the teachers need to improve, they’re not good. What have you done in Finland on teacher quality?

Pasi Sahlberg: We decided when we started to build the current education system 40 years ago, we realised that if you have a system that is aiming to be not number one, but equitable so that every child will be having opportunity and pathways to be successful, that requires teachers that are better educated and better education not just for some teachers but for everybody, all of them.

John Hattie: And certainly at the beginning they have to be at least a masters to get in?

Pasi Sahlberg: Many other countries have probably done a different way. But in Finland, we decided that early childhood development and primary teachers, pre-school teachers and primary teachers are the key. And that’s why we require they will have an academic higher degree before they can teach.

John Hattie: But once they’re in, how do you keep their education, their professional development going, because we spend an enormous amount of money on that.

Pasi Sahlberg: On professional development?

John Hattie: Oh, yes.

Pasi Sahlberg: Well, education is very decentralised in Finland, so it’s very much up to the school, individual teachers, municipalities who are running the schools to make sure that teachers who are in service there have access to professional development. But I would say that this kind of systematic way of focusing on highly trained teachers and building a profession during the course of the last 30-35 years has created a system where becoming a primary school teacher is in very high demand in Finland.

Because many young people when they look at what the primary school teachers do with a high quality academic master degree that they earn in our universities, they see pretty much what the medical doctors, or lawyers or engineers or anybody else with a similar degree are doing, with their autonomy, independence, respect, professional collective nature of work.

And that’s why I think they are going there. Not only because the university degree is kind of a competitive degree but the image of being a primary school teacher is pretty close to how you would describe a medical doctor’s work.

John Hattie: So then, the temptation for me to say is for the way that we could do that and improve things and make sure our money is spent well, is tie it to the performance of children and look at the whole test accountability notions to make sure we’re spend in the money the right way.

Pasi Sahlberg: Well, this is your way to think about these things but the culture in this respect is very different in Finland. We are putting much more emphasis in Finland on well-being, happiness and health of children. So everybody is healthy and ready to develop themselves and to take the responsibility of their own learning.

What I hear from foreign visitors to Finland, and we have a massive number of people coming, many of them they are surprised to see how much responsibility for learning in Finnish schools is with the pupils. So they are driving the learning and development, not the teachers and if you have this type of system, where the responsibility of learning and development is primarily with the learners themselves. You cannot rely on numbers and testing.

Of course, we do that as well, but I think the difference between our countries is that in Finland we tend to rely much more on the numbers, the assessments and tests that are made by teachers and schools and trust the numbers that they show are real.

John Hattie: And you have a nice index of that such as PISA, and so what you’re telling me is that you’re using a lot more about student assessments, capabilities of the students rather than inflicting tests as we tend to try to do.

Pasi Sahlberg: Absolutely, and I think if you use the English terms like assessment for learning, which is not at all a Finnish invention. So we are relying on the research and ideas from Australia, from England, the United States, in this respect. But I think for example, this student assessment for learning is something that we have, we have caught the international idea and we have put it into practice in our schools.

Like we have done with many other innovations in Finland. There are very few original Finnish ideas in pedagogy and teaching.

John Hattie: Not completely true, the words “respect”, “responsibility”, “trust” certainly have come out of the Finnish system very strongly.

Pasi Sahlberg: Sure, but I’m talking about if you look at the educational literature on pedagogy, of teaching methods, or assessment ideas. Very few of them come from Finland. So what I’m saying is that our skill is not to invent, our skill is to implement and understand what ideas work.

John Hattie: If I’m listening to you now, and I’m saying, “well, how would I interpret it in Australia?” Then I come up with my magic word, the word that is used all the time, “autonomy”. We’d give the teachers autonomy, we’d give the schools autonomy, and that comes then with choice and whether parents should have choice etc.

In your high schools in Finland, do the parents get a lot of choice in terms of the kind of schools they can send them to? Do the students get a lot of choice about the kind of subjects? How early is that choice?

Pasi Sahlberg: Well, what we have done in Finland is that we have delayed the parental choice to upper-secondary school which is when our kids are about 16 years of age and when you have a 16-year-old Finn very few parents anymore have anything to say about their choice, this is the end of the compulsory education. So together with the responsibility for their own learning they also have the responsibility and freedom to choose where they want to go.

The first time when parents really can choose or students can choose between one school and another comes at the age of 16. And I think this is one of the things that I see in many other high-performing countries that they postpone and delay the parental choice as late as possible.

John Hattie: We have a big choice here, the whole debate about private and public, and choosing schools, and there’s religious schools that you can choose from. We stream the kids, is there streaming in Finnish high schools?

Pasi Sahlberg: High schools sure, yes, we have two very different types of high school, upper secondary school options – occasional school and general school they lead to very different…

John Hattie: That’s before 16?

Pasi Sahlberg: That’s at the age of 16. Not before then, there’s nothing.

John Hattie: There’s a lot of that here.

Pasi Sahlberg: This is the main idea of Finnish education system, we try to keep children in the similar school all the way until they are 16 and leave the compulsory school. And this is what many, actually, all of the high performing countries are trying to do the same. So they are not really opening education to the free market type of choice before the students sit in PISA.

John Hattie: Yes, and it’s quite different here.

Pasi Sahlberg: If you technically wanted to build a strategy to be high in the PISA rankings, this is one thing that you should consider – to manage and delay the parental choice to later stage that would improve equity and enhance the quality. But of course, it’s never simple like this.

John Hattie: And that’s the other question, I want to ask you: equity. Australia is reasonably high-performing but not so high on equity. And what I’m hearing you say here is that one way is to delay parental choice until at least 16.

Any other ways to address equity? You must have low-socioeconomic schools do they have the dramatic differences like we do in this country?

Pasi Sahlberg: Australia is doing a little bit better than the OECD countries on average in equity. So if we organise countries, rank order them in term of equity, Australia is …

John Hattie: We are nowhere near Finland.

Pasi Sahlberg: You know there are countries, all the Scandinavian countries are very strong in equity and that’s why. It’s not only the school issue, particularly with the equity issue we have to look at many other things, like what the health system and social protection and early childhood development are doing.

But I think one thing that is probably standing taller than anything else in Finland in terms of this is how we understand and organise special education, the education for children with special needs.

And that’s a different way to do this thing than here and in many other countries because we have a much more sensitive lens through which we are looking at our classrooms and students. And that’s why we have many more students who are categorised as special needs students than, for example what we have here.

John Hattie: And you separate them?

Pasi Sahlberg: No, it’s inclusive, it’s an inclusive principle. But this means that we also have many more individuals in our basic school system, our grade one to nine system who are receiving individualised support and help. They normally receive it early on, rather than when the problems are already there.

So if I had to pick up one thing that Finland is doing particularly systematically and well to enhance equity, it’s the special education system. It’s very pricey, it’s very expensive. But when we do our economics of education, we also calculate that the cost of not doing that would be much higher later on.

So that’s why we want to invest early on and make sure that everybody is treated as an individual and will receive the basic support and help and then try to make sure everyone can succeed.

John Hattie: So the obvious question from that is, that you, therefore, have very low class sizes?

Pasi Sahlberg: No, we don’t, if you walk in to a urban classroom in primary school today, you would probably see the same number of kids that you would see here and in New Zealand. Internationally we are very similar in this respect.

John Hattie: So what I’m hearing about what we should think about here in Australia is worry about giving more of the responsibility and the trust to the teachers and as a consequence, looking at the equity issues of health and well-being as well as academic outcomes, and make teachers responsible for that.

But what I’m not quite understanding is how do we know that as taxpayers that we’re getting our return?

Pasi Sahlberg: From your school system?

John Hattie: Because we know, I’ve been a kid through school, not every teachers perfect, how are you going to make sure we do make sure these desirable things are in place?

Pasi Sahlberg: One thing that we are doing, I’m not saying that you could do this right away or that you should do this at all, is that we are relying on schools as communities to report these things back to the communities and parents. This is one thing.

Then the other thing, of course, is the overall idea of leadership, a localised, kind of community based education that we have. Finland doesn’t have a kind of centralised system where the government is running the things, it’s all within our communities and parents are, of course, very much…

John Hattie: Are responsible to the community?

Pasi Sahlberg: Yeah, but you know, if in Finland if we want to know how things are going we do exactly what the OECD is doing when it wants to know how the countries are doing, we are taking samples of schools and pupils and teachers and we are measuring and assessing and evaluating them just like any other research would do.

And you know, probably because of this trust that we have in our system, this seems to be enough to convince politicians, authorities, parents that things are going well. Of course, we have bad teachers or poor teachers who are not performing to the level that they should in Finland, like in every country. But we don’t think that just by collecting numbers of every single classroom or school you can…

John Hattie: The community can speak?

Pasi Sahlberg: Yeah, so I think Finland is probably a little bit different in that way, we have a very strong sense of kind of collective doing things in our communities. Typically if you have a school where there are one or two teachers who are not performing as they should, I think the first thing to help these teachers is the collective professional community rather than waiting for the authority of somebody else to come and say what to do.

This is the first thing we try to do and if it doesn’t help, then some other measures will step into the picture.

John Hattie: Pasi Sahlberg thank you very much, I think we’ve heard a tremendous amount about the trust, the cooperation, the collaboration, the way in which the community is involved and I really love the way in which you are able to express it in the manner in which you do. We have a tremendous amount to learn.

So welcome to Australia and we look forward to having you back.

Pasi Sahlberg: Thank you so much.

This article is an edited transcript of an interview between Pasi Sahlberg and John Hattie. You can watch the full video here.

John Hattie has received funding from the ARC.

’42 die in fire’ in Thailand refugee camp

The toll from a blaze that swept through a camp in northern Thailand has risen to 42, a Thai official said, after hundreds of temporary homes for refugees from Myanmar were reduced to ashes.

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Dozens of people were injured in the fire, which broke out on Friday at the Mae Surin camp in Mae Hong Son province, with women, children and the elderly believed to make up the majority of the victims.

Rescue workers were on the scene at the remote mountainous camp area, Mae Hong Son provincial governor Narumol Paravat told AFP by telephone.

“The latest death toll we can confirm through military walkie-talkies is 42,” she said, adding the toll was likely to rise further as rescue workers search the area.

Authorities believe the fire was sparked by an unattended cooking flame.

A local district official said hot weather, combined with strong winds caused the fire to spread quickly among the thatched bamboo shelters.

Police on Saturday said around 400 temporary homes had been incinerated, while the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Bureau said a school, clinic and two food warehouses had also been destroyed.

The Thai government pledged an investigation into the fire at the camp, which houses roughly 3,700 refugees.

Ten camps strung out along the Thai-Myanmar border house a total of about 130,000 people, who first began arriving in the 1980s.

Many of the refugees have fled conflict zones in ethnic areas of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Families often live cheek-by-jowl in simple bamboo-and-thatch dwellings.

Many of the camp residents have been registered with the UN as refugees, and an ongoing resettlement programme has allowed tens of thousands to move to third countries.

After a new quasi-civilian government replaced the long-ruling junta in Myanmar two years ago, Thailand announced it wanted to shut the border camps, raising concern among their residents.

But so far the displaced residents have been allowed to stay and the Thai government has stressed that it will only send them back when it is safe.

Many of the refugees are from Myanmar’s eastern Karen state, where a major rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU) signed a ceasefire deal with the new regime last year after decades of civil war.

Vast numbers of people fled the former Myanmar junta’s counter-insurgency campaign, which rights groups say deliberately targeted civilians, driving them from their homes, destroying villages and forcing them to work for the army.

Years of war have left the Karen region littered with landmines while development has been held back, leaving dilapidated infrastructure and threadbare education and health services.

Hundreds of homes were destroyed at a different border camp in February last year by a fire that the authorities also blamed on cooking.

Pakistan remembers Benazir Bhutto’s murder

Vast crowds have gathered to mark the fifth anniversary of the assassination of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto and to witness her son launch his political career.

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More than 200,000 people were at the Bhutto mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in the southern province of Sindh to pay their respects and to hear Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Benazir and President Asif Ali Zardari, make his first major public speech.

Bhutto, twice elected prime minister, was killed in a gun and suicide attack after an election rally in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan’s army, on December 27, 2007.

No one has ever been convicted of her murder. Security was tight around a huge stage, adorned with the tricolour of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), where Oxford-educated Bilawal will speak. Police said more than 15,000 officers had been deployed, as well as about 500 government paramilitary forces.

The Bhutto family has been a force in Pakistani politics for almost all of the country’s 65-year history.

Benazir’s father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded the PPP, led the country from 1971 until he was ousted in a military coup in 1977.

He was hanged in 1979 after being convicted of authorising the murder of a political opponent.

Bilawal was 19 when his mother was killed, and his spokesman Aijaz Durrani said Thursday’s anniversary would mark a new chapter in Pakistan’s political history.

“A new Bhutto is emerging today in the shape of Bilawal who has (the) vision of his mother and grandfather,” he told AFP. As head of state, President Zardari is barred from leading the PPP election campaign. He is also hugely unpopular, tainted by years of corruption allegations.

A general election is due early in 2013 and though 24-year-old Bilawal is too young to stand, political analyst Hasan Askari said he could be the new figurehead for the PPP campaign.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said the country should “shun prejudices and maintain unity” to pay homage to Benazir.

“Let us resolve to defeat the forces of extremism and terrorism and work for the progress and prosperity of the country,” he said in a statement. Bilawal, in May, accused former military ruler Pervez Musharraf of “murdering” his mother by deliberately sabotaging her security.

A UN report in 2010 also said the murder could have been prevented and accused Musharraf’s government of failing to protect Bhutto.

The Musharraf regime blamed the assassination on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who denied any involvement and was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009. There has been a surge in terror attacks in Pakistan in recent weeks.

Brigadier Saad Khan warned the Taliban may continue their campaign with an attack on events marking the anniversary. AFP lhh

Comment: French intervention won’t fix the mess in Mali

By Binoy Kampmark, RMIT University

The French government has announced it will triple its troop deployment to the conflict-plagued state of Mali.

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On Monday, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, explained that France had received UN Security Council approval to intervene. An aerial campaign on Thursday commenced at the request of Mali’s government, targeting al Qaeda-linked rebels marching on the capital, Bamako.

Echoes of Libya

The fear from France and its allies is that Islamist group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, shortened to Aqim, poses a grave threat, through its efforts to create what would amount to a Taliban-style regime in Mali.

The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn has pointed out that this action resembles the “protective” intervention by the French against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi two years ago. For this reason, the implications of UN Resolution 2085, which charts the legal boundaries of military assistance designed to restore Mali’s government, are dangerously unclear.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sees the move as limited and controlled. He said the intervention was only taking place to restore “Mali’s constitutional order and territorial integrity”.

Afghanistan in Africa

The political and cultural activities of the seemingly eclectic mishmash of Islamic groups in Mali have been vicious. Music has been banned in some areas, something seemingly unthinkable in the country, which has produced such world-renowned acts as Salif Keita. Islamists have also engaged in that all too familiar pattern of destroying Sufi shrines such as those in Timbuktu. There is little doubt that Mali is fast becoming another Afghan experiment in militant Islamist nation building (or sheer deconstruction).

The clay-mosques in Timbuktu have been attacked. EPA/Ulrike Koltermann

Look for fundamentalists, and you will find them. The born-again Salafist Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of the Islamist movement Ansar-ud-Deen, exemplifies this. Long gone is the man who used to smoke and keep company with the musicians from Tinariwen. As the director of the Festival in the Desert Manny Ansar explains, “He believes in what he’s doing. And that’s what frightens me”.

The musicians have gone underground. Last year, on August 22, the city of Gao received a governing decree banning all Western music.

Andy Morgan, writing for The Guardian, noted one striking example of this in the Malian desert town of Kidal in October last year. Seven militia men sporting AK47s were on the search of a local musician. He was not found, but the message to his sister was unmistakable:

If you speak to him, tell him that if he ever shows his face in this town again, we’ll cut off all the fingers he uses to play his guitar with.

The other side of the experiment is less the matter of Allah and more the issue of money and basic greed. Power and finance come before the establishment of caliphates for some of the vying groups. That side of the equation is neglected in the Western security debate.

The intervention, however, is not premised on cultural salvation but political order. If Mali falls to Islamism, a haven will be established though it’s bound to be confused and bloody. And what will come of that is anybody’s guess. The US support for the French is premised on the simple basis that Islamic “terrorists” are involved, plain and simple. “We share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven,” US State Department Official Victoria Nuland explained.

An intractable problem

Mali, to put it bluntly, is in a mess. Such messes, when they take place in former colonial bastions – notably those with strong historical ties to powers such as France – invite more than a spectator’s interest. That interest tends to come in the form of guns and material when the “natives” misbehave.

With their current resources, a conquest of Mali from either Aqim or ethnic separatist group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is highly unlikely. Neither group is friendly with each other, with Ansar-ud-Deen keen to muscle past the nationalist MNLA with the help of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).

So, we are back to the usual debates about international intervention – to curb an untested, unclear threat, with motives that are themselves historical, ill-directed and disingenuous.

We can dismiss the altruistic motive from the start, despite the icing of UN legalism. The Mali conflict, fought by its various players, is based on a bloody challenge for control, and no side, at this point, looks likely to gain ascendancy.

Binoy Kampmark does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Comment: Too much, too young for Italy’s Five-Star Movement?

By Duncan McDonnell

“Paris is worth a mass”, replied my friend, citing Henry IV’s probably apocryphal comment on his conversion to Catholicism in order to break the religious impasse in sixteenth-century France.

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She was explaining her decision, despite reservations, to support Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement (M5S) in Italy’s election two weeks ago. The point, she stressed, was that voting for the M5S was worth it in order to mark “a complete break with the mainstream parties”. Sending that message was the important thing.

Almost nine million Italians voted for the Five-Star Movement. More than anyone – pundits, mainstream politicians and probably even Grillo himself – expected.

To put it into context: we still talk about the performance of Silvio Berlusconi’s new party, Forza Italia, in the 1994 general election. Forza Italia got 21% of the vote that time. The M5S took 25.6% in 2013. It is the best new party result in a general election in Western Europe, excluding “repackaged” or merged parties, or the first rounds of democratic elections when all parties are new.

The M5S is now Italy’s largest party in terms of vote share. Only the fact that the two main parties were in centre-left and centre-right alliances prevented it claiming the majority seat bonus (awarded to the largest coalition) in the chamber.

This instead went to the centre-left which, although frittering away a seemingly unassailable lead during the campaign, still finished 0.3% ahead of Berlusconi’s centre-right.

But in the senate (which uses a different electoral system), there is a logjam since the centre-left lacks the numbers to govern. So the M5S now finds itself under pressure from many in Italy’s media and elites to strike an accord with the centre-left so a government can be formed.

Party vote shares in the Chamber of Deputies. Parties in a coalition are the same colour. Data based on that provided by the Ministero dell’Interno. It does not include the ‘Italians abroad’ and Valle D’Aosta constituencies. Duncan McDonnell

For this, and many other reasons, the M5S is between a rock and a hard place. It is a victim, to some extent, of its own success.

First, it suddenly has to contend with 163 new MPs, not one of whom has served even a day on a town council. That’s a big ask of a movement which was only founded in late 2009 and eschews the normal structures of political parties. Imposing discipline both inside and outside parliament will be extremely difficult.

To take just one example: the M5S prohibits its representatives from speaking, unauthorised, to the media. Good luck with that when the new faces find themselves running a gauntlet of tempting microphones and cameras every day in Rome.

Second, the movement in its parliamentary votes will have to balance the diversity of ideologies among both its new representatives and its supporters. If you read the M5S programme and listen to Grillo’s speeches, you find something for everyone – from environmental protection, to universal unemployment benefit, to the ending of monopolies, to reform of the political system and the state. The Movement claims to be “beyond left and right”, but there are clear differences in this respect among its activists and voters.

In a survey conducted with the think-tank Demos of almost 2000 Grillo and M5S Facebook fans last August, we asked respondents to position themselves on a political spectrum ranging from 1 to 10, with 1 being furthest left and 10 furthest right.

The average score for respondents was 3.88, indicating they are generally left of centre. However, it is also clear both from our study and post-election analyses that the M5S is fishing among discontented citizens of right, left and centre. These range from former voters of the northern regionalist Lega Nord to ex-Berlusconi supporters in the South to left-wingers in the “red zones” of central Italy and elsewhere. Convincing all these to come on board in a campaign is one thing. Keeping them there while voting in parliament on the bread-and-butter issues that divide right and left is quite another.

All the above is exacerbated by the calls now for the M5S to support a centre-left administration in order to prevent the country undergoing a second general election or the installation of another technocratic executive (a solution which would extend the suspension of party government in place since November 2011).

However, this would be a bitter and damaging pill to swallow for a movement, whose principal unifying message to supporters and voters – like my friend – is its rejection of the mainstream political class in its entirety.

The irony of course is that, had the M5S not taken quite so many votes from those mainstream parties, it would now be focused solely on settling into a parliamentary opposition role and acclimatizing to institutional life. Instead, it is having to justify its refusal to help provide the country with a governing majority. Sudden and enormous success brings sudden and enormous challenges.

Or, to put it another way: sometimes, a little bit less really can be more.

Duncan McDonnell does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Vietnam escapees sorry, Qld court hears

Father-of-two Tuan Quoc Vu feared he would be detained indefinitely by police for taking part in a protest in Vietnam.

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But to his wife’s relief he was released after 40 days behind bars.

Fearing he’d again be arrested, he decided to board a boat destined for Australia with other asylum seekers.

Earlier this year he arrived in Darwin and was transferred to the Scherger Detention Centre near the Cape York township of Weipa.

Fearing his application for asylum in Australia would be rejected, he and a group of other Vietnamese men decided to escape from the centre on May 23.

They scaled a fence and then, with the aid of helpers, drove to Weipa Airport where six of the men flew 800km southeast to Cairns.

Tipped off by a travel agent, police arrested six of the men at a popular backpackers in Cairns less than 13 hours after they escaped.

A seventh escapee was arrested at Weipa Airport.

On Tuesday six of the men pleaded guilty to one charge under the Immigration Act in the Cairns Magistrates Court.

A seventh escapee, Van Doan Dinh, was due to appear in court but it was revealed that he has again managed to flee from detention centre authorities.

The Immigration Department says Dinh escaped over the weekend, this time from Sydney’s Fairfield Hospital where he was being treated for a medical condition.

A warrant for his arrest was issued on Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s court appearance defence lawyer Kellie Walker told the court the men had fled Vietnam because they feared for their safety.

At least two of the men said they were worried they would be arrested for taking part in student protests.

Thanh Minh Le, a 32-year-old builder, said he had been persecuted because he was Catholic.

Anh Dang, a 23-year-old lumberjack, said he came to Australia because he feared he was going to be arrested by police for cutting down a tree he didn’t have permission to fell.

Dang told Ms Walker he escaped from Scherger because he had heard that applications for asylum by Vietnamese nationals were being rejected.

All of the men, except for Dang, said they didn’t want to return to Vietnam.

During sentencing Magistrate Anthony Gett acknowledged the reasons why the men had fled Vietnam and said the men were genuinely remorseful for escaping from Scherger.

However, he described their plan to escape as sophisticated.

“It is clear that there has been a level of planning in your escape,” he said.

The magistrate said most of the men knew few details about the escape plan, other than to climb the fence at Scherger during the early hours of May 23.

He released the men on 18-month good behaviour orders but they will remain at Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney.