xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: November 2012

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Christmas spirit.



In 1975 I was appointed by the Education Department to Donnybrook District High School. I was pleased to discover that the parish priest at St Mary’s Church in that delightful town was Father Fitzgerald.
 I first met Father Fitzgerald when I was ten years old and he was the newly appointed curate at St Brigid’s Church in West Perth. He had just stepped off the boat from Ireland and, keen to quickly become involved in Parish affairs, became an enthusiastic member of the very strong West Perth Young Catholic Workers (YCW) football team.
I was too young to play, but my older cousins, Maurie and Raymond Carr and John Magee, were prominent players in the side and I accompanied them to the games as their unofficial "bag' man. 
These games, it must be said were often played in a very aggressive and rugged style, quite contrary to the Young Catholic Worker ethic of “turning the other cheek”. 
It was more a case of “Do unto others before they do unto you”. 
Of some games a spectator could truly say, “I was at the fights and all of a sudden a football match broke out!”
This rough style of play was welcomed by the young Father Fitzgerald, who had hardly any idea of Australian Rules but, in the traditions of his beloved Gaelic Football, delighted in crashing vigorously into as many of the opposing players as he could. There is no tackling in Gaelic football and Father Fitzgerald felt his dodgem car approach was the best way to get the ball off his opponents. He was built like a jockey and could run like the wind and had very little knowledge of AFL position play, so by the end of each game he had roamed wherever the ball was and roughed up just about everybody on the other side.
One day, against the feared and very muscular YCW team from Fremantle, Father Fitzgerald’s style of play became too much for one of the opposition. A burly young wharfie roughly threw the young curate to the ground, sat astride him and began laying on a series of hefty blows.
“Hey, mate,” called out one of the West Perth boys, “That’s our parish priest you’re whacking into.”
In mid punch the Freo player turned ghostly white, leapt to his feet, apologized profusely and asked for forgiveness. He even stuck out his chin and asked Father Fitzgerald to give him “one back”, but Father was already off happily chasing the football further down the field.
Father’s playing days were long gone when I caught up with him again in Donnybrook, but he still retained his keen interest in football. At the time he was Parish Priest at St Mary's in Donnybrook.
In September 1975, the Donnybrook Football Team won their way into the South West League’s Grand Final for only the second time in its history. 
Interest in the town was at fever pitch. The mother of the coach of The Dons was a devout catholic and obviously had asked Father Fitzgerald to seek divine assistance.
Just before the final blessing at Mass on the Sunday morning of the Grand Final, Father Fitzgerald faced the congregation, and with his right hand raised on high, said, “I have been asked to seek God’s intercession in today’s game against Harvey Brunswick. All I can say is that in my experience God always seems to favour the side that goes in hard, gets the ball first and delivers it to advantage. Let us hope that the Dons play like that today.”
Unfortunately The Dons lost that day. It was Harvey Brunswick who went in hard, obtained the ball and delivered it to great efect.
The Dons tasted their initial Premiership success in 1977 against South Bunbury, when they did  play according to God’s plan as it had been outlined by Father Fitzgerald.
In 1976 I was the President of St Mary’s Parish Council. After our October meeting a group of Councillors discussed giving our hard working parish priest a small Christmas gift. One of the ladies on the council, a doyen of the local Country Women’s Association, said there was no need to buy a gift as she could provide a jar of her prized pickled strawberries. She added that in recognition of Father’s Celtic background the strawberries would be pickled in Irish whiskey.
We all thought this was a splendid idea and shortly before Christmas we presented our little gift with thanks and best wishes to Father Fitzgerald.
After spending the school vacation in Perth with my family, I returned to Donnybrook towards the end of January and soon bumped into Father Fitzgerald outside the newsagents.
After exchanging pleasantries, I enquired, “And tell me Father, did you enjoy those pickled strawberries?”
“Oh, indeed I did, Noel. Indeed, I did.”
Then, with a twinkle in his eyes he added, “But, you know, Noel, it was not so much the strawberries that I enjoyed, as the spirit in which they were given.”



Saturday, 17 November 2012

And so this is Christmas...a blast from the past.



This is a speech that I gave at the Joondalup District Principals Christmas Luncheon, held at the Boardwalk Restaurant in East Fremantle on Friday, December 9, 1999.
Why it was held at a venue almost 40 kilometres from Joondalup I  do not know?
At that time principals were just coming to grips with The Curriculum Framework and the Student Outcomes Statements. Perhaps we just wanted to get right away from it all.
Sadly, my good friend Geoff Woods, who features in a totally fictitious anecdote in my speech, passed away in 2009 after a long and brave battle with cancer. He was far too young and is  still sadly missed.
Sad too that my great mate, Clem Combes, has also passed on. The story told about Clem is completely true.
As for the venue, it was first class and it turned out to be quite long lunch. A bit like my speech (es).


Introduction: Approach microphone...stare at audience...pause for about thirty seconds seconds

Good afternoon everyone. 
Pardon my long pause, but I was just savouring all of your attention.
A few years ago at a Principals' Conference at the Sheraton Hotel I went to a concurrent session on Communications where I was told by an expert communicator that the most interest an audience has in a speaker is the period between his getting to the mike  and when he actually starts talking.
As soon as he opens his mouth the  interest drops away.
Yes, I can see it spilling all over the floor right now.
The interest level then flattens out to around 45%-55%, until the speaker says key words and phrases such as, "And in Conclusion" or "Finally, may I just say..." or "Before finishing let me make these three points".
Then the audience bustles and sits up straight, saying to themselves, "Oh, he's finishing. I'd better listen to these three last points." 
Of course some smart aleck speakers say that and then go tediously on and on  to raise another 15 more points.
Anyhow, I've resigned myself to this situation and know that most of you are now listening on auto pilot.
Brian Dick rang me up earlier in the week and began chatting away in a most affable fashion. I thought "Gee, Brian must be a well organised bloke. Here I am working flat out...work piled up all around...test papers, reports, accountability documents to be filled in, interruptions every 90 seconds and yet Brian has time to call me and chat about my health, the weather, the cricket. 
And then he hit me!
"Noel, you wouldn't mind saying a few words after the luncheon on Friday, would you?"
You wouldn't mind! It is very hard to refuse that form of request. Not many of us would say, "Yes, I jolly well would mind!"
No, we tend to want to please and so we agree.
Although, I was reluctant.
"Brian" I said. "I hope you don't want me to stand up and say something funny about the year in education. It is a very hard thing to do. A few years ago, Peter Meares was on the WAPPA publications committee and asked me to write regular humorous  articles about education  to WAPPA WORDS. It is very hard to do and readers of some of my stories in WORDS will know that they have only very tenuous links to education. Some unkind people have even said that my stories have even less tenuous links to humour!
Sensing my reluctance, Brian assured me I did not have to talk about education.
"Noel, you can talk about anything you like."
"Anything? you beauty I can talk about my hobby...raising Siamese lugg worms for fun and profit."
"Well," said Brian, "maybe not anything...but I'm sure you'll think of something."
And so here I am. But this is really a job for Jeff Woods. I remember when I was on Professional Development committees in the old Scarborough and Swanbourne Districts. I'd get on the phone and ask Jeff to give us a humorous summary of the year that was.And he always did it with style...and a big smile.
Of course the reason Jeff is always smiling is that he is fabulously wealthy.
He has made piles of money out of his vast text book publishing empire.
Piles of money. Of course there was a time when Jeff had piles of a different sort.
Haemorrhoids!
Jeff went to the chemist and brought some haemorrhoid cream.
You may remember the brand name of the cream. It was extensively advertised on T.V. as Anusol, pronounced Annu- sole. I thought that this was a clever, in fact, a very cheeky marketing ploy.
I mean annus is Latin for ring and it is also the medical term for what we call our bottom; our rear end, our backside, our posterior or as some rude people would say it, a word that rhymes with "grasshole". So Anusol cream is actually a really  fancy way of saying a word that rhymes with grasshole cream.
Anyhow Jeff, who likes a glass of wine occasionally, had had quite a few occasionals that night. As a result, when he went to the bathroom he was slightly bewitched, bothered and bewildered and he put the haemorrhoid cream on his toothbrush and  toothpaste on his haemmorhoids.
I saw Jeff a day or two later. He was not smiling.
He told me his lips were like dried prunes and his gum had all wrinkled up and were going into recession.
"Oh Jeff" I said that must be awful..."
"It certainly is, but, Noel there is one good thing."
"Oh, what's that, Geoff?"
"At least I  now have a ring of confidence!"

Today we are privileged to have with us Mr Peter Brown the Acting Director General.
He has certainly made a very positive impression since coming to the job.
Acting Director General. I must say I am looking forward to next March. I mean, he has been so good as Acting Director general. I think he will probably win the Academy Award.
"And for best Acting Director General in any category...the winner is...Peter Brown ...For his performance in EDWA!"
I met Peter some years ago. He would not remember. It was at a WAPPA cocktail party at the Langley Plaza to welcome the new Minister...Norman Moore.
Well anyhow, before the speeches got under way, then WAPPA President, Mike Berson, introduced me to Peter. I was pleased and surprised. Surprised...because up until then I had thought that HE was Norman Moore.
Of course Peter has been very busy visiting schools since he took over from Mrs Vardon...sometimes known as Dolly.
We've had a musical kind of year in Education.
First it was the sequel to Hello Dolly...Good-Bye Dolly. Then we got The Boy From West OZ!
I know my daughter,Emily, who was appointed to Carnarvon Primary School this year was quick to ring me up and say, "Dad, guess what? Today I had morning tea with the Director General and he even came into my room and talked with me and the children."
"He made a big impression. I told the children that Mr Roper was in charge of Carnarvon Primary School but Mr Brown was in charge of all of the schools in Western Australia. When he left one of the children said, "He's a very important man, Miss'.
"Yes, he's in charge of all the schools'.
'No miss, he's a very important man...he's wearing a dark suit!"
You don't see many suits, dark or otherwise, in Carnarvon.
Peter visited SIDE earlier this year.The School of Isolated and Distance Education. SIDE.
SIDE. What a name?
I mean it is not really good for our corporate image when the Director General and the Directors of Operations have a teleconference to expound EDWA policy and they have to go to SIDE to put on the show. It becomes just a sideshow!
I don't know what we can do with SIDE.
Distance and Isoloated Education School is DIES...not very suitable and Isolated and Distant Education School is IDES. We all know what happened to a great Roman leader on the Ides of March, so maybe EDWA leaders would shun going anywhere near IDES.
I think SIDE should be renamed...Technological  Electronic Regional Resource Institute For Improved Curriculum....TERRIFIC! 
Then instead of a teleconference being a SIDE-show it would be a TERRIFIC show.
Peter was visiting SIDE earlier this year. He was being shown around by my very good friend, Clem Combes, who is the Executive Officer for the Principals at SIDE.
Clem introduced Peter to a teacher we will call Sue.
Sue, I'd like you to meet Peter Brown, Director General of Education."
"He's not!"
"Yes, Sue, this is Peter Brown, the Director General"
"Oh, Clem. Don't be silly. He's not the D-G. He's one of your old fishing mates and I bet you've got him here to do some relief teaching!"
Clem was extremely embarrassed. But, here is the part of the story I like. The Director General rose to the occasion, nudged Clem to one side and said to Sue, "Yes, I'm Clem’s fishing mate alright and I'm dressed up in this suit just to do a day's relief!"
Now, that makes me feel good. I am very happy to know that the leader of our organisation has that sense of fun.
Yes, mistakes are often made. Mistakes about the right cream and where to put it. Mistakes about people, about mistaken identities.
But people can sometimes even misunderstand basic English.
I mean how many of you...before outcome statements...used to write double meaning reports.
You would write...Billy tries very hard.
The parents would be overjoyed. Good old Billy the little battler. They would proudly show the report to the grandparents.
What you actually meant was Billy had to try hard because he was a mental moron in Grade 7 who should never passed out of Grade Three.
Some other misunderstood report comments…
"Has a love of Oral Expression"....the class chatterer, drives everybody crazy.
"Has a finely tuned sense of fun"...the class clown. Disrupts every lesson.
Before I illustrate this point about misunderstanding the meaning of words, let me say that I do not swear.
It doesn't make me a better person but I just don't swear. I think it is because many years ago I was in National Service and later spent two years in what is now the Army Reserve. In the army swearing is actually the language that is spoken. Conversations consist of lengthy stretches of swearing interspersed with a few English words. It doesn't bother me...but I was always fascinated how a group of soldiers could stand around discussing the weather or the football in the foulest language and when a WAAF or nurse came within earshot they would carry on their conversation with all expletives deleted.
I just knew that I wouldn't be able to do that. I didn't have those verbal brakes.
If I became a swearer I wouldn't be able to suddenly stop in the presence of a lady.
I mention this because in demonstrating how quite simple and quite common words can be misunderstood I need to mention a word...it is not a swear word...it is a perfectly proper English word...but not one that pops up in general conversation, if it pops up anywhere at all. The word is penis.
Now we all know that penis is defined in most dictionaries as The male member! Now I find that very funny. The male member! Member of what? The cricket team? Member of parliament?
I have a mental picture of the male member sitting in the House of Lords, wearing a wig, the male member rising to...well, maybe not rising... 
Anyhow, I first came across the word penis when I was in grade three.
I was in Mrs Brown's class at Christian Brothers Highgate in Harold Street. Each day we had writing lessons...we called it transcription.
After lunch we would come into the room and Mrs Brown would have this beautiful copperplate writing on the board which we would  transcribe into our transcription books.
Under the letters that we had to practice writing would be a sentence for us to copy. This was always a proverb or aphorism such as “Manners maketh the man”, “Where there's a will there's a way”, “Time and Tide wait for no man”. 
While we were transcribing, Mrs Brown would talk to us about the message behind the sentence. Yes, even way back then they taught values in schools.
One day Mrs Brown said, "Noel Bourke stand up please and read the sentence on the board."
I quickly jumped to my feet and read out aloud, "The penis mightier than the sword."
Mrs Brown was not amused and asked another boy. He read, "The pen is mightier that the sword."
At afternoon recess my friends giggled and laughed at me. I had made a fool of myself. This was to become a lifelong trend.
One of them explained to me the meaning of the word penis. I was flabbergasted. I was seven years old and I already knew eight words for penis...and penis wasn't one of them.
There was this fellow who worked in a pickle factory. One day at breakfast he said to his wife, "You know, sometimes at the pickle factory I have this overwhelming urge to put my penis into the pickle slicer."
"You what?" exclaimed his wife. "You're sick! You need help. Ring the doctor. Get a referral to a sex therapist."
"No, I'll be alright" said the husband."I've got will power. I am in charge of my own body. I can control these urges. Don't worry about it."
A week later his wife came home from shopping. It was 1-00 clock in the afternoon and her husband was sitting slumped in a lounge chair. His face looked like wet, grey plasticine.
"Why are you home so early, Dear? What's the matter?"
"I couldn't help myself," said her husband."I just couldn't help myself. I put my penis in the pickle slicer"
"Oh no," screamed his wife. 'You didn't! What happened?"
"They gave me that sack."
"They gave you the sack? But what about...what about...well, you know...what about the pickle slicer?
"Oh, they gave her the sack too!"

Well, I think I have said enough to ensure that I will not be invited back next year. I can see my District Director, David Carvosso, making notes...obviously to do with my Performance Management tasks for next year... in Fitzroy Crossing!
So finally... and in conclusion...before I finish... just let me say...
Ah, now the attention levels are rising.
I just want to close by saying it is getting close to Christmas. Now I am of the old school that believes it is not really Christmas till Bing Crosby sings about it. So I propose to end with a little song.
It is not about Christmas...it is about education...after all this is a gathering of educators.
The words came to me in a flash of brilliance today at morning tea time.The well known tune is linked to Christmas and dear old Bing Crosby.
Despite what you are about to hear, I did actually practise this song this morning and it is possible some of you  may recognise parts of the tune...when I sing in tune that is.


“Oh, I'm working with an outcomes statement
Not like the way I worked before.
Then the children would listen, and I would teach them
How in tests to get a good score.

Oh, I'm working with an outcomes statement
and with each report card that I write
I say, ”You've achieved some sort of outcome all right.
So that must make you very, very bright.”

That's right, folks...Jingle Bells!
Merry Christmas to you all.

                                                                                                       

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

What is leadership? Now that is a leading question.




What is leadership? Well, that is a leading question?
The WA Primary Principals Association has always promoted leadership as a major function of the principalship. Many of its excellent workshops and annual conferences have leadership as their main focus.
Today it would seem that principals and deputies are more in need of leadership qualities than ever before. 
In earlier times school leaders were confident in the knowledge that their District Directors and significant decision makers at district and head office had all had practical experience as teachers and principals. Principals were confident that this systemic school experience would bring a high level of understanding and support to the many issues that school administrators faced on a daily basis. This is no longer the case.
These days schools are operating under District Directors who, in some cases, have little or no practical experience of primary schools. At the same time schools have become increasingly independent of “The Department” and now carry out much of the data processing previously done by Staffing and Salaries Branch. 
More and more responsibility has devolved to schools and Principals are finding that if a problem exists they are the ones who are expected to fix it, not someone in District Office or the Department.
So leadership in this bright and increasingly independent brave new world is vital.
But what is leadership? How is it defined? Well, do not look in the latest edition of Australia's Macquarie Dictionary for a concise definition. There is none. There are definitions of “Lead” and “Leader” but none on leadership. So in order to become Australian of the Year, Citizen of the Month or perhaps Person of the Day, I feel it is my duty to make up for Macquarie's serious omission and provide some definitions of Leadership.
Shakespeare said that, “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them”. It is like that with leadership. 
Sometimes leaders can have doubts about their ability to lead or even why they wanted to be leaders in the first place. “It's hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in crocodiles” is one anonymous leader's view of that situation.
Others are overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks before them. 
As U.S. Educator, author and motivational speaker, Steve Farber, has observed, quite brilliantly in my opinion, “Leadership is a scary thing. That is why so few people want to stand up to the plate. There are many people who want to be matadors, only to find themselves in the ring with a 2 000 pound bull bearing down on them, and then discover that what they really wanted was just to wear tight pants and hear the crowd roar.” I've been to a few parent meetings and felt just like that matador.
Farber also emphasises the need for leaders to be energetic promoters of vision and enthusiasm. “We have all worked with people who are entirely lacking in energy or are walking black holes of human existence; they suck energy out of whomever they walk into. So the litmus test for all of us is, ‘Do I generate more energy when I walk into a room or when I walk out of it?'” Good question.
Napoleon, who knew a thing or two about leadership, said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Another noted warrior, U.S. General Omar Bradley, said, “The greatest leader in the world could never win a campaign unless he understood the men he had to lead.”
Ah, yes, knowing the troops you will lead is very important. As our great friend, Anonymous, once said, “Hire Rembrandt to do the painting and don't tell him how to paint.”  Or, as my father used to say, “It's no good buying a dog and barking yourself.”
One thing we do know about Leadership is that it is very different from Management. This was made abundantly clear by noted British journalist and author, Russell H. Ewing, who said:
“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence.
A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes.
A boss knows all, a leader asks questions.
A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.
A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group.”
So obviously, good leaders not only have to enthuse, they must also get the best out of the people they lead. Jim Collins, respected author of several books on leadership, including “How the Mighty Fail” says that, “Leaders who go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who”. They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats...first the people, then the direction.” This view of leadership offers hope to principals of Independent Public Schools who may now exercise a greater degree of control over who is on or off the bus and in what direction it is travelling.
It may come as a great surprise to some to learn that the Vatican applauds the increasing trend for schools to shake off the shackles of departmental bureaucracy and trek boldly forth where no school has gone before. A Papal Encyclical states that, “It is an injustice, and a grave disturbance of the right order, for a large and higher organization to abrogate to itself functions which can be performed more efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.” No, that is not Docker’s Coach, Ross Lyon, talking to Aaron Sandilands about Hayden Ballentyne's role, it is a Papal Encyclical. It may have been referring to totalitarian states but there it is, in infallible black and white.
Perhaps how to be a successful school leader is best answered in the negative. Herbert Bayard Swope was a famed U.S. Editor and journalist who won the first Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1917. Among other things he said, “I cannot tell you the secret of success, but I can tell you the reason for failure...try to please everybody.”
Some of us learn from hard experience that if you try to please everybody you end up pleasing nobody. A good leader listens to advice, but ultimately it is the leader who makes the decision based on what is right, not on who will or will not like it. 
As Buddha said over 2000 years ago, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense”. 
 Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the U.S.A., advised those who would lead, “That in matters of style, go with the current. In matters of principle stay with the rocks.” 
As usual Shakespeare succinctly summed it up, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”
I first came to the principalship at Donnybrook District High School far too many moons ago. In my youthful exuberance to make the world a better place I may indeed have started out by trying to please everybody. I certainly did not want to appear as “a walking black hole of human existence.” 
Fortunately, Margaret Forrest, a very wise and generous teacher, took me aside one day and said, “Noel, if you want to be the leader of the band you have to turn your back on the crowd and face the music.”
Over the years I have found this to be excellent advice and in line with the leadership philosophy of one of my favourite writers who suggested:
“Be who you are
and say what you feel,
because those who mind don't matter
and those who matter don't mind” (Dr Seuss).





Monday, 5 November 2012

Reaping the whirlwind



I believe historians in twenty years time will review Julia Gillard's performance as Prime Minister in a favourable light. Despite leading a minority party in a hung parliament,  Julia Gillard's government has already established a remarkable legislative record. The mining tax, the carbon tax, renewable energy programmes, the dental scheme and the disability services scheme are just some of the seminal programmes that will impact positively on Australian society  for many years to come.

On the other hand, it is likely the Prime Minister Gillard's policies on education will ultimately be seen to be misguided and possibly even damaging to our society. Julia Gillard, was deeply impressed by the now largely discredited standardised testing regime of the New York  school system and, as a result, as Minister for Education, established NAPLAN and Myschool in 2009.

Since that time Australian schools have been in competition with each other to impress parents with their NAPLAN scores. In some schools it has even created competition between classes and their teachers as they strive to produce better NAPLAN scores.

At the same time, a most unfortunate consequence has seen school administrators exerting pressure on early childhood teachers to drop their informal “play way” methods and adopt much more formal instruction in literacy and numeracy. As a result, in some schools, Kindergarten and Pre Primary classes are quickly becoming the new Year One and Year Two classes. A whole generation of children of 4 and 5 year olds are losing their creative and imaginative childhood by being forced to “grow up’ too quickly.

In recent statements, Ms Gillard has said that Australia needs to lift its game in education. She identifies five Asian countries as models of what our Australian education system should be. Her federal government’s education policy is now heavily influenced by the results of the international education survey known as PISA, which has placed Finland and five Asian countries at the top of its premiership table.Unlike Australia, none of these countries has an indigenous population or a multi cultural mix that includes many families from non English speaking backgrounds.

But what exactly is PISA? It is the Programme for International Assessment which was created by the OECD. PISA, based in Paris, tests a random sample of 15 year olds in a number of countries to see how well equipped they are to face the big wide world of work. It tests subjects which are easily testable like mathematics, reading and science. PISA tested maths in 2003, science in 2006 and reading in 2009. This year some randomly selected students in 30 countries were tested in mathematics plus some optional computer based assessments in mathematics and reading.

The tests are not based on any particular national curriculum, but the bean counters in Paris say PISA provides a powerful tool to influence government policies. Nobody has bothered to explain why? Indeed, nobody has even bothered to ask why?

The Asian countries that Ms Gillard has identified generally espouse  system of standarised testing akin to NAPLAN. Indeed, in many of these Asian countries many children spend a great deal of their out of school time attending special study classes to help them achieve success in the standardised test. Parents pay thousands of dollars to have their children coached in this way.

Systems that devote considerable time to stanardised testing generally promote competition instead of cooperation and produce students who lack team building skills, creativity and resilience. Japan is one Asian country that has developed an education system based on standardised testing.We would do well to heed the words of TIME Magazines’s Michael Schuman, who in a recent article on Japan, (“Doing it their way”, TIME, October 22, 2012) quotes, William Saito, recently appointed to the Japanese Prime Minister’s Council on National Strategy and Policy. Mr Saito, a U.S. born self made, wealthy entrepreneur, is worried that the Japanese education system, heavily based on  testing, has stifled risk taking and entrepreneurship.He wants a society that encourages risk taking, teamwork, cooperation and creativity. He feels that these attributes  are necessary to stimulate Japan's economic development.

“The exam obsessed education system stifles independent thinking, while instilling a highly competitive atmosphere”, observes Schuman. He quotes Saito as saying that the Japanese test based education sysytem ,”created a society that can no longer work together...students are mentally programmed to hate each other.”

Australia is not at this sad stage...yet.

However, if the misleading power of PISA continues to tilt Australia towards the Asian way of education then we will certainly be sowing  the wind and reaping  the whirlwind. Ironically, Ms Gillard did not mention Finland, another of PISA’s educational leaders.

Finland does not start formal education until children are seven years old. It has no standardised testing whatsover, except for the national end of school exams, similar to Western Australian Certificate of Education exams at the end of Year 12. The only other tests Finnish children receive throughout their entire schooling are set by their teachers. Go figure.