Sunday, November 29, 2009

Joined Up Thinking But Disjointed Presentation Over PSHE Curriculum And Gender Violence

Now, I could be wrong, but I don't think the Government are doing themselves many favours with the way they have announced their proposals to make personal, social and health education (PSHE) a compulsory part of the National Curriculum from 2011.

From what I've heard of the proposals, they seem to be uncharacteristically well thought through.  It's been informed by teacher, parent and youth involvement, for a start.

You might think that's something to be pleased with (and you'd be right), but that word in italics has been niggling at me.  Any details on the new curriculum are five clicks away from the front page of the DCSF website, which seems completely wrong to me - surely such significant changes should be directly linked from the "Hot Topics" info box on the homepage?  Worse, only a brief and slightly misleading press release from April is to be found in the DirectGov Newsroom.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pupils From Tanzania Say A Little Bit More

A follow up from this morning, the students I filmed in Tanzania have a little bit more to say about themselves and their schools.

Us and Our School - Hoja-COCO Students Part 2 from Phil Hatchard on Vimeo.

Pupils From Tanzania Say Hello

As most of you reading this probably know, I was in Tanzania from May until August this year working on the Hoja Project. I took a video camera out with me and did some filming.

Yesterday I hacked together some of the footage I have of our pupils at two different schools - the vocational and secondary students at the VTC (referred to as "Hoja Secondary School" throughout the video), and the secondary students at Lupunga Secondary School. So here it is:

Let Us Introduce Ourselves - Hoja-COCO Students Part 1 (7 Minute Version) from Phil Hatchard on Vimeo.

I'm hoping to use this as part of a project to start up some dialogue between one or more schools in the UK (or elsewhere), and our students in Tanzania. The kids also asked some brilliant questions they'd like answered by UK students, which I'll edit and get up.

If you'd like to get involved in this, email me at and we'll get the ball rolling.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reading List: Aid, Taxation and Ownership

I've been sitting on a few pages lately related to development.  I'm clearly not going to get around to writing a proper blog post on them, and the number of tabs open on my Mozilla Firefox is growing day by day, so I'm just going to link to them and say briefly what they are, in approximate chronological order.  Maybe it will form itself into some kind of thoughtful blog post.

I've come across a couple of posts from Aid Thoughts and AidWatch about taxation in developing countries and its positive effect on accountability and infrastructure.  The AidWatch article about taxation and vaccination either side of an arbitrary line drawn in colonial Nigeria is rather over-simplified, I feel, but the principle is worth looking at further.

Aid Thoughts have made another post today about Ownership and the Paris Declaration, how true ownership is necessary for effective development, but that for true ownership, donors need to trust Governments to drive their own agenda.

Of course, faith in Governments to do the right thing should correlate positively with their accountability to the people, which in turn should increase with taxation, so it all links in together.  I can't imagine however, how the Tanzanian Government would begin to effectively and fairly tax the people of rural Songea, to use a region I know quite well.  An easy tax would be VAT, but that's regressive and hurts the very poorest people disproportionately.  A poll tax wouldn't be much better.  Implementation's going to be a bit of a bugger.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sexuality Education in UK Schools: A Pupil's Perspective

Having been to a Christian Brothers' school when I was younger, I never really received any sex education. The sum total was one biology lesson when I was eleven, when my teacher (the excellent Mr Wilkinson) made it very clear that sex is to be enjoyed by both parties, and to be gentle with a girl if it's her first time.

As a teacher, I was never form tutor to the relevant year group, so never led any sex education either. My knowledge is fairly good, I know that sex education in the UK is generally mediocre at best, and that it's usually led by form tutors who don't have any choice in the matter (or training).

With the Government making PSHE a compulsory subject on the National Curriculum, this all looks set to change, although details are sketchy at the moment. The vague allusions to the as-yet unpublished syllabus sound rather promising, and not too dissimilar to UNESCO's Guidlines to Sexuality Education.

In the meantime I'm still quite interested in the current system's shortcomings. So when my friend Hannah, who is in sixth form, mentioned she'd had sex ed yesterday, I took the opportunity to ask her what she thinks of it. And this is the conversation that ensued:

Hannah: To be brutally honest- the school sex education system is pretty much the most pointless lesson in existence (though saying that my favorite lesson ever was a sex education lesson with a nurse who was clearly very down to earth and hilariously funny).

Today we just had the general chat about protection, what to do if you get pregnant and STIs. It wasn't ever so in depth as the teachers don't really like talking about it. Last year we put condoms on little models only to be told that in 'real life' it was nothing like what we had just learnt.

The next week we had the nurse come and talk to us and it was one of the funniest- disturbing talks I've ever had and it will NEVER leave me. I don't think that happens at most schools though sadly, if it did people would be much more aware.

Journalism and Statistics

We all know that some publications will wilfully misrepresent numbers, but I often find myself far more annoyed by journalists who clearly don't really understand statistics or how to write about them.

Today the BBC have reported on the apparent positive effects on health of Transcendental Meditation:
"After nine years, the meditation group had a 47% reduction in deaths, heart attacks and strokes."
Now, I suspect that this means that the there were 47% fewer deaths, heart attacks and strokes in the TM group than in the control group.

What the journalist has actually written is that quite a lot of them were dying, or having heart attacks or strokes before, and that's happening less now.  Of course, if so many of them were dying at the start, there would be fewer people left to die or have heart attacks or strokes, so a reduction wouldn't be all that surprising.

On this occasion, this doesn't really make a great difference to anyone's interpretation of the story - it's obvious what the journo really means and we all learn that relaxation techniques are good for our health (I'd never have guessed).

But it's not always so harmless.  During political conference season, I heard David Cameron on Radio 4 backing up his argument with the statistic along the lines of "there is a greater number of children living in the UK without a working parent than in other EU countries" (I can't remember the exact wording).

Sounds reasonable, and the journalist failed to challenge him.  I say "failed", because he should have.  There are only four countries in Europe that have a greater population than the UK - France, Germany, Russia and Turkey - and only two of those are in the EU.  So it's not really surprising that there is a "greater number of children without a working parent" - most European countries have less than a fifth of the population of the UK.

Cameron's statistic, whilst possibly true, was utterly meaningless and should have been clarified or dismissed.  Do journalists receive any training on this?

Thanks to Claire for spotting the BBC article.

[Edit: Just found this link - Statistics Help for Journalists - which assumes absolutely no prior knowledge and includes this gem of a quote: "Well, mathematicians have developed an entire field - statistics - dedicated to getting answers out of numbers."]

Monday, November 16, 2009

It Must Be A Slow News Day

You know you're bending the definition of newspaper when your front page story was dissected and discredited three weeks before publication.

Never mind, eh?  Presumably they took a second look at the research that Chemicals used in plastics feminise the brains of little boys 'so that they avoid rough and tumble games', and decided there must have been at least some scientific rigour from which we can all learn.
The women, who gave birth to 74 boys and 71 girls, were contacted again when their children were aged four to seven and asked about the toys the youngsters played with, the activities they liked and their personalities.
Small sample size?  Simplistic measurements?  Apparent lack of any kind of experimental control?

It's science.

Credit to Cath Elliott for the far more detailed blog post of three weeks ago.

In other news, something in the Sun annoyed me on Saturday and I couldn't resist writing my first Quail.

[Edit: Sadly, now it seems the BBC are at it too.  It's not far off being a carbon copy of the Mail article.  Thanks to Simon for the spot.]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

They Work For You: Debate on Maternal Health in the Commons

For some time I've been receiving various email alerts whenever specific people say anything or whenever key words are mentioned in the House of Commons.  I get this through They Work For You, which is an excellent resource.

I'm not going to write a proper blog post about it, but I just received an email that included a debate about maternal deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa, which I found interesting and depressing in equal measure.

I'll just leave you with a short quote from Gareth Thomas MP, Minister of State, DfID:
"In sub-Saharan Africa, 250,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications.  In some countries, the figure is much higher. Almost half the maternal deaths occur in just four countries: Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Tanzania."
Those of you who know me will see why I picked out that particular snippet.

Advertising expenditure figures on various health issues are also quite revealing.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Won't Somebody Think Of The Children?! Or, media coverage of new sex education guidelines

I only just got around to looking at it, but I wasn't surprised to find a lot of moral indignation in the press coverage of Ed Balls' new sex education guidelines.  I'd cite specific examples but you might as well just randomly open any article and the chances are it will be against the new proposals.

The worrying thing is that the focus is almost entirely on the right of parents to withdraw children from the age of 15 and upwards from sex education classes.  The current rule is that parents are able to withdraw 19 year olds from such classes.

Nineteen, you say?  But that's a fully grown adult.  Surely they can make their own decisions?

Well, yes, quite.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Belated End of October Premier League Predictions Table

The standings, at the start of today, and it's all change at the top.  And bottom:

50 pts - Sean
52 pts - Anthony
53 pts - Abad
54 pts - Katie
60 pts - Phil C
62 pts - Phil H
65 pts - Hysen
71 pts - Martin

For the stattos

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I'm Not Suggesting That Scientists Are Just As Bad As Hitler, But...

According to the Daily Mail today, in a variation on their usual "I'm not racist, but.." approach, Professor Nutt would have got on famously with old Adolf.   [Edit: I've changed the link to a twitpic of the original article - the Mail had removed the picture of Hitler from the page.]

No, I'm not kidding.  This isn't even worth writing a proper blog post.

But do join in with PollJack's new campaign and vote "Yes" to "Should alcohol and tobacco be reclassified as more dangerous than Ecstasy or LSD?"

[Edit: An excellent blog post by Nick Cohen on Godwin's Law, which is the law that any debate that rages long enough will end with someone comparing something to Hitler or the Nazis, and thus losing the argument.]