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Reaching For The Stars

Posted on 17 Aug 2009

A recently released OECD report has found that people in the developed world now spend 20 percent more on communication services – such as cellphones and internet – than in 1995, highlighting the increasingly vital role that technology plays in our lives and in society as a whole.

During the weekend, I wrote my latest edition of Heather Roy's Diary ( about just how crucial IT is becoming to the education of our children. As an example I mentioned the Computer Clubhouse Network – a global initiative started by MIT in the US to provide children from under-served communities with access to technology and mentors they would not otherwise be able to obtain for themselves. Last week I visited the Computer Clubhouse in South Auckland which caters for young people from low-income homes.

The feedback I have received from this Diary has been interesting and it appears that a small number of Diary readers may have mis-understood the way the Computer Clubhouse runs. For instance, one correspondent has expressed misgivings over core subjects being sacrificed for "pop" subjects – such as video degsign, graphic design, web design, music production, etc.

The Computer Clubhouse programmes are an after school initiative – rather than replacing core subjects, the lessons they offer complement the learning that children do during the school day. Better still, the students who attend the Clubhouse are more likely to

This same correspondent also warned against giving school children ambitions "beyond their capabilities" – claiming many would be "doomed to disappointment" and a deep sense of failure when they realise they aren't going to become film directors, TV stars, Olympic athletes and the like.

I disagree. All children have the potential to succeed, but they can only achieve that success when they have a dream or a goal to aspire to. It is our job as grown-ups to help ensure they have the opportunities and goals to aspire to more than mediocrity. We can help our children attain their goals by encouraging success, celebrating it as it comes, and by equipping them with the knowledge and tools to pursue their goals into an increasingly technological future.

By not providing these tools and opportunitie we limit children's options – effectively taking them out of the race before they've even left the starting line – and, in doing so, damage the productivity and innovation of our society in the generations to come.

"We must overcome the notion that we must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary, and leads you to the mediocre." – Uta Hagen; American actress and drama teacher.

Rough And Tumble In The Schoolyard

Posted on 17 Aug 2009

An article in the Manawatu Standard caught my eye this weekend, reporting that Roslyn (primary) School in Palmerston North is bucking the political correctness trend by allowing its boys to play tackle rugby and bullrush. Bullrush has been banned in most schools aroundt the country.

Both these games were staple playground fare when I was at school and, I have to say, neither I or my classmates were any the worse for it.

Over the years, however, a disturbing trend of wrapping kids up in cotton wool pervaded our schools – lolly scrambles became lolly handouts in case a child was hurt by a flying sweet, and risk and challenge were eliminated from schoolyard games. This may have removed the chance of injury, but it also left childtren bereft of adventure.

But children thrive on the sort of rough and tumble that games like tackle rugby and bullrush provide, especially when the games are supervised – in Roslyn School's case, by two dads. This is highlighted by the acting deputy principal's comments that – having had the opportunity to let of some steam and get some one-on-one time with positive male role models – the boys are more engaged and focused in their learning, teachers are able to teach instead of dealing with classroom disturbances, and the school has experienced a drop in bad behaviour.

Many children who don't get to test their limits and take small risks will seek out such opportunities and stimulation on their own – and, away from adult supervision, can get into very real danger. By allowing our kids to be kids – with all the scrapes and adventure that entails – we build their confidence, boost their pride and help them learn teamwork and camaraderie.

Well done Roslyn School and volunteer Dad's - your boys will remember you for this above all else and thank you in the future. I just have one question - why are the girls excluded? I used to love playing bullrush.

Reminder: Don't Forget To Vote

Posted on 16 Aug 2009

Just five days left to vote on the referendum regarding parental rights to discipline their children. Don't think the result is a foregone conclusion - democracy rests on people making sure they have their say, and this issue is all about democracy. Over 300,000 people signed a petition to say they wanted a referendum on the anti-smacking isssue. It's not easy to get this many people to sign up to anything other than lotto - a sad reflection on our society perhaps but true all the same.

Politicians need to learn to listen to the people and this is one of the few opportunities you will have other than at general election time. If your voting papers are still sitting in your in-tray or on your bench, fill them in now and send them off. The referendum closes this Friday, 21 August. Have your say.

Sir Robert Peel's Nine Principles

Posted on 15 Aug 2009

While writing the previous blog post (Banning texting while Driving) I mentioned Sir Robert Peel's 9 Principles of Policing. It's a while since I've looked at them but they are worth revisting frequently - refreshing to see a pricipled base.

Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet (5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850) was twice Prime Minister of the UK from 10 December 1834 to 8 April 1835, and again from 30 August 1841 to 29 June 1846. He helped create the modern concept of the police force while Home Secretary and is often referred to as the father or founder of modern community policing. He oversaw the formation of the Conservative Party which arose out of the shattered Tory Party.

Sir Robert Peel's Nine Principles of Policing

1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public
approval of police actions.
3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary
observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the
4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes
proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by
constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the
law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and
warning is found to be insufficient.
7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives
reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public
are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to
give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the
interests of community welfare and existence
8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and
never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the
visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Texting To Be Banned While Driving

Posted on 14 Aug 2009

Between 2003 - 2008 there have been 25 fatal accidents involving the use of cellphones. The worst accident I've ever come across was one where a young driver reached across to get a lolly out of her glove-box, veered across to the wrong side of the road and had a head on collision, killing herself and injuing the elderly couple in the oncoming car. This was on a long stretch of straight Canterbury road on a fine day with excellent visibility. Drivers do some very silly things.

Today the Minister of Transport announced that talking on hand-held cellphones and texting while driving would be banned from 1 November. Those caught will face an $80 fine and receive 20 demerit points. To be frank you would have to be an idiot to text while driving, but plenty do, and police have the ability to and do charge those they catch engaging in dangerous driving of this kind. Will it make any difference? Campaigners say that better education on the dangers is the only way to reduce the road toll.

There are some exemptions. You can call 111 or *555 in the case of a genuine emergency. Hands free sets can still be used.

The most surprising is that the police will be exempt. One might have thought that they should be setting an example and the police themselves are not immune from having accidents. Surely the safe and responsible thing to do is pull over to take or make a call. And what of the secure radio network that is being rolled out around the country - needed but expensive and should render cellphones unnecessary? The secure radio's are safer to use and much more secure than a cellphone.

I have some difficulty when there are two standards of behaviour - one for the population and a lesser standard for our law enforcers. As Sir Robert Peel, father of the modern day polic force famously said : the police are members of the public who are paid to give fulltime attention to duties which are encumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence. (from the nine principles of Sir Robert Peel)

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