Monday, April 30, 2018

APY lands — drugs and alcohol, child sexual abuse, family and domestic violence, unemployment

Indigenous children no safer from abuse than a decade ago

Children living in remote Aboriginal communities in South Australia’s far north are no safer from sexual abuse than they were a decade ago, with Premier Steven Marshall warning there is no silver bullet for the “very significant” issues.

Ten years ago today former Supreme Court judge Ted Mullighan revealed widespread sexual abuse of children and substantial under-reporting of incidents in his “Children on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands” report.

A raft of recommendations were adopted by the state government, but Sue Tilley, a researcher for the Mullighan inquiry and Uniting Communities’ manager of indigenous policy and advocacy, said there was no evidence this “box-ticking exercise” had made children in the APY lands any safer.

“It was a missed opportunity,” she told The Australian. “They could have done a whole lot more in terms of having a sustained approach, an on-the-ground embedded approach, working with families rather than a mere fly-in, fly-out ­approach.”

A royal commission into South Australia’s child protection system reported in 2016 that there was no reason to ­believe the incidence of child sexual abuse in the APY lands had reduced since the Mullighan inquiry.

The state’s Department of Child Protection has ­inves­tigated 319 allegations of child abuse in the area since July. Mr Marshall, who oversees the Aboriginal affairs portfolio, said solving the “very significant” issues in the APY lands would be one of his government’s biggest challenges.

“There are serious social problems on the APY lands — drugs and alcohol, child sexual abuse, family and domestic violence, unemployment — but there is no silver bullet,’’ he said.

A Child Protection Department spokeswoman said six APY lands-based workers had started in the past six months.

- The Australian 30-4-2018
This report has a familiar ring to it. People express shock and outrage at dysfunctional remote indigenous communities. Government responds by holding an inquiry and / or Royal Commission. Ten years later the cycle is repeated. See my earlier blog about this: dysfunctional community syndrome in remote Queensland (and West Australia)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

why software might be superior knowledge

Software is not a product. It is a medium in which we store knowledge. Historically, in the order of their coming about, there have been 5 such media:
  1. DNA
  2. Brains
  3. Hardware
  4. Books
  5. Software
The reason software has become the storage medium of choice is that knowledge in software has been made active. It has escaped the confinement and volatility of knowledge in brains; it avoids the passivity of knowledge in books; it has the flexibility and speed of change missing from knowledge in DNA or hardware.

This analysis originates from Philip Armour. The five orders of ignorance.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

RACHEL is the answer

What was the question?: How do we bring computing based learning to very remote Australians at low cost?
(watch the 40 minute video at the bottom of the above page)

RACHEL = Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning

You can upload your own content (and customise existing content) so lots of indigenous, geographically relevant material can be added

Sunday, April 22, 2018

I survived a Centrelink phone call wait

To put it crudely: it is not so much that bureaucratic procedures are inherently stupid, or even that they tend to produce behavior that they themselves define as stupid, but rather, that are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence
- David Graeber (link)
After 87 days (22nd Jan - 19th April) my old age pension application to Centrelink was finally resolved in my favour.

During this process I submitted 2 complaints to Centrelink (earlier blog), a complaint to Nigel Scullion's office and a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The whole process is done on line these days. When it came to making phone calls to Centrelink I had to wait one time for 30 minutes (when I gave up), a second time for 20 minutes and the final time for 50 minutes.

When I made my second complaint to Centrelink (on the phone) I was told that most claims are settled in 49 days.

I have been on the old age pension twice before and in those cases everything was finalised within a couple of weeks. Things have changed dramatically. I guess this happened during the Abbott PM years.

The Ombudsman's office told me that some claimants have had to wait 2 hours on the phone. They advised me to keep phoning and this proved to be the most effective strategy in the end. My advice is to call them, put it on speaker phone and make dinner while you are waiting. The violin concerto is tedious but it could be worse.

When I ring a business such as the Commonwealth Bank they have a call back facility. Not Centrelink.

At no time was I interviewed face to face. All documents have to be submitted digitally. This impersonality of the process combined with very long waits on the phone would seem to be designed to induce people to give up. It would be devastating to someone in dire financial need. Certainly there were times when I felt I would never receive what I believed was my right according to Australian Law.

I thought of a good T shirt slogan, "I survived a Centrelink phone call wait". I just typed it into google and this article popped up:
Older Australians are waiting an average of 25 minutes to speak with Centrelink on the phone and more than 33 million calls have gone unanswered in the past nine months.
- Can't get through to Centrelink? Busy signals jump as pensioners wait longer to talk to staff

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Remote Teacher Corp for indigenous students

"Apart from targeted incentive packages, there are two other ways we could lift quality teaching in remote schools... The second is to look at senior teachers at the other end of their careers who could sign up to a Remote Teacher Corps program for a rotational pool of senior and experienced teachers to work in remote schools"
Something in Warren Mundine's book, In Black and White, pp. 301-2 helped me recall and find an article in The Australian from 2014: Making a difference in indigenous education, Andrew Penfold, The Australian, October 18, 2014

Andrew Penfold is the Executive Director of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) which provides scholarships that enable Indigenous students to attend leading Australian schools and universities.

The section of the article that most interested me is quoted above, the idea of senior and experienced teachers forming a Remote Teacher Corp.

This should have potential. It is actually what I am doing as an individual on my own initiative. But you can't achieve much as an individual. A Remote Teacher Corp is a great idea.

Friday, April 13, 2018

technology and indigenous progress

This is the next iteration of my thoughts which began with "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky"


Progessive pathway: from little bits big bytes grow
Conservative pathway: the sinister glamour of modernity

Technology initially invades, just like colonialism.

When the Yolngu first saw a ship’s anchor they thought the explanation for such a massive amount of metal was that it must come from the gods. Up to that point they had only traded small amounts of metal for spear tips, with the Macassans.

But unlike colonialism, the attraction of the new technology is an irresistible force. Rusted car bodies litter remote Australia, the legacy of opportunist car dealers exploiting the indigenous.

Technology without understanding is not empowerment. The cargo cult is not liberation.

Others speak of the sinister glamour of modernity. That is sometimes true. In 19thC Australia the combination of repeating rifles, horses and native police recruited at a distance were used to brutally crush the local tribes.

How do we frame the whole discussion about technology and change?

There are arguments for and against the use of more sophisticated technology in schools.

The most common expression of this is that technology is just a tool, which assists us in delivering a curriculum whose content is determined by other factors independent of technology (instrumentalism)

More interesting is the them and us framing. There are two version of them and us.

The first has a Damnation theme, as represented in movies or characters such as HAL, the computer in 2001: a Space Odyseey, The Matrix and Terminator.

The second theme is Salvation. A few years ago Ray Kurzweil predicted a Singularity at 2020 when due to increasing processing power machines transform into something totally different.

Rather than them and us I prefer the augmentation theme: Us as Them, We the Machines. We use technology as a means to augment our human characteristics - something that we have already been doing for thousands or millions of years

Nevertheless there remains a difference between commercial progress and human progress. Commercial progress is mainly about making more money. This leads to rhetorical lameness and a dumbing down of the true potential of technology. Commercial rhetoric focuses on technology hype, jobs, money and the obligatory “fun”. They ignore real economic analysis (deep problems of capitalism), philosophy, social justice, cultural diversity, learning theory and that we are dealing with a new medium.

Digital is the new medium, the new literacy. How could you justify resistance to that?

STEM is overhyped and promoted in the wrong way by commercial interests. But it makes as much sense to resist STEM as a monk scribe resisting the printing press in the 15thC. Resistance is futile, you will lose. More importantly, it is not the right thing to do.

1450: printing press invented by Gutenberg
1454,5: Gutenberg Bible produced (Gutenberg Bible )
1456-mid 80s: classical and religious books were produced, essentially copies of profitable old manuscript books
1484: the first scientific illustrations appeared in books

The first novel did not appear till the 1700's and comics did not appear till the 1900's.

So, it's reasonable to assume that the older generation has to die out before the new generation can find their own path. Although the older generation has it's share of creative visionaries they are marginalised by the majority.

NEXT SECTION Exemplars before detailed rationale. But the exemplars need to tap into both local, contextual culture and a proven or at least plausible learning theory.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

technology as trickster, revisited

I wrote the following in 2006 (original) I looked it up because I've been thinking more about the epistemological and technological rationale as part of my 3 teething rings in my "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky" article. ie. there has to be a powerful and persuasive rationale to bring digital technology to indigenous people. I'm not there yet. Some critics argue that the STEM push is over hyped and I recognise that commercial interests will do that.

2006 article begins with this cartoon which shows Alan Turing tangled up with his invention:
I've been rereading about Alan Turing, one of the inventors of the idea of the computer, and Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach. It's slow going because sadly, I've neglected my maths over the years.

This relates to the old discussion / biases about technology. Some people see technology as reactionary, eg. The Greens, Braverman, Theodore Roszak, Michael Apple. Others see it as neutral, just a tool that can be used for good or bad. I see technology as having a life and evolution of its own, its own internal dynamic. We are co-evolving with technology.

To ask, "Is technology progressive?" is equivalent to asking, "Are humans progressive?" My answer is "yes" but it's the wrong question to start with.

I think we can say that humans are technology. I've long been aware of an essay by Engels (1876), The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, which argues that the hand preceded and in turn assisted the evolution of the human brain.

Alan Turing's concept of the universal computer is saying the same thing from another direction. Humans are technology.
" ... there is really only one kind of computer, or, more precisely, that all kinds of computers are alike in what they can and cannot do .... whether its' built of transistors, sticks and strings, or neurons ... making a computer think like a brain is just a matter of programming it correctly."
- W. Daniel Hillis, The Pattern on the Stone, p. ix
2018 update: [I am a materialist but no longer believe that computers can be made to think like brains and so have to think more about the implications of that now]

My point is that you have to ask the more fundamental, structural question, "What is technology?" first in order to answer the sociologists question, "Is technology progressive?" The latter question is the wrong question because it immediately encourages people to separate humans from technology whereas in reality we are just two different variants of an evolutionary process.

Part of this thought was triggered by a recent essay by Jeremy Price, Technology as Trickster (update 2018: unfortunately, I can't find this on the web anymore), where he rejects both the ideas of technology as neutral and the McLuhan idea of "techno-zen environment/ecology" (technology as just a medium). Jeremy draw his metaphor by imaginatively cross fertilising from a book by Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, linking Hyde's observations about human behaviour to machine behaviour. Jeremy's conclusion:
The idea of technology as neutral, as a hammer or screwdriver to do with as we please, sits uncomfortably with me. The strict Canadian-McLuhan ideal of a techno-zen environment/ecology ("technology exists") similarly does not work for me, for while I like the idea in theory, I cannot get away from my American bias towards the idea of "progress." In my mind, the idea of Technology as Trickster allows for progress but not in a way that is our own design; try as we might to deny it, technology still has agency. Technology may not have a "human consciousness" (I think we're still working on a definition of that one), but it is something to be engaged with -- not to be controlled. Technology may not be aware of the upheaval it engenders, but we can be, and part of our engagement with technology is an acceptance of change and a vision for making the best of complexity in order to improve ourselves and others.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

In praise of contamination

... the ideal of contamination has no more eloquent exponent than Salman Rushdie, who has insisted that the novel that occasioned his fatwa "celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelisation and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Melange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, an I have tried to embrace it"
-Kwame Anthony Appiah. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006)
This is where the idea of including mongrel in "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky" originated

Sunday, April 08, 2018

digital immersion mongrel Vygotsky

- a contextual pathway to enable modern indigenous technology

The origin of this was an exploration of an effective way (pragmatically) to bring digital technology to indigenous people. This turned into a hands on exploration of disparate fields which for convenience can be organised under three sub-headings which can in turn be melded together:

Epistemology: One interpretation of Vygotsky argues that all knowledge is socially constructed and that ethnomethodology, paying detailed attention in the now, is the best or only way of detecting and evaluating what is going on (Wolff-Michael Roth). This world view is critical of other learning theories be they behaviourist, cognitivist or constructivist.

Culture: Martin Nakata’s (cultural interface) and Kwame Appiah’s (cosmopolitan) approach is that indigenous (and other) culture is mongrel (no longer traditional), consisting of disparate, complex threads created by the intermingling of the traditional with the colonial. It follows from this that effective communication between different cultures must be contextual based by paying detailed attention to the now.

Technology: Taking a broad view there are many human technologies originating from the hand and the word. Digital technology (moving bits) is now replacing print as the dominant social medium. The only effective way to master digital technology is through full immersion in the medium. Some groups working with the Disadvantaged in the Third World have understood this, eg. Learning Equality, and use affordable hardware (Raspberry Pi and low-cost Android tablets), software (FOSS) and infrastructure (sneakernet where internet connectivity is limited).

Combining these approached leads to “Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky”. The goal is to combine these three approaches to find the contextual sweet spot in the middle of the teething rings.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007)
Learning Equality
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)
Roth, Wolff-Michael. The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the Late, Spinozist Vygotsky (2017)