Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review: Love Never Dies

My review of the opening night performance of Phantom of the Opera sequel, Love Never Dies, now playing at Melbourne's Regent Theatre, is now published by Stage Whispers.

You can also read my profile of Phantom Ben Lewischeck out my photos of the after-party and the Theatre Show's wrap on You Tube.

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My review cited in The Week 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lloyd-Webber in Town: Sneak Peek at 'Love Never Dies'

 I was delighted to attend the Media Sneak Peek of Love Never Dies today at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. With Andrew Lloyd-Webber in town, the excitement and anticipation is high, particularly after mixed reviews in London. At the media brief we were told Lloyd Webber had composed more music to add to the score in Melbourne this week.

Read my report now published on Stage Whispers.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: CLOC's Fiddler

My review of CLOC Musical Theatre's Fiddler on the Roof is now published by Stage Whispers. It's a warm and wonderful amateur theatre production, of a perennial favourite.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Neighbours Taste Like....Chicken?

The Neighbours taste like....chicken? is now published online at The Pluck.
It's a case of My Son the Vegetarian meets Eating the Neighbours pets.
Oh, and comments are welcome. Enjoy!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Squeezing Blood from Stone: productivity in education

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu says teacher pay rises beyond 2.5% will be linked to increased productivity and major productivity gains. But how is productivity to be measured, or indeed achieved? Larger class sizes? Increased teaching hours? Improved student results? Let’s assume for a moment that better results are directly attributable to the amount of time spent at school, and that progress can be measured by test results.

An international comparison is illuminating. Along with Chinese, South African, Korean and Philippine students, Australian kids have around 200 days of school each year. Only Japanese kids attend more often with a whopping 243 days annually. Kids in the USA (180 days), Canada (194), Sweden (178), France (180) and the United Kingdom (195) all attend school for fewer days than ours.

According to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), days of school appear to be irrelevant when it comes to educational success. In all four assessments of 15 year olds carried out since 2000, across 65 participating nations, Finland has ranked first or second. Last year more than 100 delegations descended on Finland to discover the secret of their success.

Here’s what they found. Finnish students start school at 8 years old. The school year numbers 190 days of 4-7 hours in length. Finnish students have moderate amounts of homework, and no private tuition after school. School is compulsory for nine years and beyond this the retention rate is high. Books for basic education are free, and school meals are provided to ensure students are well nourished. Finland spends around 6% of gross domestic product on free education, Australia spends 4%, and the OECD average is 4.6%. Only a small number of private schools receive government subsidies. Investment in teachers is a high priority with  all Finnish teachers required to have a Masters degree. On average they work almost 3 hours less per week than Australian teachers.

While PISA results from students from some Asian countries are almost as impressive, these are achieved through high student workloads. For its 4-5 weeks additional schooling Japan is only marginally ahead of Australia.

Perhaps when Premier Baillieu talks of ‘major productivity gains’ he is not thinking globally, but nationally. Assuming productivity is to be measured by results, let’s take a look at NAPLAN, the national test given to all students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Last year students in Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT were the top performers in the country, despite the fact spending on Victorian students is more than $1,100 per student below the national average.

Here’s the problem. 'Productivity’ is an economic parameter, measuring efficiency in production, and implying a comparison of input, such as capital invested, wages paid, and number employed, with output. But here’s the thing. Educational value can’t be numerically measured because people don’t inhabit the educational environment on a level playing field. Moreover capacity to thrive academically and socially is influenced by many variables, many of which are beyond a school’s power.

Take a bunch of kids on an excursion by train into the Immigration Museum. A refugee child will have a different response to the child with Asperger’s syndrome, or a child with a mild intellectual disability. The experience for one who has never travelled on public transport contrasts with the one who spends 4 hours a night on computer games, or the artistic child, or the train obsessed child, or the child who only gets 5 hours sleep a night because mum works two jobs. It’s impossible to determine whose learning has been of greater value, because what we learn depends on where we have been.

But it’s not just down to the Premier. In Finland teachers are the most highly respected profession, with medical doctors coming in at second place. Victorians have to decide whether education is a priority or not. Ultimately our kids will be better served by well resourced, motivated and valued teaching staff, than by a workforce that is constantly receiving negative signals that they are not doing well enough and must achieve more with less.

Friday, May 6, 2011

All I Want for Mother's Day is a Bus Every 10 minutes

Last week my nine year-old accosted me with the perennial words, “Mum, I’m bored I don’t know what to do”. Looking up from my newspaper I pondered a whole two seconds before he said – get this – “Hurry up mum, you’re wasting my time”. When I reminded him I don’t have to provide entertainment 24/7, he replied incredulously, “Yes you do – you’re the MUM”.

If television advertising is any measure, my son’s view is widely shared. The closer we get to mother’s day, the louder it becomes. After all, if Nick Riewoldt, grown man and iconic AFL footballer, can take his washing to mum’s why can’t you?  Why, with a hug and grin, or perhaps a new electrical appliance, she’ll happily pick up after you for another whole year.

Think about it. Driving kids around for an afternoon of activities makes me a “great mum”, but teaching a child to read a timetable, hail a bus and buy a ticket borders on negligence. Just ask Lenore Skenazy.

Suburban mums are literally tied to the steering wheel, but what we want and need is half-decent public transport on weekends. There’s plenty of evidence that effective transport is a measure of quality of life, and mothers are getting a raw deal.

Each weekday my two eldest kids get around by using their own legs, which work perfectly well, and the local bus which runs every 15 minutes in peak.

But with hourly buses on weekends it all falls apart. Consequently, I spend my weekends in a car. There’s nothing good about it, save an occasional illuminating conversation, and the chance to erode the 120 hour learner-driver requirement.

Last weekend I clocked up 164 kilometres, taking kids to sport in Lilydale, Forest Hill, Ringwood and Heathmont, and a band practise in Box Hill. Thanks to a Saturday night get-together in Kilsyth South, I made the same 20 minute trip four times. Add the fact 20% of Melbournians are aged 17 and younger, well, you do the maths!

Australia’s National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling includes living in a household without a car as a social exclusion risk measure for children. No surprises there. Buses are the sole means of public transport for over two-thirds of Metropolitan Melbourne, but scant weekend services mean young people depend on lifts or risk social exclusion.

Everyone knows kids need to get out and meet flesh-friends rather than virtual ones, play sport, have part-time jobs, go to parties, and get involved in creative activities. Strange that when independence is enabled, one never hears “I’m bored mum, what can I do”. 

From where I sit (mostly at the traffic lights) the Public Transport Users Association campaign, Every 10 minutes to Everywhere looks a treat, with trams, trains, and main road buses every 10 minutes, from 6am to midnight, 7-days-a-week, and Nightrider buses every half-hour, 7-days-a-week. Do I think it will ever happen?  Do you?

So here’s a tip for Mother’s Day. What she really wants is time, and that’s something you can give. Here’s how. Support the PTUA campaign for increased public transport. Then catch a bus to the shops and buy a long handled claw to pick your own socks up with. Oh and Nick, learn how to use a washing machine would you please. It ain’t rocket science.

You may also be interested in 
The Neighbours taste like....chicken?
Eating the Neighbour's Pets
Mothering: protection, prevention, permission and paralysis

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Next to Normal

Melbourne Theatre Company's production of the musical drama, Next to Normal is playing for the next month at The Playhouse (Arts Centre). 

You are invited to read my review of opening night published by Stage Whispers today.

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