Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Towards a ‘good life’ for children in their middle years

National Children's Home - children learning to play instruments
The Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) has just announced a new study into the well-being of children in their middle years. The project leader, Dr Petra Lietz, reported that:
While there is a growing interest in Australian children’s wellbeing in their middle years, less is known about how wellbeing varies among different groups of children. If policies to promote children’s wellbeing are to be implemented, then policymakers need to know how children in general, and disadvantaged children in particular, understand and rate their own wellbeing.To fill that knowledge gap, a team of researchers at Flinders University of South Australia, the University of New South Wales, and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) are collaborating on a new child-centred study in which children’s perspectives are being used to design and conduct Australia’s first major nationally representative and internationally comparable survey of wellbeing among children aged eight to 14 years.
 The design of the study is reported to be innovative, as "children were given the chance to comment on all aspects of the questions, response scales and interactive design during interviews that preceded the field trial, the survey truly is designed ‘by children, for children’.

I find this kind of study very moving. A friend of mine, Robert Sayers, recently launched his biography, called Reflections, which is "a true story of anguish, heartbreak and determination (that is) told through the eyes of the eldest of three young brothers (who had) lived a bleak existence in post war England in the nineteen fifties (and then) unknowingly sent to a strange new country, as child migrants." Robert attended the apology made to forgotten people and former child migrants held in Canberra on November 16th, 2009. More recently, we have listened to stories of courage and anguish by those giving evidence to the Royal Commission to Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Unprotected child migrants, forced removal of Aboriginal children (the Stolen Generations), and forced adoption of children born to unwed mothers were harmed by institutions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

We need to understand as much as we can about children's wellbeing to ensure that the practices of earlier generations are never repeated. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The visceral nature of memory

Items I packed, ready to evacuate.

On Thursday 17th October 200 homes were burned in a fierce bushfire close to my home in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia. In the days that followed, the community in which I lived was on "watch and act" or "emergency" alerts, depending on fire behaviour and it's threat to houses. On Wednesday 23rd October the fire threat was seen as dire, and many of the residents of the Blue Mountains evacuated. As I write, water bombing helicopters continue to hover in the valley 5 km away, keeping fires in containment lines, with firefighters deployed on the ground.

Leading up to Wednesday 23rd October, residents were encourage to enact a Bush Fire Survival Plan.
Part of this plan involves making a decision about what to pack, ready to evacuate, and it is this experience that I found moving as well as odd. As a self-confessed "digital adventurer", all my photographs have long been scanned onto an external drive, and many live in the clouds. So too are my devices backed-up routinely - so there is no danger of losing memories or work if my house burned down. Yet as the threat of fire approached I found myself packing the original copies of photographs that I had kept in boxes since scanning; and the thought of leaving them behind was painful and ultimately impossible. Along they came in the boot of the car, along with changes of clothes, hard copies of women in firefighting archives, important documents, other personal items and the cats.

A quote from Milan Kundera came to mind (used in another context) that the struggle of man against power is "the struggle of memory against forgetting", and this phrase kept running through my mind as I packed the car in the hours leading up to the emergency call for evacuation, which came at about 2pm that afternoon. Although memory can be digitised - I came to reflect - so too is it visceral and corporeal. I had  recorded my images digitally, and these have great meaning for me. But so too was meaning created in the rituals vested in photographs in a box, that once I sorted and scanned and tied with ribbons, that had since accumulated dust. The boxes were, I came to understand, perhaps unexpectedly a foundation for my sense of self and place, of my struggle against forgetting.

Dialogue about blended learning

Visit a project I built using Wix in 2010 where colleagues and I explore the meaning of "blended learning"