More on Violence Against Children

TED Summit

A few days ago I wrote a blog post about why I believe it’s time to take significant action against physical violence against children. As I was writing that article and pressing the button to put it out in to the world, this year’s TED Summit titled “A Community Beyond Borders” was taking place in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It’s too early yet to be able to see the official video of the presentations and I’m yet to find online coverage of the particular presentation I’m going to refer to here.  Howard Taylor, a child safety advocate talked about the worldwide issue of violence against children and initiatives being taken to make a difference.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the video of Howard Taylor’s presentation, but until it comes out, I was struck by this quote from his presentation:

“What would it really mean if we actually end violence against children? Multiply the social, cultural and economic benefits of this change by every family, every community, village, town, city and country, and suddenly you have a new normal emerging. A generation would grow up without experiencing violence.”

In his presentation i understand he referenced successes that are being achieved as a result of a World Health Organisation (WHO) programme called INSPIRE:

World Health Orgainsiation – Violence Against Children

The Inspire Report From WHO In PDF Format

 

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Asia’s Power in the World

Some weeks ago I wrote about the rising economic progress and power of Asia and shared a McKinsey podcast on the subject. They have now come out with a longer and more detailed analysis that highlights the massive scale and implications of Asia’s rise.

Mckinsey Report – Asia’s Future Is Now

Growth on such a scale is inevitably messy, inconsistent and somewhat chaotic.  There will be wild gyrations up and down. There will also be differences in the extent to which different countries or geographical areas participate in the growth. However, nobody should mistake the overall direction. It’s often been said that when looking at major and significant changes, people overestimate their implications in the short term and underestimate the effects in the long term.

It sometimes seems odd to me, having now lived in Asia for twenty years, when people in the West look purely at localised factors in their own countries to explain and understand what’s happened to them over the last 20-30 years. Mid-level incomes have stagnated, though the economies of those countries didn’t really perform too bad (as reflected in stock market performances). It’s become a favourite practice of more liberal politicians in the west to bang the drum about exploitation and the exporting of McJobs to Asia. However, this is to ignore the fact that these trends have lifted millions out of poverty and fuelled the rise of Asia which shows no sign of slowing.

Countries in Asia haven’t all benefited equally and the future offers challenges for some. There are all sorts of factors at work, not least the political, cultural and social stability of the country. Also, it matters from what sort of a base the country was building. Bangladesh, for example, has made progress, but was starting from a very low base.

The report highlights the growing trend of intra-Asian trade. However, Asia is certainly not immune to what happens in the rest of the world. If, as many suspect, there is a recession on the horizon in the west, the Asian economies will feel the effects acutely, especially as their people have now become used to rapid progress and expectations are high.

There’s also another important factor that is of particular relevance for those engaged in any aspects of education, summed up in the following paragraph from the report:

“Nevertheless, infrastructure, workforce skills, and productivity will be critical to competitiveness in the decade ahead. Low-cost labor alone will not be enough. All industry value chains now rely more heavily on R&D and innovation—and the share of value generated by the actual production of goods is declining.3 These shifts, combined with a wave of new manufacturing and logistics technologies mean that countries across Asia will need to alter their investment priorities and develop new types of skills to compete in a more knowledge-intensive trade landscape.”

The types and levels of skills required for the future will be of a higher and more complex nature than many required for earlier progress. Education will need to prepare more people with creativity and the collaboration skills to take on this R & D and innovation. The needs will be for more of the twenty first century skills that experts in western countries have been looking for. This cannot be only the product of ‘elite’ education through private sector schools and colleges, but needs to reach far more people at all levels of the society.  There is a need for way more training and development for educators, but also to continue to work on the motivation levels, rewards and status and skill levels across the educational spectrum.

For those who get these things right the rewards could be substantial. For those who don’t with continually growing populations of expectant people eager for access to a better life, the downside could be very uncomfortable. In Asian governments today there might be few people with a more important role to play than those charged with leading education ministries.

 

 

Give Peace a Chance

 

When was the last time any of us seriously heard a politician talk about peace – and mean it genuinely? This is an amazing interview, not just because of what Marianne Williamson says, but because clearly everyone was willing to write her off as a fringe inconsequential, and yet in the space of a few minutes interview she has the audience so buoyed up with hope and enthusiasm.

There are sadly very powerful and entrenched forces that will find a politician like her unbearable. Therefore, they will put vast sums behind seeking to ridicule and belittle her and her message. They will seek to undermine her in every way they possibly can. I’m not sure anyone in that audience realises just how brave and subversive she is being.

In the past I’ve had the good fortune on a couple of occasions to meet and talk with individuals who had been intimately involved in the processes of ‘truth and reconciliation’ in Rwanda and in South Africa. These interactions gave me some insight in to the potentially enormous benefits that can be realised when there is a focus on putting the past behind, helping communities to heal and move forward.

The scope and the role of peace in our society could be potentially massive. In seeking more intra-personal peace it  would work with government departments involved with urban development, social security, health, employment, labour and commerce. At the interpersonal level many ministries and areas that operate both within a country, but also those engaged with the country’s relationship with the wider world, especially neighbouring countries.

An initiative like this by America would open up the willingness for other countries to take similar steps. it would require empathy, people willing to operate within win-win paradigms and acknowledgement of fundamental rights for all as equals.

Naive, or a possible way to a better future? Either way, I applaud Marianne Williamson for her courage in bringing such a debate to the fore.

Fundamental Protection of the Child Before the Fancy Stuff

Cane-corporal-punishment

It is not “acceptable that a society which prohibits any form of physical violence between adults would accept that adults subject children to physical violence.”

European Committee of Social Rights, 2001

It’s often strange to me that we live, today, in a world obsessed to the point of ignoring almost all else with equality on the grounds of gender (including sexual orientation) and race/ religion. Included in the “all else” here are the rights of children.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) came in to effect in September 1990. Most member countries of the UN have adopted the convention (with the exception of the USA, which signed, but has never ratified). Within that convention Article 19.1: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation . . . .”

With all of that in mind, it might seem like the issue of corporal punishment in schools was no longer a matter for debate or discussion. However, that’s very clearly not the case. It seems not to matter how much weight of evidence builds up about how children are traumatised and learning is inhibited when they experience any kind of fear or physical punishment. In too many parts of the world people will still rationalise and find reasons to justify the continuation of such incomprehensible and unjustifiable practices.

Many of the countries where corporal punishment is defended make arguments based upon religious or cultural precedent for the physical chastisement of children. However, the same religious writings frequently advocate the keeping of slaves and the subservience of women! Society has proved, throughout the world, perfectly capable of modernising its reading and interpretation of religious texts as humankind’s perceptions of right and wrong, ethics and morals, evolve. In fact, it’s embarrassingly shameful to have to concede that there’s often a strong correlation between those countries and the former reaches of the British Empire. It was often the British who imposed corporal punishment in the schools they established, this having its roots in a certain puritanical brand of British Christianity.

Here in Malaysia, we have the sad situation that few seem to see the flagrant incongruity in a school system that celebrates a Kindness Week (which I applauded in April 2019) whilst still maintaining and using corporal punishment. The message would appear to be – children should be kind to each other, because we say so. However, we the adults are way above considerations of kindness when it comes to exerting our willful power over children. I believe a proper reading of the current law in the country only permits corporal punishment in schools for boys. However, the reality is that girls are also receiving physical punishment, usually with a cane.

Whilst already uncomfortable and unhappy that Malaysia has not yet been able to move on from corporal punishment, I was shocked recently to see the following media report:

Business Insider Malaysia Article – Survey Parent Views on Corporal Punishment

In this research survey, only 20% of Malaysian parents were against corporal punishment use in schools. Nearly half were in favour and a third undecided. Without wanting in any way to be condescending this alarms me as evidence that way too little effort has gone in to sharing with people in the country the realities of the harm done by corporal punishment on the individual child, as well as on the culture of a school or even the overall culture of people in the country.

There have been repeated instances of research around the world, all showing that children with physical, mental or learning disabilities are three to five times more likely to be on the receiving end of corporal punishment. There are also many studies that suggest children of minority communities also become victims more frequently. Nobody suggests that this flows from any kind of deliberate or conscious targeting or persecution. Rather, in the demands made by school experiences, the nature of classrooms, expectations and frustrations they are more likely to cross the lines to show behaviours and actions that lead to such punishments being meted out.

Bringing change requires a multi-pronged approach over time;

a) Sensitising the public to the lack of effectiveness, the harm and potential for abuse afforded by laws and rules that tolerate corporal punishment.
(This needs to also address the more delicate issue of corporal punishment in the home. If more accept that they should not be physically assaulting their own children, then they will naturally be unwilling to accept that others should have any right to do so)

b) Training and sensitizing teachers and education leaders;
(i) in alternative and more effective/ humane methods of maintaining environments with positive behaviour
(ii) about how resorting to physical violence against children goes against the objectives of modern education, and actually contributes to increased violence and aggression in their schools and in the wider society.

The use of violence against children sends a simple message – power lies with the biggest and strongest. That power includes the right to make the rules and to enforce them, regardless of your rights or your will.  It dehumanizes. It becomes inevitable that it increases the likelihood that children will use physical violence on those smaller and weaker than themselves (ironically being one of the things that perpetuates male violence against women).

The issue of physical violence (child abuse) against children can be a very challenging issue for international educators to deal with. If a teacher works in a school in the UK has reason to believe that a child might have been subjected to physical harm (by a parent or carer or anyone else) they are duty bound to report it. Failure to do so can even, in the most extreme circumstances, lead to their criminal prosecution.

However, when they go to teach in another country few have thought through the realities they will face. I’ve met plenty of international educators in different countries who were very disturbed when they discovered that on finding bruises or other evidence of physical harm on a child there were almost no courses of action open to them, at least formally. In private school environments I’ve seen and heard evidence that the school authorities, the teacher’s leaders, stopped them from taking action fearing a backlash or negative reaction from parents. In other cases, even where the school leadership took a positive approach, teachers found that attempts to report to any ministry of government could actually worsen the situation for the child and create even greater risk. Teachers working under such circumstances, in their desire to protect the child, may even resort to avoiding sending any negative report or information to the home that could cause them to get further abused.

I recently came across this harrowing Edsurge blog post that highlighted how even teachers in Western countries delivering online tutoring can run up against evidence of child abuse that they find disturbing, especially in their powerlessness to protect the child.

(Click on the link that says – “Bonus Episode: When an Online Teaching Job Becomes a Window into Child Abuse)

There is a historical paradigm of the child as a possession, an asset of the father (or at least the family) and this has tended to perpetuate beliefs that as a person’s possession it is their right to decide how they will deal with it. However, this should not be seen as a block or reason for inaction. Wives were also once upon a time seen the same way – as an asset acquired through marriage, over which a man was entitled for all property rights.

Worldwide, society has made more progress for women than for children, perhaps because women have been able to use their own voice in advocacy. I believe educators need to be more willing to raise their voice for children. Cold, proprietorial mindsets with regard to child abuse also manifest in many of the other ills that plague education; under investment in assets, training, respect for teachers. It even contributes to the failure to act on climate change and global warming, levels of societal debt etc.  – all issues that children will be saddled with in the future.

Much of the momentum of what happens and what changes in education flows from the political climate within a country. Here in Malaysia currently i find cause for some worry. Where there is active debate about education its around issues like whether Maths and Science should be taught in English. These types of issues can generate a lot of heat because of religious and nationalistic sensitivities.

New Straits Times – English Language Teaching Article

However, i have sadly seen much less momentum or debate about resolving what are far more foundational and fundamental issues:

Business Insider Malaysia – Malaysia Ranked 71st for Childhood Protection

This article raises issues regarding severe malnourishment, children not attending school. These are pivotal roles for any education system to claim that it treats children with equity and equality of opportunities. Regrettably, this is typical of a wider set of issues worldwide.  Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were put in place to replace the earlier goals that were not achieved. However, while there is progress, warnings are already being made that the current pace will see the targets missed again:

Devex – UNESCO Issues Dire Predictions For 2030 Education Targets

One of the biggest challenges is that these are big, challenging issues that require long term plans, solutions and effort. These are unfortunately not the kinds of things that politicians are typically good at – tending to be far more focused on issues that please their ideological supporters and short term issues that yield more immediate and visible results.

I don’t want to suggest that all is doom and gloom. We have moved forward and progress has been made. There are millions of children who have a better life than they would have had otherwise, as highlighted by the detailed and comprehensive review report from Save The Children published recently:

Save The Children – Changing Lives in our Lifetime
(Right click and save to download the adobe pdf report)

 

 

Technology and Privacy

german-flag-800x600

Continuing somewhat on the theme of my earlier post about FaceApp, here’s a story that i happened to see this week which gave me quite a jolt. i’m really surprised that it hasn’t been more widely reported.

Ars Technica – Office 365 Declared Illegal in German Schools Due to Privacy Risks

There is considerable irony in the timing of this news, coming around the same time as everyone (especially in the US) gets themselves in a big flap about data privacy with a Russian based face morphing software. The article also makes clear that whilst Office 365 is being singled out, there are also grave concerns about Google and Apple as well.

Over the last 10-15 years these three companies have invested enormously to get their feet under the table in schools right across the world.  making their software (and sometimes hardware) commonplace in schools is seen as a great Trojan horse to ensure that the learners will remain wedded to that technology in the future as adults, both in their homes and their places of work. And, by and large, its been successful.  I had personal experiences in India of attempting to limit school costs for Microsoft licences for operating systems and office suites by launching Ubuntu Open Source labs. However, the projects met massive resistance from teachers and worries from parents and students that this would be out of alignment with what the children needed to learn for the exams (what other companies in the world have been able to make school exams dependent on their products??)

Schools, both public and private, need to have very clear goals and ideas about how they’re using IT and how they’re ensuring data privacy and protection. The shift to cloud computing has been enormously tempting, simply from a cost saving point of view. I well recall the amount of money we needed to set aside to pay for school servers when our Group was expanding in Delhi. However, without this option, data protection and backup was haphazard, separated on every separate individual laptop and desktop across the schools. Many logistical headaches were created by the fact that localised hacking could still be a risk, but also those inevitable cases where students claimed weeks of work had been maliciously or inadvertently deleted from a computer lab computer. No data trails and no cloud meant very little evidence.

Issues of cloud computing, especially when the data moves easily and invisibly across national borders will, inevitably, cause disquiet and concern. What’s happened in Germany may seem extreme. However, if the net result is more introspection, transparency and clarity about what’s needed to ensure data privacy and protection for our children, then it may have a positive outcome.

 

Relating With Artificial Intelligence

When technology brings seismic changes in our world, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed, to struggle to see the wood from the trees and to maintain a rational perspective.

In the last week or so, we’ve seen very clear evidence. Out of nowhere, we all (well, those who exist in the digital world!) became aware of an AI based mobile phone app that claimed to apply a filter to see what a person will look like as they age. Apparently, it had been around a while, but this time it caught on virally, even with celebrities diving in to share pictures of themselves aged. Whole sports teams got the treatment and it shot to number one free download on both Apple Appstore and Google Playstore.

Then came the hangover after the initial excesses as numerous ‘experts’ came forward to share a few facts skirted over by the over zealous users. The company owning Faceapp is Russian – that’s always good to create a few scary bogeymen. Then, they pointed out that the terms and conditions essentially meant that users were handing over absolute rights for ever in their personal photos to the company. It also led to renewed concerns and debate about other Apps like TikTok.

This whole digital universe is so new, so novel and yet so ubiquitous that people really haven’t worked out their relationships with it.  For all the privacy concerns expressed, the reality is that digital photos and our own digital representation have little or no protection already. It’s the work of seconds for a child to copy and save any photo of any person from a website, a news site or a social networking platform. Can any of us really say we ‘own’ our visual images any more? We’ve seen similar in the past with digital music and video. Young people who would have said it was plainly immoral to walk in to a shop to steal a CD or a DVD have thought nothing of downloading enormous quantities of music, film etc. So, is it really any different? These people wouldn’t walk in to your home to steal your holiday snaps you just picked up from the developers, but somehow copying and pasting or saving your photos online doesn’t feel like theft – not really.

As a society we have to be open to having the deeper debates about implications and meaning.  For example, the ‘copy and paste’ culture is already a major headache for education – but one that gets little discussion on any serious level. If people come to have a lesser view on the ownership of anything that is put out in to the digital domain, then all sorts of issues arise about the ownership, copyright and protection of the written word. Just as debates raged in the music world – if people can take your creative output, use it, enjoy it, even pass it off as their own then where is the incentive to produce new creative work? In addition, in education, if a student can cobble together an essay in 20 minutes with bits and pieces mashed together by cut and paste from a handful of websites, then what, if any, learning is happening? There is little or no engagement with the content with the result that the student has done little to establish their own knowledge or understanding. But, even in the face of software solutions (such as Turn It In) to attempt to prevent plagiarism, there are major issues about academic honesty. Yet, still today, relatively few educational institutes have engaged with the hard tasks of establishing workable principles on academic honesty, let alone establish the trust environment in which all parties accept that it’s in their own best interests not to engage in such practices.

Getting back to FaceApp, there are further issues. Especially over the last year, we’ve all been regaled with copious verbiage about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications in the world in the very near future. There is a serious danger that when the manifestation of AI in people’s experience is a silly face morphing software the reaction will be, “Oh, is that all we’re being told to worry about?” AI will be seen with ambivalence as something occasionally, mildly amusing and not as the behemoth that is going to sweep through almost every aspect of life like a tidal wave. People in positions of power, authority and leadership should be in deep introspection about potential implications and how they need to respond within their spheres of influence to help people to prepare for what’s ahead.

The most serious implications of AI are not somewhere uncertain out in the future. Some of them are already having an impact right now and raising challenging questions about how AI will change the nature of power in society, freedom and civil liberties and even life and death. In China (a country that assumes a greater and greater significance in the world as geopolitical power shifts to Asia from the West) we are seeing extensive use of AI in the areas populated by Uighurs. These are indigenous people in a large region of China who identify themselves as muslim. They’ve long suffered persecution and unfair treatment. But today, AI is being harnessed to spy on them, to find ‘reasons’ to collect potentially millions of them in concentration camps for ‘re-education.’ They are essentially being indoctrinated to become obedient and compliant citizens of China who will give up any inclinations to see themselves as different.

Elsewhere in China there are forms of experiments being carried out to harness AI as a major vehicle in programmes of manipulation and control of the citizens. People are tracked, monitored and identified with vast arrays of face recognising cameras. The system identifies those who “do good” and gives them incentives and rewards. Those identified “doing bad” can be punished in all kinds of ways. On a massive scale it amounts to a process of harnessing technology for mind control and the creation of a subservient, compliant and passive citizenry who can be controlled in almost every aspect of their lives. Of course, there are all sorts of questions about what gets defined as good or bad behaviour, and by whom. This is reality and once it’s been harnessed in one country there’s no reason why governments elsewhere can’t adopt at least some more subtle elements to increase their control and power over the population.

The rapid increase in use of AI is going to change the fundamental nature of the relationship between man and machines, especially in the arena of work. Vast swathes of jobs will disappear – most notably those that require precise actions to carry out predictable and consistent actions with little variability. As yet, society has no real answers for how to retrain those displaced from work so as to remain economically productive. In vast parts of Asia and Africa in the last 30 years millions have been lifted out of poverty by the shift of millions of jobs of low and semi-skilled nature. In this time birth rates have remained high and so, for example, in India there is still unemployment conservatively well over 10%. The jobs that were flowing to the East are the very jobs that AI is likely to undermine. As yet, we still have no simple answers for how society will respond to these issues.

One final word on FaceApp. It doesn’t seem to have mattered very much to anyone that the software actually seems, as far as I can see, to be useless and poor in what it claims to do. Does anyone recognise the person in the picture below?

Faceapp copy

No, I don’t recognise him either. Nor, I’m sure would my mother or any other relatives. Which is kind of odd considering this is what FaceApp believes I looked like when i was younger!

So, if it can be so wildly wrong in figuring what a person looked like when younger, why should we take at all seriously what they predict we’ll look like when older in the future?

So, all just a silly storm in a Russian chipped teacup? Let’s not get diverted from the real issues of AI by such nonsense.

Brain Fitness

Brain

Here’s a quick share.

There’s a new 12 part video series which is being shared free of charge over the coming days about prevention of brain disease, especially ways to prevent Alzheimers disease. However, I think it’s going to carry a lot more information that will be useful for ways to have a healthy brain in all ways:

Science of Prevention – Alzheimer’s Episode 1

You do need to move quickly on this as the first two episodes have already been released and will only be visible for a short time. The other ten episodes will be issued over coming days.

Like our physical health, we can’t or shouldn’t simply take our mental health for granted. There are actions we can take, things we can do to ensure that our brains will serve us well and support all our life goals throughout our lives.

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