Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Italian university switches to English for teaching

One of Italy's top universities has sent shockwaves through the country's higher education system by announcing that from 2014 its courses will be taught exclusively in English.

The radical move by Milan's Politecnico university will, according to its rector, Giovanni Azzone, "contribute to the growth of the country". He said the strategy would attract brain power and yield the high-quality personnel that would "respond to the needs of businesses".

But the announcement has sparked a furious debate among academics and public officials. The higher education minister, Francesco Profumo, told La Stampa newspaper that he hoped other leading institutions would follow suit.

Others expressed alarm at the move. Luca Serianni, an eminent linguist at Rome's La Sapienza university, said the move was "excessive and not only in the ideological sense".

Despite having some of the oldest universities in the world in cities such as Bologna, not one Italian college appears among the world's top 200. Nepotism and closed-shop recruitment of staff have largely been blamed.


It’s beyond belief to teach witchcraft in British schools

Teaching Druidry and paganism in schools is just another example of our liberal fear of religious values, says Cristina Odone

Saint Morwenna, who in the 6th century built a church on a cliff with her bare hands, must be turning in her grave. Her beloved Cornwall, the last redoubt of Celtic Christians, is to teach witchcraft and Druidry as part of RE. The county council regards her religion (and that of other Cornish saints such as Piran and Petroc) as no better than paganism.

It makes perfect sense. Fear of being judgmental is so ingrained today that no one dares distinguish between occult and Christian values, the tarot and the Torah, the animist and the imam. Right and wrong present a problem for liberals who spy covert imperialism or racism in every moral judgment. Saying someone has sinned is “disrespecting” them, as Catherine Tate’s Lauren Cooper might say. Speaking of religious values is as dangerous as playing with the pin on a hand-grenade: it could end up with too many Britons blown out of their complacency. No one should dare proclaim that adultery is wrong; greed, bad; or self-sacrifice, good. In doing so, they’d be trampling the rights of those who don’t hold such values.

This mentality is not confined to Cornwall. When the BBC’s The Big Questions asked me to join its panel of religious commentators two years ago, I was taken aback to find it included a Druid. Emma Restall Orr rabbited on inoffensively about mother nature, but I was shocked that her platitudes were given the status of religious belief by the programme makers. Ms Restall Orr exults in her website that the media has stopped seeing Druidism “as a game” and now invites her on serious faith and ethics programmes from ITV’s Ultimate Questions to Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and Sunday Programme.

God, Gaia, whatever: school children are already as familiar with the solstice as with the sacraments. In pockets of Cornwall, children will point out a nun in her habit: “Look, a Druid!” Their parents will merely shrug — one set of belief is as good as another. How long before the end of term is marked by a Black Mass, with only Health and Safety preventing a human sacrifice?


Australia:  Private schools warn of fee rises

This is just a shot across the bows. Labor learned under Latham that attacks on private schools are a big loser.  With 39% of Australian teenagers going to private High Schools you can see why

SOME schools could lose up to $3.9 million a year under a proposed national funding system, forcing them to increase school fees, the NSW Association of Independent Schools has warned. Some might be forced to close.

The association's executive director, Geoff Newcombe, said he was concerned preliminary data suggested "serious flaws" with the new funding model proposed under a review led by the businessman David Gonski.

"We are very happy to work with the government," Dr Newcombe said. "But we are very concerned about how much independent schools could lose under the new model. This would be likely to put pressure on schools to increase fees and in extreme circumstances could cause a small school to close."

Dr Newcombe said 2009 data provided by the federal Department of Education to demonstrate how the new funding system would work suggested significant reductions in funding to many independent schools.

The association's analysis of the data showed that 86 independent schools in NSW would lose funding under the proposed model - a quarter serving communities with low socio-economic status. According to the analysis, 50 of the 86 schools would lose more than $250,000 a year.

Dr Newcombe said a small, low-fee school in outer Sydney would lose more than $65,000 a year, requiring an extra $280 per student to be found, based on the 2009 figures. A school with a low to medium socio-economic status in metropolitan Sydney would lose more than $960,000 a year, leaving the school to raise an additional $1300 per student. Some schools stood to lose as much as $3.9 million

"At this stage the independent schools sector in NSW is not withdrawing its support for funding reform as it does not believe this result was the intent of the review or of the government," Dr Newcombe said.

"However, the sector … is calling on the Australian government to give certainty to parents and independent schools by stating that funding to schools will not be reduced in real terms."

Brian Croke, the executive director of the Catholic Eduction Commission, said it was too early to tell whether individual Catholic schools would be better or worse off.

He said there were technical issues that needed to be resolved, but the concept of having a base level of funding for each student, topped up with additional loadings for disadvantage, was a good one.

Stephen O'Doherty, the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, said he was "very positive" about the directions of the Gonski report, particularly because it promised to provide additional funding to schools serving needy communities.

The federal secretary of the Independent Education Union of Australia, Chris Watt, warned against rushing to adopt the current Gonski model. "It won't just be high-fee schools that would lose out in this, it's potentially every school in every sort of community," he said.

The federal Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said the government has said repeatedly no school will lose a dollar per student as a result of the review.

"All the work now being undertaken is predicated on that commitment," he said. "Mr Gonski and the review panel have made clear, there is still a lot of work to do to test and refine the various elements."


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