NAPLAN got going this week. Our daughter did it, so we’re told. Whatever. The pointless train runs another pointless lap. Except, this year the train apparently has had some scheduling issues. Continue reading “ACARA’s Mea Semi-Culpa on NAPLAN”
Today, the Australian government released COVIDSafe, the Government’s coronavirus tracking app, based on Singapore’s TraceTogether version. The release comes complete with the Government’s predictable reassuring and cajoling and guilt-tripping. Should Australians trust them and use the app? Really? For us, there is a very simple answer: when and only when Vanessa Teague gives the all clear.
Vanessa is an expert on cryptography and, as it happens, is an ex-student and a good friend. She is very smart and is as principled a person as we have ever met. Along with many of her colleagues, Vanessa has been critical of the Government’s needless (and entirely predictable) secrecy over COVIDSafe. She has written a series of blogposts about their underlying concerns, and in particular the Government’s failure to follow up on promises and release COVIDSafe’s source code. This is Vanessa’s current stance on using the app (as of 23/04):
“In its TraceTogether form, I would be happy to run it on the train but refuse to run it in my home or office. I need to see the details of Australia’s version before I decide.”
Postscript: We had planned on writing about Vanessa a month or so ago, when she made the news. That story is highly relevant, since it involves privacy concerns, government screw-up, an arrogant and inept minister, a limp lettuce watchdog, a thuggish department secretary being matey matey with a vice chancellor, and a spineless university. Yep, same old, same old. But, given the speed of the times, we’ll probably have to leave that story be.
The Minister for Health has today made an undertaking to release the source code “within two weeks”. We’ll see. (The formal agency response on privacy (26/4) states that such release will be “subject to consultation with the Australian Signals Directorate’s Australian Cyber Security Centre”.)
Vanessa and her colleagues have a new blog post (27/4). The post has been written “on a best-effort basis using decompiled code from the app, without access to server-side code or technical documentation.” Their conclusion:
Like TraceTogether, there are still serious privacy problems if we consider the central authority to be an adversary. That authority, whether Amazon, the Australian government or whoever accesses the server, can
- recognise all your encryptedIDs if they are heard on Bluetooth devices as you go,
- recognise them on your phone if it acquires it, and
- learn your contacts if you test positive.
We’re not going to bother with the nasty guilt-tripping on the COVIDSafe app, including from numerous media nitwits who should know better. This from Bernard Keane suffices.
Vanessa now has a very good twitter thread on the seemingly contradictory safe/not-safe messages from IT folk.
UPDATE (11/5) Vanessa has a twitter thread (08/05) on ScoMoFo’s latest round of silly buggers.
UPDATE (13/5) This will come as a great surprise, but it turns out that Greg Hunt is a dishonest piece of shit.
UPDATE (15/5) Vanessa and her colleagues have a new blog post (14/5): The missing server code, and why it matters.
UPDATE (20/5) Vanessa and her colleague Chris Culnane have a new blog post (19/5), on flaws in and corrections to the UK covid app (and why this was possible). Vanessa also has an accompanying twitter thread.
The news is that NAPLAN is on its way out. An article from SMH Education Editor Jordan Baker quotes Boston College’s Andy Hargreaves claiming tests such as NAPLAN are on their “last legs”. This has the ring of truth, since Professor Hargreaves is … who knows? We’re not told anything about who Hargreaves is, or why we should bother listening to him.
Perhaps Professor Hargreaves is correct, but we have reason to doubt it. And, Jordan Baker has been administering NAPLAN’s last rites for a while now. Last year, Baker wrote another article, on NAPLAN’s “death knell”.
Regular readers of this blog would be aware that this writer would love nothing more than to see ACARA sink into the sea, taking its idiotic tests and clueless curriculum with it. But it’s important to understand why, and why the argument for getting rid of NAPLAN is no gimme. It is here that we disagree with Hargreaves and (we suspect) Baker.
Baker quotes Hargreaves on national testing such as NAPLAN and its “unintended impact of students’ well-being and learning”:
[They include] students’ anxiety, teaching for the test, narrowing of the curriculum and teachers avoiding innovation in the years when the tests were conducted.
Let’s consider Hargreaves’ points in reverse order.
- Innovation. Yes, a focus on NAPLAN would discourage innovation. Which would be a bad thing if the innovation wasn’t poisonous, techno-fetishistic nonsense. Hargreaves, someone, has to give a convincing argument that current educational innovation is generally positive. We’ll wait. We won’t hold our breath.
- Narrowing of the curriculum? We can only wish. The Australian Curriculum is a blivit, a bloated mass of pointlessness.
- Teaching to the test is of course a bad thing. Except if it isn’t. If you have a good test then teaching to the test is a great thing.
- Finally, we have to deal with students’ anxiety, a concern for which has turned into an academic industry. All those poor little petals having their egos bruised. Heaven forbid that we require students to struggle with the hard business of learning.
There is plenty to worry about with any national testing scheme: the age of the students, the frequency of the tests, the reporting and use of test results, and the ability to have an informed public discussion of all of this. But all of this is secondary.
The problem with the NAPLAN tests isn’t their “unintended consequences”. The problem with the NAPLAN tests is the tests. They’re shithouse.
The Victorian Minister for Education has announced that the state’s senior school curriculum will undergo a review. The stated focus of the review is to consider whether “there should be a more explicit requirement for students to meet minimum standards of literacy and numeracy …“. The review appears to be strongly supported by industry, with a representative of the Australian Industry Group noting that “many companies complained school leavers made mistakes in spelling and grammar, and could not do basic maths“.
Dumb and dumber.
First, let’s note that Victorian schools have 12 years (plus prep) to teach the 3 Rs. That works out to 4 years (plus prep/3) per R, yet somehow it’s not working. Somehow the standards are sufficiently low that senior students can scale an exhausting mountain of assignments and exams, and still too many students come out lacking basic skills.
Secondly, the Minister has determined that the review will be conducted by the VCAA, the body already responsible for Victorian education.
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then the definition of insane governance is expecting the arrogant clown factory responsible for years of educational idiocy to have any willingness or ability to fix it.
The ACCC has released guidance on the meaning of “free range eggs”, to come into force in April. There are a number of conditions for hens to be designated free range, but the clear mathematical requirement is that the chickens be subject to “a stocking density of 10,000 hens or less [sic] per hectare.” This compares to the maximum of 1500 hens per hectare recommended by the CSIRO. And by Choice. And by the Humane Society International. And by the RSPCA. And by pretty much everyone except Coles and other industry thugs.
The ACCC is just the messenger here, their guidance mirroring the Australian Consumer Law (Free Range Egg Labelling) Information Standard 2017, passed last April. The legislation was introduced by the Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack. It was McCormack who took credit for the definition of stocking density:
… my decision takes into consideration the views of consumers, advocacy groups and industry, and provides a sensible balance with a focus on informing consumers – so they can make the choice that’s right for their needs.
The reader can assess whether McCormack’s “consideration” has resulted in anything remotely resembling “sensible balance”, or in the ability of consumers to make an informed choice. Or, rather, whether Minister McCormack is simply another National Party asshole.
According to The Australian newspaper (paywalled), a bunch of “education and policy experts” have headed to China in an attempt to address Australia’s educational woes:
Frustrated by stagnating maths and STEM standards, [they] are travelling to China for lessons on how to boost maths and science in local classrooms.
Gee, I wonder what they might learn. What secret path to mathematical facility could those inscrutable Chinese possess? A wonderful new app, maybe. Or perhaps Chinese schools flip their classrooms in some really special way.
But, whatever their secret, it may not help us to learn it. The worth of “importing other countries’ teachings practices” is apparently questionable, “given that education is woven within the cultural fabric of nations.”
There’s plenty woven within (?) the cultural fabric of Australia, but whether one should refer to it as education is open to debate.