NSW ‘staggered’ return to school: some students may need in-class time more than others


Andrew J. Martin, UNSW

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday announced school students would return to face-to-face classrooms in a staggered fashion from May 11, the third week of term. She said students would initially return for one day a week, and their time at school would be increased as the term progressed.

She said by term three, she hoped all students would be back at school full time.

But schools were given flexibility on how this return may look. NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell said

We want them [schools] to make sure they are having about a quarter of students [from each grade] on campus each day […] But how they break that group up will be a matter for them.

The NSW government said students would complete the same coursework whether they were at home or on campus during the staggered return.

This announcement is a quick turnaround from only a few weeks ago, when the NSW government said parents must keep their children at home if they could. In the latest press conference, the government said 95% of students were working from home during the final weeks of term one.

There are a few possible reasons for NSW to have made this decision. It allows children to re-connect with teachers and peers; it is one way to have fewer students on campus at any one time; it helps parents observe physical distancing during drop-off and pick-up times; and it allows a systematic escalation to two days, then three days and so on.

A staggered return to school starts moving the wheels of school campuses and infrastructure out of hibernation, at the same time helping some parents and carers return to work.

But as an educational psychologist, I am also considering this difficult decision from the perspective of the students who may be most at need of returning to class. These include those in year 12 and students in kindergarten.

Specific year groups should take precedence

It’s worth schools considering staggering the return to school from a “whole-cohort perspective” (such as all of year 12). This tries to take into account what specific cohorts of students need, developmentally and educationally.

Schools will differ in how they implement these ideas and will need to balance educational with physical distancing concerns – and their capacity to manage groups of students in the context of their physical and staffing environment.

Year 12s

The cohort that has the least amount of time to acquire time-sensitive learning would be all of year 12. There are university-bound year 12 students who would benefit from being well on top of the syllabus knowledge that is assumed in their target university course.




Read more:
COVID-19 has thrown year 12 students’ lives into chaos. So what can we do?


There are also students bound for TAFE and apprenticeships who need to get practical experience, key competencies or work placement hours.

So if the health advice allows for the staggered approach the NSW government is proposing, it is worth considering that all year 12s return to school five days per week.

Kindergarten

Moving into “big school” is a massive developmental transition which has been disrupted for the 2020 kindergarten cohort.

These children need a solid early foundation of core social, emotional, literacy and numeracy competencies.




Read more:
Children learn through play – it shouldn’t stop at preschool


Years six and seven

Year six is the final year of primary school. It is where social, emotional and academic competencies are being honed and rounded ready for high school. And for year sevens, the transition to high school is a major psychological and academic adjustment, laying important foundations for their high school journey.

Year 11

Some universities are considering last year’s year 11 results for application for 2021 course entry. While the hope is everything will be back to normal come next year, there is the brutal reality that some nations have experienced second waves of COVID-19.

There is no vaccine yet, and we are only very gingerly taking baby-steps in easing restrictions.

This means we may need to take actions this year to insure year 11s against the possibility of school and assessment disruptions when they are in year 12 next year.

Disadvantaged students

We need to do our best to avoid widening any existing learning gaps during the remote learning period. Schools could encourage academically at-risk students – such as those with learning disorders, or executive function disorders such as ADHD – to start attending targeted in-class learning. This could allow for some bridging instruction so these students can make a strong start when the rest of their year group returns to in-class instruction.

Managing the numbers

An approach where initially only some year levels go to school while others remain learning remotely may make it easier for teachers.

It is not straightforward to develop both an in-class and a remote learning instructional program to accommodate a one day return, then two days and the like. Teachers are concerned at the extra workload this approach may mean for them.

There may also be significant between-school and between-teacher differences in how this is done – potentially leading to an uneven playing field for a given year group.

Teachers know how to teach a whole year group in class for five days of the week – and students know very well how to learn in this mode.

As we continue to navigate uncharted waters, there will be no perfect approach. Whatever the decision and however it is implemented, we must continue to be guided by our health experts, and we must hasten slowly.The Conversation

Andrew J. Martin, Scientia Professor and Professor of Educational Psychology, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘I have never felt so frightened’: Australia’s coronavirus schools messaging must address teacher concerns


Claire Hooker, University of Sydney

Parents have heard confusing messages from federal and state governments around sending children to school. As students in Victoria started term two on Wednesday, the state government told parents to keep children at home if they can.

In some cases there have been reports of children being told they have to study at home even though parents want to send them to school as they find it hard to work otherwise.

But in a Facebook video this week Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government wanted schools to open up for all students in three to four weeks.

And in a later press conference he maintained expert advice has consistently been that schools are a safe space for children.

[…] teachers are more at risk in the staff room than they are in the classroom when it comes to how the health advice plays out and the impact of this virus on children as opposed to teachers.

That means that we need to have proper arrangements in place for teachers and other staff in schools […] to protect their work environment, but […] that doesn’t lead to the same rules applying for students because they have a different level of risk.

While Morrison may be communicating the correct information, his message keeps being rejected by many Australian parents and teachers. This is because of mishandled communication that conveyed confusing and contradictory information, leaving teachers feeling unconsulted, scared and outraged.

Schools are safe, or are they?

There is good evidence for keeping schools open, including a recent rapid review of several studies on the topic, that indicated closing schools contributes very little to reducing the spread of the disease.




Read more:
Other countries are shutting schools – why does the Australian government say it’s safe to keep them open?


And yet school closures have been among the most contentious and emotive issues in Australia’s COVID-19 strategies. This has resulted from significant failures in risk communication from the government, including many inconsistencies in messages about transmission risks.

For example, when the Prime Minister made a statement banning indoor gatherings greater than 100 people (including staff), he did not even mention schools except to say later that they would remain open.

This is despite the fact schools involve gatherings of greater than 100 people. And the design of many make implementing recommended social distancing measures impossible.




Read more:
No, Australia is not putting teachers in the coronavirus firing line. Their risk is very low


Morrison’s statements also expressed concern about kids infecting grandparents, but not about kids infecting older teachers, some of whom are also grandparents. This caused outrage among many teachers.

President of the NSW Teacher’s Federation Angelo Gavrielatos who reportedly sought a response to such contradictions tweeted:

The response from the Commonwealth Deputy Chief Medical Officer was “Sorry. I can’t reconcile the contradictions”.

These inconsistencies left parents and teachers – especially those who face significant health issues themselves or in their immediate family – feeling both terrified and unvalued. Twitter account Stories From Teachers, contain heartfelt expressions of teachers’ fear. One said

I have never felt so frightened, disregarded and psychologically mangled in my whole entire life.

Any government plans to return students to school will require careful communication to be acceptable to many teachers and parents.

How governments should respond

People show decreased cognitive processing in high concern situations. This means we should expect many teachers will experience heightened perceptions of risk in their workplace. The best response is to tolerate any early over-reactions.

Effective communication requires emotional intelligence as well as compassion and empathy (practising non-judgment and avoiding sympathy).

Handbooks on risk communication, such as the WHO Guideline, emphasise communication is a two-way street. This means government and school leaders need to focus as much on what teachers and parents can or need to hear, as on what information they want to convey.

The basis for effective pandemic communication is trust. Trust is fundamental to achieving a coherent public response in an uncertain and unfolding situation. Without it, messages may be ignored or outright rejected.




Read more:
A matter of trust: coronavirus shows again why we value expertise when it comes to our health


To rebuild trust, communication will need to begin with listening to the concerns of parents and teachers. All discussions about schools, such as the release of any new modelling, need to explicitly acknowledge the implications for these groups.

Showing respect for teachers and parents requires authorities to trust them by sharing information early, and being transparent and open about deliberation and decision making. Being explicit and honest about uncertainty is particularly important.

If the government doesn’t know the answer to questions such as “how many school-based transmissions have occurred in other countries?”, that needs to be stated clearly.

It’s getting better but we need action

In the prime minister’s video message, he thanked teachers, saying what they do each day “matters amazingly”. Showing value for teachers was a good start.

But his words will prove insincere if teachers don’t see them backed up with actions in the actual environments where they work.

Actions can communicate more strongly than words. Teachers will only feel their concerns have been heard if they see actions that mitigate and monitor risk.

Actions that can be considered include:

  • extensive additional testing for teachers and students

  • partial return to school to reduce crowding

  • giving staff extra sick leave without requiring medical certificates so they can remain at home if symptomatic

  • making it easier for teachers to work from home if they have demonstrated health needs.

Perceptions of risk decrease as people gain an increased sense of control. So school leadership can support staff to take actions that give them a greater sense of safety. These include staggering bell times or spending five minutes of lesson time with students cleaning desks and chairs.

Actions that show value for staff might include additional professional development days where teachers decide on their individual best use of the time.

Communicating value for teachers will be the key to successful communication around schools in the weeks to come.The Conversation

Claire Hooker, Senior Lecturer and Coordinator, Health and Medical Humanities, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Teachers could be called on to estimate year 12 student grades – this is fairer than it sounds


Jim Tognolini, University of Sydney

Following a meeting with states and territories, federal education minister, Dan Tehan said year 12 students were a priority, and were being sent a clear signal: “There will be no year 13. There will be no mass repeating”.

He also said students seeking an ATAR for 2020 would be able to use it to apply for entry to university in the normal way.

The intention to retain current practices in these difficult times is encouraging. It should be a source of comfort for year 12 students facing a disruptive preparation for their end of year assessments.

Business as usual

It must be remembered the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is just a percentile-rank of student performance based on their aggregate of assessments across designated subjects they sit for in the final year (or two) of schooling.




Read more:
What actually is an ATAR? First of all it’s a rank, not a score


It is calculated in each jurisdiction that issues a year 12 credential and there is no requirement these aggregate assessments be the same. In fact, not all jurisdictions use external subject exams. Most combine these exams with moderated school-based assessments, and others such as the ACT, don’t have external subject exams at all.

So, when the minister said each jurisdiction will decide the end-of-year assessment process in their jurisdiction and that “we all are going to endeavour […] to make sure that this year’s ATAR scores are the same as last year’s ATAR scores”, he is saying it’s business as usual.

The difference will occur at each jurisdiction level where the appropriate authorities will be working to consider a number of scenarios to ensure the evidence (assessments) used to construct the ATAR for their jurisdiction is as valid (fair) and reliable (consistent) as possible for their students.

The best scenario would be that the COVID-19 crisis dissipates in time for jurisdictions to apply their normal assessment procedures. But this may not be possible in some instances, such as where students have to complete a body of work and can no longer use school facilities.

So a number of other scenarios would be considered as the conditions change.

Teacher estimates

If it’s not possible to have traditional assessments such as exams at all, one option used in the past for a number of purposes is to have teachers provide an “estimate or prediction”. This is what they believe the student would get on the exam or assessment based on their knowledge of the assessment and all the evidence they have from the students’ work up to, and including, the last day of school in 2020.

This is not as extreme as it may appear. There is significant evidence to suggest teacher estimates are as reliable and stable as traditional examination results.

A report investigating the accuracy of predicted grades for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Centre (UCAS) in the UK found just under 90% of grades were accurately predicted to within one grade.

Teachers have the data from past exams and assessments and can reliably predict how their student would do.




Read more:
COVID-19 has thrown year 12 students’ lives into chaos. So what can we do?


Some people could worry teachers may have biases towards some students that would lend them to give some students a higher or lower mark than they would otherwise get. But teachers don’t make these marks up. They do so based on evidence of what the student has already achieved and this informs their estimate.

Another recent study based on a sample of 10,000 students in the UK, showed teacher assessments during compulsory education are as reliable and stable as standardised exam scores.

In a later Conversation article




Read more:
Don’t worry about cancelled exams – research shows we should switch to teacher assessment permanently


, the authors of the study said

We can – and should – trust teacher assessments as indicators of pupils’ achievement.

One of the most compelling arguments regarding the reliability of teacher estimates is that external examinations are validated against the teacher estimates. If the results from examinations gave totally different results from what the teachers expect, there would be a significant public outcry against the validity of examinations.




Read more:
Don’t worry about cancelled exams – research shows we should switch to teacher assessment permanently


Another concern about relying on teachers is that they may inflate grades due to pressure from parents or students.

In Australia, most examination authorities either currently collect teacher estimates or have done in the past to provide evidence to support decisions for anomalous cases and situations – just like we are experiencing now. So jurisdictions would monitor the teacher estimates to make sure they are consistent with historical data.

Any anomalies due to grade inflation would then be picked up.

Just do your best

Ideally, traditional exams can be carried out in the way students know and expect.

But students and the education community in general should take comfort in knowing if this is not possible, there are other ways to produce reliable scores that can be used for ATARs in 2020.

The best way for students to maximise ATAR scores is to focus their energies on maximising their performance in each of the subjects they are currently taking. They can rely on the jurisdictions to make sure student performance is based on the best evidence available.The Conversation

Jim Tognolini, Director, Centre for Educational Measurement and Assessment, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No, Australia is not putting teachers in the coronavirus firing line. Their risk is very low



Shutterstock

Gerard Fitzgerald, Queensland University of Technology

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today confirmed schools across Australia will be staying open for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.

Morrison said this was based on health advice, supported by the federal government, premiers and chief ministers.

I’m telling you that, as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

But many teachers are concerned the government is ignoring their welfare and exposing them to risk of infection. This is particularly so for teachers who are in high-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with a chronic illness.

So, is the government sacrificing our teachers’s health by keeping schools open? Generally speaking, teachers are at very low risk of being exposed to COVID-19. But schools need to offer support for teachers who fall into high-risk groups.

What is the risk of COVID-19 to the average Australian?

Teachers may be feeling exposed, but it is important to be clear about the current status of this disease in Australia.

At March 17, 512 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19. On the information compiled by the ABC, of the diagnosed cases for which the potential source of the infection has been traced, most had returned from overseas or had contact with someone who returned from overseas.

That means there is currently no evidence of significant and sustained community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia – although this could change rapidly. But for the moment, the risk to those who have not travelled abroad or those who have not had contact with those who have travelled remains very small.

Everyone entering Australia from overseas (except flight attendants and residents from the Pacific Islands) is required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 is asked to self-isolate, and those who have been in contact with them may also be asked to do so. People showing symptoms are being tested.

This further reduces the chance of community transmission.

On top of this, the Australian government has put in place proactive measures to reduce this low chance of community transmission further. This is done by encouraging enhanced personal hygiene and increased social distancing measures.

These include working from home where possible, staying at home unless you need to go out, banning mass gatherings of more than 500 people and indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, and avoiding non-essential travel.




Read more:
Should I cancel my wedding? My kid’s birthday party? Why the government has banned indoor gatherings of over 100 people


All of this means the risk of anyone coming into casual contact with someone who has COVID-19 is very low. This of course means the risk of a teacher coming into contact with someone at school with COVID-19 is low too.

What if a child has COVID-19 and comes to school?

This risk to students and teachers is increased if someone in the school community has tested positive and potentially infected others.

A number of schools in Australia have shut after some students tested positive for COVID-19. This was to allow time to monitor students and teachers for any signs of infection and for extensive cleaning.

The NSW health minister said:

The advice to schools is if a child does present with a heavy cold, sore throat, cough, fever or flu-like symptoms, we’ll be contacting parents to come and collect their children.

Detailed analysis of the outbreak in Hubei province has shown that the majority of patients are adults between 20 and 50. But the severity of the disease and death rate increases with age.

Children are less likely to be diagnosed with the condition or to have severe illness. This makes teachers even less likely to encounter an infected person in the workplace.




Read more:
Worried about your child getting coronavirus? Here’s what you need to know


And like every other member of the community, children at risk of COVID-19, such as those who have travelled overseas or who have been in contact with someone who is infected, are required to self-isolate for two weeks.

Any child who is ill is being asked to stay home from school. Anyone showing symptoms or who may be a risk is tested for the disease.

Why have other countries closed schools then?

Again we must remember, there is currently no significant and sustained community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia.

It is quite different to the circumstances earlier this year in China (particularly Hubei province) and in Europe where there is uncontrolled spread of the disease. This is particularly the case in Italy, which has shut schools nationwide.

Researchers at Imperial College London have modelled the impact of various public interventions based on data from Hubei, and their previous work with influenza.

They concluded closing schools in the case of influenza will likely reduce further infections. But school closure in the case of COVID-19 is not enough in itself to do so. And the modelling was based on established community transmission which, of course, is not currently present in Australia.




Read more:
Australian schools are closing because of coronavirus, but should they be?


Closing schools has consequences as parents need to stay home from work, some of whom will be essential workers including health workers. Or kids will end up gathering in shopping malls or with grandparents who are at particular risk from COVID-19.

Should this disease break out into the community, it may last months and prolonged closure of schools may have significant impacts on the children and their education.

The Australian government’s decision to keep schools open is based on weighing up the risks posed by schools against the health, economic and social costs of their closure.

Are teachers a high risk group because they are older?

COVID-19 is particularly threatening to certain groups of people. This includes the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and those with chronic diseases including hypertension, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases.

Figures from a 2018 OECD report show Australian teachers are, on average, 42 years old and 30% are above the age of 50.

A government report from 2014 shows around 5% of Australian teachers are above the age of 65 and therefore at increased risk of COVID-19. It is likely many more have chronic diseases that also increase their risk.

Teachers in this group, as with any Australian, are advised to avoid travelling overseas and to avoid contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.




Read more:
COVID-19: what closing schools and childcare centres would mean for parents and casual staff


And although the risk is small, teachers aged above 65 or who have a chronic condition, should consider not going to school. It is advisable for schools to have policies in place to ensure people in the higher risk groups are supported if they need to stay away for a period of time.

The situation is very fluid and if COVID-19 does break out further into the community, much more aggressive social distancing measures will need to be taken, including closing schools.


Correction: this article previously said most diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Australia were in people who had returned from overseas or had contact with someone who had. This has now been clarified to say this has been found to be the case in most diagnosed cases for which authorities have released the potential source of transmission.The Conversation

Gerard Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Arming teachers will only make US school shootings worse



File 20180223 152351 pvx1lp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
US President Donald Trump talks to high school students about safety on campus following the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida school.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

On February 14, in Parkland, Florida, 17 teachers and students were shot dead at their school by an estranged student armed with a high-powered, military-style rifle. Mass shootings at places of learning in the US are, sadly, not uncommon.

On this occasion, however, the backlash against the political establishment has been more fearsome than usual. Significantly, the target is the gun culture of the country itself.

Notwithstanding, US President Donald Trump has come up with a plan to tackle the crisis. He wants to arm and train thousands of teachers to carry firearms in schools.

Let’s examine the evidence for the efficacy of such an idea.




Read more:
U.S. gun violence is a symptom of a long historical problem


The Trump plan is not a new one. Many US state legislatures have modified their gun control laws or softened regulations, now allowing holders of “concealed carry” permits to take their firearms into a wide range of public places including bars, churches, and government buildings.

Some state laws allow schools to permit teaching staff to carry weapons on campus. In June 2015, Texan lawmakers passed a bill giving not only faculty members but even students at public and private universities in that state a right to apply for a permit to carry concealed handguns into classrooms, dormitories and other buildings.

It should be mentioned also that Donald Trump is a strong supporter of the National Rifle Association, the powerful US-based lobby group committed to the idea that a citizen has a right to bear arms. The thinking of this group is that the “good guy” with the gun will deter, kill or maim the “bad guy” (the would-be shooter) before he can unleash his lethal mayhem.

Is there any evidence that the Trump approach is workable? No, not a skerrick.

The evidence continues to mount against guns as a form of urban crime prevention strategy, and for the proposition that a greater proliferation of guns actually increases the likelihood of urban violence.

Researchers in 2010 found that gun availability positively influenced the rates of several violent crimes in a sample of cities across 39 countries. Further research reviewed data for 27 developed countries and concluded that the number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related deaths.

Significantly, van Kesteren concludes:

In high-gun countries, the risks of escalation to more serious and lethal violence are higher. On balance, considerably more serious crimes of violence are committed in such countries. For this reason, the strict gun-reduction policies of many governments seem to be a sensible means to advance the common good.

I do not know of one serious crime prevention advocate in the developed world who would suggest that children are safer in a school because of firearms in their teachers’ hands.

Leaving aside the possibility of theft of a gun, its misuse or an accident, it would be fanciful to suggest that teachers could be trained to make split-second determinations of who is a “bad guy” and who is a “good guy”. Even the most highly specialised armed forces units get that wrong sometimes.

And let’s not forget the cost of the plan. Trump needs to multiply the price of the weapons plus the costs of training by the number of teachers who volunteer to take on this task in the 100,000 educational institutions in the US today.

The evidence that countries with higher levels of gun ownership have higher gun homicide, gun suicide and gun injury rates is convincing. The US gun ownership rate (guns per 100 people) is more than five times the Australian rate. Its gun homicide rate is more than ten times the Australian rate.

Of all US homicides, 60% are committed by firearms. The equivalent figure in Australia (2010–12) is 14%.

The only ways to stop or reduce the likelihood of a school shooting is, first, to take seriously the role of the state in enacting laws to make firearm ownership an earned privilege and not a right, and second, to remove from public hands altogether, as Australia has done, automatic, semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. They are simply not needed in any 21st-century urban setting.

Are either of these things about to happen in the US? Not in my lifetime, nor in my children’s lifetimes.




Read more:
Why is there so little research on guns in the US? 6 questions answered


Estimates in 2009 were that there were more than 300 million guns in private hands in the US. This figure would be significantly higher today, although one of the problems is that it is not known exactly how many people own how many guns.

They are not going to disappear in the foreseeable future. And if the deaths of 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six staff members, at Sandy Hook elementary school in December 2012 cannot re-direct the political wind, then nothing will – not even the cries of pain outside of the White House from families from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Will more mass shootings occur in US schools and on college campuses in the years to come? Most certainly, with or without the implementation of Trump’s latest suggestion. Indeed, the situation is likely to get worse.

The ConversationUnless something radically changes some time soon, Americans just have to live with the inevitable.

Rick Sarre, Adjunct Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pastor, Church Official Shot Dead in Nigeria


Muslim militants of Boko Haram blamed for killings in Borno state.

JOS, Nigeria, June 10 (CDN) — Muslim extremists from the Boko Haram sect on Tuesday (June 7) shot and killed a Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) pastor and his church secretary in Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.

The Rev. David Usman, 45, and church secretary Hamman Andrew were the latest casualties in an upsurge of Islamic militancy that has engulfed northern Nigeria this year, resulting in the destruction of church buildings and the killing and maiming of Christians.

The Rev. Titus Dama Pona, pastor with the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Maiduguri, told Compass that Pastor Usman was shot and killed by the members of the Boko Haram near an area of Maiduguri called the Railway Quarters, where the slain pastor’s church is located.

Pona said Christians in Maiduguri have become full of dread over the violence of Boko Haram, which seeks to impose sharia (Islamic law) on northern Nigeria.

“Christians have become the targets of these Muslim militants – we no longer feel free moving around the city, and most churches no longer carry out worship service for fear of becoming targets of these unprovoked attacks,” Pona said.

Officials at COCIN’s national headquarters in Jos, Plateau state, confirmed the killing of Pastor Usman. The Rev. Logan Gongchi of a COCIN congregation in Kerang, Jos, told Compass that area Christians were shocked at the news.

Gongchi said he attended Gindiri Theological College with Pastor Usman beginning in August 2003, and that both of them were ordained into pastoral ministry on Nov. 27, 2009.

“We knew him to be very gentle, an introvert, who was always silent in the class and only spoke while answering questions from our teachers,” Gongchi said. “He had a simple lifestyle and was easygoing with other students. He was very accommodating and ready at all times to withstand life’s pressures – this is in addition to being very jovial.”

Gongchi described Usman as “a pastor to the core because of his humility. I remember he once told me that he was not used to working with peasant farmers’ working tools, like the hoe. But with time he adapted to the reality of working with these tools on the farm in the school.”

Pastor Usman was excellent at counseling Christians and others while they were at the COCIN theological college, Gongchi said, adding that the pastor greatly encouraged him when he was suffering a long illness from 2005 to 2007.

“His encouraging words kept my faith alive, and the Lord saw me overcoming my ill health,” he said. “So when I heard the news about his murder, I cried.”

 

Motives

The late pastor had once complained about the activities of Boko Haram, saying that unless the Nigerian government faced up to the challenge of its attacks, the extremist group would consume the lives of innocent persons, according to Gongchi.

“Pastor Usman once commented on the activities of the Boko Haram, which he said has undermined the church not only in Maiduguri, but in Borno state,” Gongchi said. “At the time, he urged us to pray for them, as they did not know how the problem will end.”

Gongchi advised the Nigerian government to find a lasting solution to Boko Haram’s violence, which has also claimed the lives of moderate Muslim leaders and police.

The Railway Quarters area in Maiduguri housed the seat of Boko Haram until 2009, when Nigerian security agencies and the military demolished its headquarters and captured and killed the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, and some of his followers.

The killing of Pastor Usman marked the second attack on his church premises by the Muslim militants. The first attack came on July 29, 2009, when Boko Haram militants burned the church building and killed some members of his congregation.

On Monday (June 6), the militants had bombed the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, along with other areas in Maiduguri, killing three people. In all, 14 people were killed in three explosions at the church and police stations, and authorities have arrested 14 people.

The Boko Haram name is interpreted figuratively as “against Western education,” but some say it can also refer to the forbidding of the Judeo-Christian faith. They say the word “Boko” is a corruption in Hausa language for the English word “Book,” referring to the Islamic scripture’s description of Jews and Christians as “people of the Book,” while “Haram” is a Hausa word derived from Arabic meaning, “forbidding.”

Boko Haram leaders have openly declared that they want to establish an Islamic theocratic state in Nigeria, and they reject democratic institutions, which they associate with Christianity. Their bombings and suspected involvement in April’s post-election violence in Nigeria were aimed at stifling democracy, which they see as a system of government built on the foundation of Christian scripture.

Christians as well as Muslims suffered many casualties after supporters of Muslim presidential candidate Muhammudu Buhari lost the April 16 federal election to Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian. Primarily Muslim rioters claimed vote fraud, although international observers praised the polls as the fairest since 1999.

Nigeria’s population of more than 158.2 million is almost evenly divided between Christians, who make up 51.3 percent of the population and live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who account for 45 percent of the population and live mainly in the north. The percentages may be less, however, as those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World.

Report From Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org/

 

Plinky Prompt: The Most Trouble I've Gotten Myself Into…


Caution: Overly Tall Morons Might Hit Heads

Not sure whether this would be the most trouble I have gotten into, but it did have the potential to be so.

What happened? When I was in primary school (aged about 10 I suppose) I hit a kid with an iron bar across the head. I hid under the school building all day before going home at home time. The teachers had been searching for me all day. The following day at school nothing happened – seems they all forgot about it.

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Muslims Force Expat Christian Teacher to Flee Maldives


Mistaking compass she drew for a cross, parents of students threatened to expel her.

NEW DELHI, October 5 (CDN) — Authorities in the Maldives last week had to transport a Christian teacher from India off one of the Islamic nation’s islands after Muslim parents of her students threatened to expel her for “preaching Christianity.”

On Wednesday night (Sept. 29) a group of angry Muslim parents stormed the government school on the island of Foakaindhoo, in Shaviyani Atoll, accusing Geethamma George of drawing a cross in her class, a source at Foakaindhoo School told Compass.

“There were only 10 teachers to defend Geethamma George when a huge crowd gathered outside the school,” the source said by telephone. “Numerous local residents of the island also joined the parents’ protest.”

The school administration promptly sought the help of officials from the education ministry.

“Fearing that the teacher would be physically attacked, the officials took her out of the island right away,” the source said. “She will never be able to come back to the island, and nor is she willing to do so. She will be given a job in another island.”

A few days earlier, George, a social studies teacher, had drawn a compass to teach directions to Class VI students. But the students, who knew little English, mistook the drawing to be a cross and thought she was trying to preach Christianity, the source said. The students complained to their parents, who in turn issued a warning to the school.

Administrators at the school set up a committee to investigate the allegation and called for a meeting with parents on Thursday (Sept. 30) to present their findings. The committee found that George had drawn a compass as part of a geography lesson.

“However, the parents arrived the previous night to settle the matter outside the school,” said the source.

According to local newspaper Haveeru, authorities transferred George to the nearby island of Funadhoo “after the parents threatened to tie and drag her off of the island.”

The teacher, who worked at the school for three years, is originally from the south Indian coastal state of Kerala. Many Christians from Kerala and neighboring Tamil Nadu state in India are working as teachers and doctors in the Maldives.

Preaching or practicing a non-Muslim faith is forbidden under Maldivian law, which does not recognize any faith other than Islam. The more than 300,000 citizens of the Maldives are all Sunni Muslims.

A string of 1,190 islands in the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka in South Asia, the Maldives is the only country after Saudi Arabia that claims to have a 100 percent Muslim population. As per its constitution, only a Muslim can be a citizen of the country. Importing any literature that contradicts Islam is against the law.

Many of the more than 70,000 expatriate workers in the Maldives are Christian, but they are allowed to practice their faith only inside their respective homes. They cannot even get together for prayer or worship in each other’s houses – doing so has resulted in the arrest and deportation of expatriates in the past.

The Maldives was ruled by an authoritarian, conservative Muslim president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, for 30 years. The nation became a multi-party democracy in 2008 with Mohamed Nasheed – from the largely liberal Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – as the new president.

Gayoom’s right-wing party, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), however, managed to win a simple majority in the People’s Majlis – as the parliament is known in the Maldives – in the 2009 parliamentary election. The Maldives follows the presidential system.

The DRP-led opposition often criticizes Nasheed’s government, accusing it of being liberal in cultural and religious matters, which DRP leaders claim will have a bearing on the country’s sovereignty and identity.

A key ally of the MDP, the Adhaalath Party, also holds conservative views on religion and culture.

Many in Maldivian society, along with religious and political leaders, believe religious freedom is not healthy for the nation’s survival, although the Maldives does not perceive any threat from nearby countries.

Report from Compass Direct News

Religious Club Closures in Schools Touch Nerve in Malaysia


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, August 11 (CDN) — More closures of non-Muslim religious clubs in Malaysian schools, including Christian fellowships, have surfaced since the first incident was reported on July 12.

Loh Seng Kok, central committee member of the Malaysian Chinese Association, said at a July 23 press conference that the situation was “getting worse” and that the initial incident at Klang High School was not an “isolated issue.”

Loh based his assessment on complaints received by various religious society representatives. Present with Loh at the press conference were Vice-President of the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia Loh Yit Phing, President of the Subang Jaya Buddhist Association Chim Siew Choon and Executive Secretary of the Christian Federation of Malaysia Tan Kong Beng.

The Malaysian Insider online news agency reported that Chin Fook Khiang, a parent, disclosed that the Buddhist Society and Christian Fellowship in SMK SS17 in Subang Jaya, Selangor were ordered to stop activities in January 2009 – and that it was the second time the clubs were ordered to close by education authorities since 2005.

The religious clubs were closed even though they had been in operation since before 2000, excluding them from the need for official approval. According to Circular Bill 20/2000, non-Muslim religious clubs formed after education authorities issued the circular in 2000 must obtain their approval before they are allowed. Clubs that existed before the circular was issued do not require approval.

Malaysiakini news agency on July 23 cited an unnamed retired teacher who described the situation as “very serious,” to the extent that some teachers had been transferred because they were active in Christian fellowship activities in their schools.

Loh called for a fairer treatment of non-Muslim associations in the co-curricular activities listed in the co-curriculum management guidelines issued to schools. The guidelines only allow for Islamic religious societies to operate unconditionally without requiring prior approval from the education authorities.

Several political leaders, including veteran opposition leader Lim Kit Siang, have called on authorities to revoke outdated directives and circulars that contravene the Federal Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.

 

Public Outcry

Reports of non-Muslim religious club closures first surfaced when The Sun reported on July 12 that three non-Muslim religious student groups, including the Christian Union at Klang High School, were ordered closed by the Selangor education department last month.

Following the report, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Philips, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), issued a strongly worded statement seeking “immediate confirmation” and “prompt explanation” from authorities.

“Needless to say,” Phillips added, “if indeed there had been such a directive to close non-Muslim religious societies in schools or to not permit the setting up of such societies in schools, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of National Unity should not be in doubt that MCCBCHST shall protest such a policy with the strongest possible vehemence.”

Following public outcry over the closure, Alimuddin Dom, director-general of education, reportedly said that the directive was a “misunderstanding” by the Selangor Education Department and ordered a reinstatement of the affected religious clubs.

Malaysia’s population is about 60 percent Muslim, 19 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian. About 6 percent are Hindu, with 2.6 percent of the population adhering to Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions.

 

Church Attack Trial

Reports of the religious club closures came amid the trial of three men who have been charged with arson in the attack on Metro Tabernacle church’s building earlier this year.

Brothers Raja Muhammad Faizal Raja Ibrahim and Raja Muhammad Idzham Raja Ibrahim, along with their friend Azuwan Shah Ahmad, were charged with committing mischief by torching the church building at 11:50 p.m. on Jan. 7. Since the trial started on July 6, however, the court has acquitted Azuwan due to lack of evidence.

Both brothers deny burning the church building, though they admit to witnessing the incident. They claim they left the scene of the burning to attend a barbeque at a friend’s house. Raja Muhammad Faizal claims he sustained burns from starting a fire at the barbeque, while his brother Raja Muhammad Idzham says he was injured in the course of helping his brother take off his flaming shirt on the occasion.  

The trial is ongoing.

Metro Tabernacle Church was among several churches that came under attack in January following a controversial court ruling that allowed the Herald, a Catholic weekly, to use the word “Allah” in the multilingual publication. The Herald had challenged the ban imposed by the Home Ministry.

The court decision angered some Muslims in the country who claim the term is exclusive to Islam.

Following the high court decision, the Home Ministry filed an appeal in February and won a stay, preventing the weekly from using the word until the case was addressed in the court of appeal. To date there has been no indication when the case will be heard.

On Aug. 1, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was widely reported as saying his predecessor, Syed Hamid Albar, should not have banned the word “Allah” from being used by the Roman Catholic Church, and that the decision will continue to haunt his ministry for a very long time.

Report from Compass Direct News