The world is changing so quickly today that when the new world arrives we will not realise the significance of some events or why they have affected Thailand. For instance, my mum made a comment last week that Colonel Gaddafi might be right about Al Qaeda having infiltrated Benghazi and is the cause of the uprisings and I wondered how many others would agree. The assertion being based on so many Muslim Arab state countries all deciding to start an uprising almost synchronously.
I mean why not? It is feasible when you think back to the threats made by Al Qaeda leaders from the mountain strongholds of Mohmand that they would do just that in Afghanistan and Iraq. If they were struggling to cause political upheaval because of the occupying forces then the natural succession would be the Arab states. If you could destabilise the surrounding states the coalition forces would be spread so thinly the Taliban would be able to regain ground in the hills of Kandahar and maybe even push on to the oil rich Arab states. Except there is a flaw in the theory.
It would be fair to say the Americans have yet again fallen for the personality style Presidential campaign and have put a Muppet in charge. Albeit a Nobel winning Muppet but the Peace Prize board fell for it as well. President Muppet's popularity is now less than half and when you look at individual issues such as the health care plan, 53% want it gone, only 18% want to keep it. His popularity chart looks somewhat appropriately like a cock (Mori Opinion Poll) and his overseas policies are ineffectual bordering on a return to the days when Al Qaeda had so much influence they regularly bombed the world trade centre until they eventually succeeded in bringing them down, which is kind of odd considering the Peace Prize board gave him a gong because of his international diplomacy.
Hell at least George Bush was a source of amusement and his strategy was simple. You keep going until you wipe them off the face of the earth hence his 'famous for the wrong reason' speech of "You're either with us, or against us" that I felt was all the more strengthened by going on to say "They do not stop looking for ways to harm our people, and neither do we" because I didn't consider that mattered when we all knew how he felt. Anger, sorrow, heartache, vengeful, and the world standing at his side was a worthy cause. It wasn't American territory that was struck, neither was it a strike against democracy. It wasn't the American trade centre, it was the world trade centre, and that is why we should unite in defeating tyranny but in any war there has to be a goal. An unwavering itinerary of fixed target and ultimate division. George doubleya' was right, they were either with us or against us.
The Taliban have this in solidarity and numbers while Barak Obama wouldn't know the meaning of it. Al Qaeda would have to use pincer tactics from their stronghold in Pakistan to regain Afghanistan. They would have to gain a foothold in countries like Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Oman, all of which have proven beyond their capability. An ally should be Iran and the lack of offensive into Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi would suggest they have nothing of the sort and can only muster the occasional insurgent. There is a counterside to this theory. Syria would be easy pickings and right on the doorstep of Iraq. Somalia is Al Qaeda territory and next door are Yemen, Eritrea, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia and I think my mum has a point. But what stands out the most is Barak Obama's middle-east policies such as telling the west's newest ally in Arabia, one Muammar Gaddafi, to step down while asking the US subsidised government of Taliban infiltrated Bahrain to stand firm. Will Obama go down in history as America's first black president? For his sake I hope so, because it is the only thing he is capable of getting right.
Historically, just like Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi brought together and united a bunch of Nomads and tribal warriors who all wanted control at the cost of any opposition's lives. Now the US and UK have carried out an illegal war on Iraq and added an enforced a no fly zone over Libya and I would not be in the least bit surprised if in twenty years time Iraq is back in the hands of a dictator and Libya will be run by Saif Gaddafi. It certainly won't be run by the youngest 'Khamis' who was apparently assassinated on the 21st of this month by one of his own pilots.
But to the flaw in this rather frightening theory, which is if you look at the body language and the expression of the peoples who are standing up to their governments in every one of these countries you find very controlled emotion. Controlled political language. They are led by University educated men and they have an explanation for their actions and their reasoning is 'The time has come for change'. And why would they all be asking at the same time? Because they have all been ruled by a dictator for the same length of time. They are all post war nations and the countries where this political uprising isn't happening all have democratically elected parliaments. The upheaval is happening in the poorest countries. The rich nations are relatively stable, with the exception of Bahrain. Geographically though, Libya sits in the middle of Tunisia, where all the political unrest started, Egypt, and Algeria. There was nothing Gaddafi could do to stop this tide of change and in his crass naivety he didn't believe it possible so he took no precautionary measures.
In my naivety I thought it possible that this change could be global. I fully expected the last two demonstrations in Bangkok to be spurred on by the Middle-East and yet it wasn't. There is a difference in politics as well as culture that puts Arab's and Asian's world's apart I guess but that doesn't mean the mutual simmering disrespect between red and yellow has mellowed. It just isn't their time yet that's all. The reds tried last year and vandalised Bangkok and failed to get their own way. All the yellow shirts had to do was a 'sit in' in Suvarnabuhmi airport for five days and the army capitulated and took over the government by force. The yellow shirts are the masters and the reds, the minions. But this is the least of Thailand's worries over Middle-East imports of which they have none apart from tourism.
How often do you hear it said that the American's just want the oil. A claim made by people who do not understand International community interraction. There are no defining lines of estate or any equilibrium. It is more of a status quo maintained by the sizes of army and long range missiles or some other commodity exchange. Most races don't like each other very much until a common cause occurs. Thailand has massive exports. They are top of the tree in a lot of goods but they have little resource. They are not members of the nuclear age nor do they have heavy crude or natural gas. They have tons of gold but that doesn't burn very well. They rely on China for coal and Russia for oil and the biggest refiner is BP. Russia has oil, which it needs to exchange with heavy crude, which it gets from the Middle-East. If the theorised Taliban extremists get hold of the oil rich regions of the Middle-East, Thailand will be back to ox-carts and camp fires.
I keep hearing it said that you cannot tell who is an Al Qaeda operative but it isn't true. Have you looked into the eyes of Habib or Raingzieb Ahmed. Ramzi Yousef and Ramzi Binalshibh or Abu Omar. These men have a look of hatred. Often they look to have mental problems. They have been brainwashed to fight for the Jihad. Al Qaeda does not understand politics nor overseas policy. They do not negotiate with diplomacy nor do they believe in democracy. They do not have an interest in political upheaval except to regain control. The likes of Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Mubarak, Abdullah Saleh, and Bashar al-Assad are far more likely to adopt Al Qaeda to hold onto control and yet they have all been deserted by the west after years of support and it was overseas policy of this kind that started off 9/11 in the first place.
There are other tell tale signs such as Internet activity and emails and sudden redirection in behaviour. The signs were there for Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Hani Hanjour, and Ziad Jarrah but pre-9/11 the CIA and MI6 did not understand what the intelligence was leading to. Today they do and some students have been caught early and been rehabilitated to think for themselves and behave more appropriately in society. It is this individual level that Al Qaeda operate on not nationwide uprisings. The groundwork of brainwashing needs establishment and resource of educational opportunity and Al Qaeda can hardly set up the Birmingham branch of the Muslim Exchange for Newly Trained Arab Loonies. Instead they rely on mosques that allow outside preachers to come in and give talks on being a good Muslim living in the west and students who are allowed to do research in universities.
Many years ago I lived in a rented flat and the landlord was a decent guy trying to make his way in England. He was born in the UK and was not in any way disaffected with British life. He is a devout Muslim and goes regularly to his mosque and is staunch in his belief of the Quran. He has no idea why but everyone is entitled to their beliefs, even the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and those who think global warming isn't real. He popped in for no reason at all and over coffee he says to me, "That George Bush is the biggest murderer ever on this planet don't you agree".
He may have been disappointed with my reply of "You've been down that bloody mosque again haven't you.".
But this is the real world of brainwashing and why 85% of Arabs believe the towers were subject to a controlled demolition..
This is how simple the process of altering minds is. You make people look at things from the wrong perspective. Then you inspire hatred of those who trick the world into believing where the blame lies. Now you have people who are willing to die for this cause and you teach them how to make explosives. Once you have your ground crew in place you need to spread the word securely and to targeted people of influence and universities are a breeding ground for revolutionaries.
So how do you stop it?.
Twenty years ago bullying became such a big problem in UK schools that there was a nationwide program started to combat it. Love her or loathe her, Esther Rantzen had started a charity called childline whose slogan was 'Need to talk, call childline', and it caught on big. Their anti-bullying slogan was very simple, 'Tell someone'. But when you are being taught something you know is wrong by your religious council, who do you tell? If you tell will you be punished? Or what about the brotherhood of Islam. It goes against all teachings in the Quran to hand over one of your brothers.
But when it is in the university it is within our means to single out these people. Not for retribution, but for much needed counselling and two weeks ago a news item got my attention when it said 'there is a dire need to de-radicalise universities'. But what 'got my goat' was the university professors and lecturers reactions to being asked to monitor students work for extremist tendency. The UCU union quickly responded that it "would be damaging to freedom of speech and research and it was not the professors job to be an unpaid spy.".
How different Britain is today. In WWII the likes of Turing and Knox stepped forward out of 'duty'. Neumann invented the 'Heath Robinson' and Einstein, Szilárd, and Oppenheimer sent us into the nuclear age and they never felt they were an unpaid spy. Wallis designed the Wellington bomber in his own time and came up with the basics of the 'Bouncing Bomb' using his own funds. Tommy Flowers spent his savings on building the colossus that was later used to break the German Enigma and Lorenz codes. RJ Mitchell was dying of cancer but designing a plane that would win the 'Battle of Britain' was more important and none of them complained that it would impede freedom of speech or revolutionary research and had they done so the UCU would not exist.
All round the world these professors have a duty of care for their students and not wanting to monitor their work is a dereliction. Student work is already monitored for plagiarism while computer software checks work for wording that has been taken from the Internet. The techniques for spotting radicalisation within text is simple and effective and the anti-terror organisations have regular contact with universities. So why would you feel justified in putting innocent lives at risk by ignoring something staring you in the face. You are not a Medical Practitioner or Cleric, and your clients are not entitled to privacy. The London tube bombings could have been prevented and if you do not want a repeat of that, when they write and speak of things that is extremism and incitement to commit an act of atrocity, you should consider how much freedom they afford the rest of society? It is illegal to suggest meeting up for some civil disobedience and maybe blow a few people to bits and being an on-campus university student doesn't put you above the law, but it does make you harder to find as well as easier to radicalise. Whimping out on this issue renders the professor's useless to society in this modern age.
But the weird thing is, I started to consider all the other things in our education establishments that seem to falter at every stage and comparing them to Thailand. The first I have to get out the way is these muted professors. When we submitted our visa application for our daughter to come to the UK we couldn't have timed things any worse. I couldn't get time off work in the early summer and the other half couldn't get time off until the October. That meant while we were trying to get school work from Thailand the schools were closed for summer hols. The missus telephoned a teacher and asked if he could help but he refused because it was for official reasons that we wanted his help. He wasn't authorised to do that. So when we went to Thailand I went to both schools to ask for help and managed to speak to one of the heads who said he could not write a letter explaining why we didn't have the course work. So, I wrote a letter in his name saying he could not help and asked him to sign it to which he wouldn't and so I asked someone else to sign to say he had refused to sign. His 'groundhog day' had arrived and he decided to go and get our daughters schoolwork.
That schoolwork was ungraded so I asked the teachers if they could write a note to explain why. None of them wanted anything to do with it. So much for wanting to help the kids eh! It may not be as serious as radicalisation to the greater society but to us it was a cliffhanger that left us at the mercy of the immigration unit because we needed to prove she was still in full-time education.
We finally arrived back in the UK two weeks before Christmas and I applied to the council for a school registration. That arrived back in the middle of January and although I appreciate local councils move at a very 'special needs' pace that would be somewhere between a wet paint sign on a white wall and a 'not quite' Banksy bit of graffiti with the office party in between I reckon the decorated walls would happen considerably quicker despite all that was needed for the registration was to type my hand written form into a computer. Another three weeks went by before the first school called to say they were full. The second called and we went for an interview and during a telephone conversation I was asked to bring along schoolwork from Thailand. I explained it was all in Thai. 'Ooh that doesn't matter, we can get it translated'. Later on that translated into another phone call explaining that the translation would cost £600 and could mum do it? My turn to explain to her, actually I can do it, which was completely ignored with "Well can mum come to the school with you and tell me what it says".
In Thailand you go to the local school and ask them to make room for your daughter, and they do it.
Then came the uniform while we waited for a start date. The school badge, tie, and sports shirt can only be obtained from the school. But the school had none of these three items in stock. We were given a start date of after half term and that was still a long way off. We already had a private tutor for her English and we were referred to a unit called EMAS. I would defend this institution and say they work very hard and really care and she did well with them. One week before school broke up for half term I tried again to obtain the uniform that is compulsory but they still didn't have a tie. The ties actually arrived three days after she started school. The rest of her uniform had to come from two different shops. It beggers the question, why? And while we're at it why does her school have four different uniforms? It isn't the Premier League, it's a bloody school.
In Thailand they show you a picture of the uniform and you go to the local street market and buy it.
I translated the school reports and explained the grades. Now we are fortunate, my step-daughter has a grade four in everything except maths, that is only a three, only a three he says! Reminds me of Beatie from the seventies BT ad's talking to her grandson on the phone and saying "Geology, he has an ology and he thinks he's a failure" The Principal asked what options our little genius would like to do and she chose Fabrics, Design, and English. "You can't do English" says the Principal, "It isn't an option. We'll put you in ASDAN". I explained asdan and she turned her nose up. Apart from which it is two options so that left her with only one, Design. I wouldn't allow it and suggested we look for another school even though our daughter had her sights set firmly on this one.
The Principal told me she would pull out all the stops to get her options. With this in mind I wasn't best pleased when the Principal telephoned me at 2.30pm on the last day of school before half term and said she couldn't do fabrics or design but she could do three units of asdan. Furious would not describe what I felt and I was worried that my ego would affect her education. She was fed up of being at home. She had been in England for four months and had not made a single friend or been to school and she wanted to go even if it wasn't the best choice.
Three days she was at school when she came home with a note from her form teacher saying she was too bright for asdan and they had made room for her in design and art and she could go to EMAS to do extra English. The following week I got another call to say they had managed to get her into emas, big woop seeing as she was already registered with them, and she could go on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings. Her 'timetable' had free units on Friday afternoon, which meant, go home, and Thursday PM session starts at 12.30, which meant she would miss her lunch break. This is what happens when you put managers into schools. The one place in the world where a manager does not belong is in a school. It isn't a production line, it is a child's life and their future, and you couldn't think to go to her class and have a look at her timetable?.
In Thailand the education syllabus is the three 'R's with sciences and English thrown in too. You're choice is to go to school and learn or not go. They have a headmaster and a bunch of teachers. There is no middle management and the I have no idea what my job is 'year group co-ordinators' and Principals or even 'one on one education enhancement officers' and the kids do not make the decisions.
The school where the EMAS was based was moving to a new building during half term up until which our little darling was attending every day. Two weeks on and they said they would close on the Wednesday because there was so much to do. A week before closure I was told that included the Wednesday to which I sarcastically responded, 'so that'll be Tuesday then'. It passed unnoticed. And then on the Friday morning when I dropped her off I was told they would close on the Monday so the staff could still have their half term break as well. I said ok I will bring her normal time on Monday to which the guy replied, "Well there won't be much for her to do because we will be packing all the computers
"So today is the last day'" I enquired with the tone of 'you're taking the piss'. He replied straightfaced that yes this is the last day and they will be closing at 11.30am. They don't start till 10.00am. When she went for her first day at the new EMAS four weeks later, they still had not completed the move. This is a classroom with eleven pupils. I could have moved the whole lot on my own in a few days. I can't compare this to anything in Thailand, not because they do not have EMAS, but because they do not specialise in incompetence, mis-management, and indecision.
A day or two after this debacle where the teachers are made to look fools by the education managerial system, the replacement, or chief, or most high Principal called me to enquire about our little one's laptop which has the Thai interface and language pack that they would like her to bring to school so she can translate stuff in Google. I pointed out that I wanted her to learn English and translating with a utility that is competent only in its ability to get it completely wrong every single time is not going to help our goal. Apart from which her laptop would not be allowed to connect to the Internet via the schools network. The Principal correcting me saying that her laptop works fine in school I ignored and suggested my daughter could bring in her Thai keyboard and they could add the Thai Kadmanee font. I even sent instructions on how with pretty pictures. She brought the keyboard back home and said the teacher couldn't get it to work.
I wasn't at all surprised because they probably have as much policy permission as an illegal CIA server hacker with the missing ingredient of computer knowledge. Because otherwise the far more intelligent kids would be hacking around the schools network as did my brother and I back in the dos platform days at our local college as mature students. The temptation was simply too overwhelming for both of us with an out of control escalation of one-upmanship. My bro went first with taking a print screen of the display, setting it as the desktop wallpaper, and then hiding the icons and task bar. You should try it, it is really funny. Our classroom was being used by day as an art class and on my PC was some photos of two girls. That replaced the college's own default wallpaper for the entire college intranet. My bro found a photo of our tutor and this became too much for either of us to not do the inevitable and stretch it out of shape and into a fish eye view and then full screen as desktop wallpaper. The tutor thought this hilarious. Oh no wait, that was the class that thought it was hilarious, the tutor said he could do without something or other!.
These testing times were the bedding ground for Microsoft on how to prevent such catastrophic calamities and only people who know what they are doing are allowed to change a keyboard or add a language. Except when it's a phishing email from China of course but by 2003 we had a Blair government that could achieve anything from preventing civil war four thousand miles away to explaining why his children didn't have to have the MMR jab but the rest of the UK's kids did. It wasn't quite, 'we have stockpiled six million inoculations and my kids make it six million and three' but he might as well have done. Blair was the sole exponent of a project he called 'computers for schools', not the catchiest phrase but he wanted business to invest, and they did, primarily Tesco who already had a program of that nature since 1992. They poured PC's into the schools who did not have the infrastructure to make use of them, ie four sockets a desk, chair, and a network point for every single one. His aim was a computer in every class and he succeeded.
During the last decade our education system was seriously overhauled. Of course that's on hold now so we can afford the repeal of Parliamentary rules on expenses, which is a bit of a bugger for all the schools half way through using the ill conceived wealth bestowed upon them, by spending it on new buildings because the old ones had been condemned having already been refurbished to accommodate the abundance of PC's. Across the water was threats of broadband across America and a leader, who would have been disappointed to find it didn't include pipes and majorette's who had forgotten their skirt's waving a star spangled banner, was profligating the virtues of computers for education. The Blair government meanwhile made a statement that must have gone down as 'oi I thought of that first' with the Bush administration when during Prime Ministers Questions, PM Blair said we would have broadband in every house in the UK by 2012, without understanding the physics of such a mammoth task, and that every child in the UK should have their own laptop for schoolwork. Further that the UK will be the world leader in technology because in industry as well as blue collar, every worker will need to know how to use a computer. Today's children should learn now how to use a computer for tomorrows world.
Sounded great as a speech but it skipped a couple of inconvenient factors the first of which was not every home had a PC because the Gates vision had yet to reach its conclusion and not that the homes without PC's could not afford them. The 2011 census is yet to be carried out but my money will be on the homes without computers have no need of one but during that era of 'Britain will lead the world' I was constantly of a persuasion of 'why do we have to spend all this growth, why don't we save some of it for a rainy day?' I'll be honest and say that I think even if Blair could have foreseen the 'Global Recession' he would have spent twice as much as we didn't have. Yes that benefits the 'have nots' but sadly it only makes us all 'have nots'. Millions were then poured into 'task force' groups and 'white papers' and one notable 'all party committee' that was disbanded mid-term having concluded sod all. Amongst others was a competition to develop a solid state, connect to anything, simple apps', laptop for schools that instead of providing the tax payer with something for their huge investment caused Asus to come up with a model called the Eee. Most manufacturers considered it insignificant and not costworthy until Asus were bombarded with parents who wanted to buy one for at home. Now we can choose from Notebooks, Netbooks, Tablets, and Minis with SSD hard drives bigger than a nineties mainframe that has driven the industry on to develop static memory that will in time eliminate hard disk drives, memory, and whirring fans.
It did more for the industries development than it did for school kids. The second factor was that kids who lived in a computerised home already knew how to use it. They were already doing their homework on it and judging by my nieces and nephews it wasn't making any difference to their levels of education. Apart from knowing how to Google their homework, however unbeknown to me, I was endowed with seeing my own son developing a penchant for books and he knew his times tables and finally after college to train as a chef, going to work in a bank. Compared to his 7+ years younger cousins squabbling over computer time without a single book as an alternative and if the calculator says it is 43 it must be. Ok maybe I only had 7 kids to model my development pattern on but Tony Blair used none at all, and deliberately so. Also I have hindsight while TB had vision but when you want to change an entire education curriculum you have to prove that it is for the better before you make the jump.
I would compare Blair's 21st century education overhaul to the last time Labour decided to make a complete change and brought in comprehensive schools and CSE's. The debate has never been concluded over which is best but you have to choose between everybody being absolutely average or the privileged being encouraged. Blair believed everyone could excel given the opportunity and he instigated a research program to assess what and to what level education could be improved by every child having a computer as well as the long term benefit of driving Britain into the misunderstood IT revolution.
This required some imagination as to what the future will require and how much of an education will be needed to operate it, which was concluded with a summary that computers are developing to eliminate the human element of error and that means the operators will need less skills and knowledge of its functionality.
Parents monitored children's activity on the home PC and reported the usage. The average year 7 to year 11 school child spent most of their time playing games but they were already using it for social networking with topical group discussion intertwined with homework from school. This was a good sign that development was taking place naturally but the results in the classroom showed they had the same answer regardless of it being right or wrong. Then there was the unenviable task of assessing the value of the information on the web. There were some eminent scientists and beardy pipe smokers involved who had to invent software that could trawl the Internet and read the text and then appraise it. They made some remarkable discoveries like explicit material is the smallest category on the web but the most legislated.
By far the largest user of the Internet was already known to be spam but they discovered a close second was pages with no value and dead links and that the fastest growth area on the Internet was socialising while search engines were hardly being used at all for asking school curriculum questions. The overwhelming conclusion was that the Internet is a source of information but because "Information is not knowledge" it had no value without any search result being proven. Einstien's quote began appearing in reports everywhere with the same concern that the world wide web was an immense source of information but not answers. New buzz words like 'knowledge base' appeared and 'information' and 'knowledge' became fused in the business world as well as politics. But as Thomas H. Davenport said "In a knowledge-driven economy, talk is real work.".
'Brain storming' is one of my most hated buzz words but when a group of people get together to thrash out a problem it results in a collective knowledge. And the provision of collective data or information resource cannot replace that discussion. So despite the government being told the schools do not have the servers and cabling to house the computers, and the enormous task of providing secure environments for wireless networks and safe surfing, along with the Internet will be no more beneficial than a decent library and the skills to use a computer will in the future become less demanding not more, they forged ahead. The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was just one of many that came up with the same scenario and because school curriculum's insist on Internet usage they published papers on evaluating information found on the Internet which has subsequently become the model for students to follow. Which of course needs to be taught or how are students going to find, evaluate, understand what the information in their research means?.
In conclusion the UK and US Education Authorities should be wholly independent because when you invest in middle-management and politicians are deciding what should be taught and schools are given autonomy to become a grant financed academy you end up with the school that my daughter goes to in the UK. The school is run by managers and is technologically advanced with state of the art theatres and lecture rooms but the kids learn from books, pencils, and teachers.
Thailand's schools have computers but their teaching methods are still in fifties Britain. It is a discipline that works and ensures all children learn much more than 'academic studies' and those that excel go on to bigger things. Yes it is a matter of money and class but that can be fixed with grants for low class students or loans for academics and without dragging everything into mediocrity. Thailand looks to the west for development inspiration and I hope when they look at our new schools they conclude it isn't worth having because Blair's vision for Britain's education system was revolutionary but it wasn't progress.
Or maybe we should just move back to Thailand..