Blessed are the Peacemakers

Two months into an uprising that has claimed at least two lives and brought thousands to the streets, Ukraine’s political crisis still seems far from any resolution. President Yanukovych has refused to declare a state of emergency, though by all accounts the protests are escalating.

Amidst burned buses, tear gas and barricades, however, there is another sight that stands out on the frontline: The strong numbers of Orthodox priests who have turned out, not to protest, but rather to pray.

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s government threatened to ban prayer services at the protests, but even that didn’t keep the priests from showing up with their robes and crosses and holy books.

As one priest said about the proposed ban, “It is illegal. It is immoral. Nobody can forbid people to pray.”

Check out these incredible photos:

Church in CAR gives shelter to Muslims fleeing Christian militia

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A Christian church in the Central African Republic is currently providing shelter to a group of 700 Muslims, who are attempting to flee the vengeful “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) Christian militia.

For months, violence between Christians and Muslims has ravaged the country, leaving more than 1 million displaced from their homes. Following a series of atrocities committed by the Muslim Seleka rebel group targeting Christian communities, Christian “anti-balaka” militias have undertaken retribution attacks against Muslims in the country.

The pastor of the church in the city of Boali, which is currently being guarded by about 70 French troops, however, wants an end to the violence.  He told France 24 news,

“I am not going to let anyone hurt the people inside my church, it doesn’t matter whether they are Christians or Muslims,”

and encouraged his congregation to greet their Muslim neighbors with a “kiss of peace.”

Church and local officials are working on an evacuation plan for the Muslim families taking shelter at the church.

The World’s 85 Richest People Have as Much Money as the World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion

India - Agricultural Scale Up - Samarpan

You could read that headline every day for the rest of your life, and it’d probably never fully sink in.

Here are some truly staggering numbers from Oxfam, who released a study on the world’s income disparity that is absolutely eye-popping.  Just a run down of the bullet points is incredible:

  • Nearly 50 percent of the world’s wealth is owned by one percent of the world’s population.
  • The richest one percent of people in the world are worth about $110 trillion—65 times the sum total of wealth owned by the world’s poorest fifty percent.
  • 7 in 10 people live in countries where income equality has decreased over the past thirty years.
  • The total wealth of the world’s poorest 3.5 billion equals the wealth of the richest 85 individuals.

Apply to be on the 2014 UK Youth Select Committee

Youth Select Committee

Here’s a massive opportunity for a young person to help influence and shape the future:

Do you want to be part of a Youth Select Committee that will change things for young people? Are you aged 11 to 18, resident in the UK and able to volunteer your time on the dates as stated in the application?  Do you have an interest in youth representation, and democracy? Then apply to be on the Youth Select Committee 2014.

The topic for this year’s Youth Select Committee – which mirrors Parliamentary Select Committees -  will  be Votes at 16, which has been chosen by the majority of the UKs youth representatives in the UK Youth Parliament and the British Youth Council.

You will join a panel of eleven young people who will take and hear evidence before writing a report with recommendations to the Government. It will meet in one of the Committee rooms in the House of Commons in June and July 2014. You will need to be able to commit to the dates outlined in the application form and be willing to volunteer about 2 hours a week to take part until September 2014.  All expenses are covered and you will get a certificate of participation, insight into Parliament and your experience will be accredited learning through the BYC Youth Voice Award.

Your application form needs to be returned by the 31st January 2014 and the successful candidates will by informed by 7th February.  Please be aware that you may be called for a telephone interview that week.

For an informal discussion and further details, please contact Paul Boskett MBE, Youth Democracy Manager at the British Youth Council, on email at paul.boskett@byc.org.ukor by phone on 07507 639788.

Educating Yorkshire write an open letter to Michael Gove

Educating Yorkshire

Deputy head Michael Steer in The Big Issue says education should not be a political football – but put back in the hands of the experts:

Dear Michael Gove,

As an out and proud data geek, league tables are unequivocally one of my favourite things in the world. Compactly presented information troves, packed with a multitude of information that can be analysed and reanalysed to the nth degree leading to a glorious compendium of graphs and charts. Heaven. Conversely, as a teacher and West Ham United fan I also find them to be objects of absolute horror.

Schools, by their very nature, differ wildly from one town to the nextI’m utterly convinced that every school in this country is packed with dedicated, creative, intelligent and passionate staff, desperate to secure the best outcomes for those students in its care. Because teaching is a vocation, not a job. However, schools, by their very nature, differ wildly from one town to the next. Myriad factors converge to create each individual environment.

Sure, the people who work in schools share a common ideology of wanting the best outcomes for young people but the definition of ‘best outcomes’ is entirely dependent on the context of the school. This is why league tables are such a contentious topic because the layers of complexity and circumstance are stripped away and we are judged and rated as if it were a level playing field – which it most certainly is not.

If you were to visit the schools at the top and bottom of the league table you would have very different experiences but I bet the common ground would be a core team of staff working themselves insensible for the good of the students. The staff in the bottom school must just feel utterly crushed when those tables get published, which makes it very hard to see their benefit.

The whole profession was similarly crushed recently when the PISA figures were released stating that we are lagging behind on the international stage when it comes to English, maths and science. The news was met, predictably, with a large amount of coverage in the media bemoaning our education system and laying the blame at the feet of either ineffectual teachers or demonic hellbeast teenagers.

We should always be looking at ways to drive up the standards – quality of education is absolutely paramount – but we aren’t going to bring about that improvement by simply shouting at people to be better at their jobs. We need to seriously consider reform.

The key to successful learning is very simple and straightforward. It’s engagementThe key to successful learning is very simple and straightforward. It’s engagement. If someone is truly interested in something, can clearly see the purpose and relevance of it and gets to apply it, then it will stick. For example, learning to drive is significantly more difficult than learning trigonometry – the difference is that people want to drive a car much more than they want to find the size of a missing angle.

The countries that are successful share a key similarity. They have all undergone significant reform that has placed education standards front and centre. Reform that focuses on fostering a love of learning, reform that acknowledges and addresses the fact that children are individuals and as such have different ways of learning and differing support needs, reform that makes education one cohesive journey, rather than a series of loosely connected phases.

You are very vocal about the need for improvement, and in actuality, everyone working in education would agree with you but that won’t happen with a series of, seemingly, knee-jerk policy changes and a culture of blame and finger-pointing.

While education standards remain a political weapon, any improvements will always happen on a political timescale rather than an educational one. If there is a serious desire to have a ‘world class’ education system in this country, then why not remove it from the political arena?

Hand it over to the experts and the academics who have dedicated their lives to the study of education and learning, to the thousands of dedicated staff who are committed to securing the best possible outcomes for young people.

Let’s be radical, Mr Gove: try working with us instead of against us, support us instead of denigrating what we do, don’t try and pit us directly against each other when it is clearly a meaningless exercise. Sit down with us, ask our opinions, see if we can come up with a shared vision and think of creative, yet practical ways to implement it. You may be surprised by what the Enemies of Promise are capable of.

Yours sincerely,
Michael Steer,
Deputy head of Thornhill Community Academy