Junior doctors’ strike in the UK

Jeremy Hunt, the UK Secretary of State for Health, has urged the junior doctors’ representatives to return to the negotiation table.  This followed the most successful “junior doctors’ strike” in the UK. Doctors are complaining about the working conditions especially the new junior doctors’ contract to be introduced by the government. The contract in its essence increases the workload on doctors and puts patients at risk. There has been worldwide support to the junior doctors’ strike and all efforts have been made to ensure patients’ safety on that day.

The death of 43 missing Mexican students

On the 26th September this year, 43 student teachers travelled to the town of Iguala, Mexico to raise funds, and disappeared after violent clashes with municipal police. In the six weeks following that day, evidence has been unearthed to prove that police, the mayor, and gang members were all involved in the mass kidnapping. On 7 November, three gang members confessed to the killing of all 43, explaining how the bodies were then burnt at a landfill site, and the remains thrown in the river.

Human rights abuse
Decades of drug related violence has made this Central-American country one of the most dangerous in the world to live, and it was always a matter of time before such an incident took place. In this case, the most shocking factor is that the police, whose primary function should be to protect civilians, seem to have been heavily involved in the supposed murders – with eyewitnesses reporting that the students were bundled in their cars after the initial altercation.

The mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, has been arrested along with the town’s police chief – and the governor of the Guerrero region has also resigned. The repercussions are being felt at the highest level, with protestors setting fires outside the presidential palace in Mexico City. The Mexican people have had enough of the continued corruption and violence, and the government needs to act decisively in dealing with the core issues of the crimes.

Continued violence
The story has shocked the world, shining a spotlight on the issues seen in the country on a daily basis. How can Mexico change? What will fix this country which struggles with its burden of being the centre point between North and South America? Is there an answer?

Strength in power
There is no simple solution: the drug cartels are ruthless and have terrifying power over politicians and police throughout the country. The answer lies at the top of the political hierarchy, President Peña Nieto has to be stronger. He has to make sure his appointments are morally sound and he must remove the elements of outside influence from any position of power.

Global assistance
The rest of the world must support him in order for this to happen, as the cartels have become too strong for the state to handle alone. Violence and corruption have grown immeasurably because characters such as Abarca, with links to organised crime, are able to sit in positions of power and neglect their responsibilities. Purging the system of corrupt politicians and fighting the cartels is likely to be a long and difficult project, but with the support of the world Mexico can at least try to reach that goal and give its 122 million citizens renewed hope.

Extremism and brainwashing kids at school – A crime against humanity?

In recent weeks, the issue of extremism and brainwashing in UK schools has once again re-occurred in the media and in parliament.

Specifically, education secretary Nicky Morgan announced that there would be certain school reforms following ‘disturbing’ findings in Birmingham schools.

These findings were uncovered by education commissioner Peter Clarke. He was appointed to the role when a letter, detailing what was happening in certain schools in the Midland, was uncovered.

Known as the ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter, it showed plans to push a more Islamist doctrine in some schools – ousting any teacher who did not actively follow the same agenda.

The report

In his report, Clarke found that in some Birmingham Schools there was an Islamist ethos that was not only “intolerant” but also “aggressive”.

In some cases, sexism, homophobia and hostility to other forms of extremism were being actively promoted.

Clearly, this level of intolerance is not acceptable within our schools, primarily because of the ease with which children are easily led.

How do you solve the brainwashing and extremism problem?

In response to Clarke’s findings, Morgan introduced two new reforms, aimed at helping head teachers to overcome any obstacles in running their schools in the correct manner.

She introduced a new education commissioner for Birmingham, where the majority of extremism is in evidence, as well as a new board of head teachers for staff to receive extra support.

These new tiers of oversight were specifically created to support teachers, making sure that extremist views are not influencing their work.

The responsibility placed on the shoulders of a teacher, at both primary and secondary level, is often a heavy burden to carry.

And it is important that they are properly supported and regularly assessed, to make sure the curriculum is being taught correctly.

Religious extremism needs to be avoided and an understanding of difference and diversity should be instilled in our school system.

Conclusion – a crime against humanity

The period up until the age of 18, is one of the most important periods in a person’s life. The ability to absorb information will never be better and a child’s ideals are very often moulded at this time.

For this very reason, brainwashing children to extremist views can be seen as a crime against humanity.

Children have the right to have a balanced upbringing, where an innate tolerance and understanding of cultural and religious diversity is a strong platform for the future.

If our children are influenced by extremist versions of religion, humanity will suffer when our society becomes more fractured and intolerant.

Student numbers soar – and staff levels fall

University students should feel confident that lecturers can provide the support they need throughout their academic study at the institution. Is this crucial aspect of higher education being compromised?

Whilst job cuts are limiting the number of lecturing staff, enrolment figures continue to rise. If a lecturer does not have enough hours in the day to spend time with an ever increasing number of students, the quality of learning will, inevitably, decline.

Perhaps we should first question what exactly tuition fees are being used for. They rose to a staggering £9000 per year in 2012 giving rise to a climate of uncertainty in other areas.

This annual 3 fold increase from £3000 does not appear to have put people off enrolling; but is this a temporary situation? Whilst the demand for a university place has continued to soar each year, it may well tail off rapidly in the future if standards of teaching fall. By then, will it be too late to reverse new strategies, or will it be too expensive or confusing? Or will standards remain low and the world wide historic recognition of British university education enters an irreversible decline while other nations overtake?

It has also highlighted the issue of value for money when considering the staff-student ratio.

Academics must maintain a balance between conducting research and time spent tutoring students. Unfortunately, as universities face a decrease in financial backing, lecturers are coming under increasing pressure to generate private funding from marketable research. This has left some students feeling that they have little or no relationship with the tutors for whose expertise they are paying out so much.

It can be argued that different courses require different levels of contact with lecturers. Arts and humanity students would typically be expected to spend more time reading on their own than someone on a science course for example. Yet all students require a certain amount of face-to-face contact with lecturers to develop their skills. So how can a student’s understanding be thoroughly tested if they are just one in a sea of faces filling the lecture theatre?

Universities owe both the lecturer and the student a system which does not compromise the quality of learning if the institution cannot afford to employ more staff.

If students can get a degree by passively taking notes and rarely speaking to academics, surely we are losing the whole the point of higher education? Universities could, instead, strive to create smaller group tutorials and limit the amount of two-hundred-plus student lectures to an absolute minimum.

Reverting to a more hands-on approach to university tutoring with less staff might be labour intensive, but it is vital that students do not feel that they are on their own. The relationship between lecturer and student should give both parties the opportunity to experiment, debate and discover. It’s not just a case of taking notes.