Click the pic to read social media reportage as a small plane flew into the history books
Government House in the Falkland Islands has signed up to the internet messaging service, Twitter – widely regarded as the most effective way to reach people with special interests. The governors of Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands have already built up a following on the news-sharing site, as has Dr Paula McLeod, of St Helena’s Statistics Office. Is it time for The Castle to follow their example and join the global conversation?
Manchester United fans on St Helena should prepare for the arrival of a new adversary in the island sport of shouting at the television on soccer match days.
A tweet on the internet messaging site Twitter warns that a new branch of the Newcastle United supporters’ club is about to be formed on the island.
The alert comes from Paul McGinnety, who has been appointed as St Helena Government’s social policy adviser.
The official press release is full of government-speak about developing and implementing a national social policy blah. It doesn’t say anything about Paul’s views on football.
He is a paid-up magpie, as Newcastle United fans are known – a reference to his team’s black-and-white striped shirts.
Fans are also known as the Toon Army (in the North East of England, “town” is pronounced “toon” – so don’t be confused by references to “Jamestoon”).
In one Twitter posting, he says: “In Jan we will be the St Helena branch of the NUFC supporters.”
His government role includes strengthening community life, but this may be tricky with rival fans – notably Nick Stevens, whose passion for Manchester United has led to him becoming a pundit on the BBC World Service.
As Paul put it in another tweet in December: “I don’t know which club is more odious Man U, city or Chelsea. Awful, no wonder everyone loves seeing them get beat in Europe”.
The writing is on the blackboard for St Helena’s economy if islanders don’t wake up to low marks in their schools. A report finds standards are poor, teachers lack training, and without radical change, the jobs outlook is bleak.
People may gaze at the sky all they like, and dream of the wealth that a new airport might bring in 2015. But money and employment won’t simply drop from the clouds when the first aircraft begins its approach over Prosperous Bay Plain.
The island’s departing education director says building an economy means drastic change in its schools.
“Education must develop hand in hand with the local economy,” says John Sullivan. “It’s hard to see how one will develop fully without the other.” He says staff are rising to the challenge, but the whole community must help meet the “huge need” to raise standards.
And that’s the polite version. It’s put rather more bluntly in the draft version of the latest Sustainable Development Plan. It says:
“The standard of education in all sectors is poor, with students achieving well below the UK national average at all key stages.
“Students leave school with a low education base and this means that the outlook for higher education and employment opportunities is bleak.
“A large percentage of the teachers are inadequately trained, which leads to poor quality teaching.
“Parents do not support the pupils at home sufficiently: a particular issue with boys, who are generally not motivated to learn and who achieve very low levels of attainment.”
The message is that creating an enterprise culture on St Helena will need people with higher-order skills, and the ability to acquire more: islanders must learn how to learn.
The story is not all gloomy. Standards in some departments at Prince Andrew School have risen markedly in the past decade or so. A-level pass rates have risen.
And Saints have achieved at the highest level: in recent years, the island has produced its first medical doctor; another Saint was recently awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree by Bristol University, and a government department is headed by another St Helenian with a doctorate. All three are women.
In Canada, Daniel Yon has become a university professor. And the island’s supply ship, the RMS St Helena, is captained by Saints who studied for years to earn their Master’s tickets.
But they are the exceptions.
James Greenwood shows there’s a will to bring in talented school staff. As well as teaching technology and enterprise, he is a curriculum adviser for both primary and secondary schools on St Helena. He says there are “gifted teachers” among his colleagues.
Despite his physical isolation in the middle of the South Atlantic, he is an influential figure, sharing his thoughts on education with 5,000 followers around the world on the internet messaging site, Twitter.
He also writes a website, under the heading, “James Greenwood, passionate about education & technology”.
In a move that may surprise many, he is to introduce Classics and Ancient Greek at A level and GCSE from September 2012. The course fits with his views on teaching critical thinking. In a recent internet post, he wrote:
“One of the fundamental questions I find myself asking in my curriculum review is ‘how do we get the kids to think?’ – students will rarely question received wisdom. They instead accept it and want to move on to what’s next. There is a real lack of critical thinking across the curriculum.”
The draft Strategic Development Plan sets out improvement targets that would make many a UK head teacher quail – even without the obstacles faced on a remote island.
The plan seeks to double the number of children reaching the benchmark standard for maths and science at the end of primary school – within three years.
The ambition is for 60% of Year 6 children to have reached that Level 4 score by 2014; and by 2015, 70%. The same target has been set for English, where performance is not as poor.
Another target seeks a 50% increase in the number of students reaching the top A-C grades in five subjects at GCSE.
The plan calls for measures including:
- better education management, with challenging targets for teachers
- better use of resources
- more professionally-trained teachers
- changing the culture of learning on the island – including for adults
Quality, it says, will be raised across the board. “The number of teachers qualified to UK standards will be increased annually. Retaining and attracting high-quality teachers permanently, through overseas recruitment and on-island training, is a priority.”
Even those in charge can expect close scrutiny: “Senior leaders within the education department will be rigorously monitored to ensure standards are improving and to enhance accountability.”
Part of the strategy is to develop “an enthused and self-assured” community of teachers.
Better skills training for adults is promised. Creating an entrepreneurial culture and encouraging new businesses is seen as vital, so there will be more apprenticeships and the adult education service will focus more on the private sector.
It’s all about equipping islanders to land the kind of jobs that St Helena Government expects the island to need if the airport spawns an enterprise economy.
“By developing skills, the local workforce will be in a better position to determine their future,” says the plan. “We want people to lead as fulfilling a life as possible. Getting the best possible start is one of the ways of reaching this.”
To be honest, I don’t think you should blame the teachers and parents solely….it’s the young people who don’t put in all the effort to study!
Robyn Sim, St Helena
This is very sad to hear as over the years St Helena has had very good Saint teachers, but they have left the profession to go abroad and work as stewards, cleaners, etc because they get paid more money doing these jobs. I spent nearly two years on St Helena working as a nursery assistant but left to take up employment on the Falklands in the 80′s as a club assistant, which paid me three times more than working on the Education Department on St Helena. Sadly 20+ years and things have not changed. It is so unfair for the St Helena people as they get paid pittance compared to the ex-pat who gets hired to do a job on St Helena, whether it is educational, medical etc, they get paid UK wages and used to receive free holidays back to the UK, free housing, and free water and electricity. It would be interesting to know if this still happens? When you think about it, Britain is still treating us who are British Citizens like slaves… after all Saints do the job just as good as them and sometimes even better but who gets the benefits? Not our Saints! Therefore can you blame us for leaving the island? We are still slaves there as far as the government is concerned… maybe that is what the British government want so they can move in there and have the good life on St Helena. As for some of our councillors, it makes you wonder who they are there for! They seem to forget they get elected by the people of St Helena and are there to fight for the PEOPLE OF ST HELENA!!!
Natasha Stroud, UK
Let’s hope St Helena teachers don’t get pushed out, or less St Helena people have the opportunity to go into teaching. It would be a shame. Let’s hope there is more teacher training to the UK standard for our Saints.
Nicola Jane Wallace, UK
Speaking as a parent of two school students I’d like to thank John for his contributions. He made a real positive difference during his time here.
John Turner, St Helena
Economic dream needs better education, says director
Your views on broadband – “students need internet access”
Don’t blow our golden chance, says economist
Strategic Development Plan approved – executive council report, 29 March 2012
Thousands of cruise passengers who’d called at the Falklands were denied the chance to spend their money in Argentina when port authorities refused two ships permission to dock.
British diplomats in Argentina were reported to be ‘frantically’ trying to find out why entry was refused to the Star Princess and Adonia at Ushuaia, apparently because they had travelled from Port Stanley.
Dockers in Argentina had warned that British-registered ships would be delayed at ports because of current tensions between the two nations – but not that they would be turned away.
British Tory MP Patrick Mercer was quoted in The Sun newspaper, saying, ‘This is another piece of escalation and it will hurt Argentina economically.’
Islanders reacted with some dismay on the Twitter messaging website.
Vicky Collier, an islander living in Bournemouth, UK, tweeted: ‘Can’t believe Argentina have banned the cruise ships. That’s absolutely ridiculous.’
UK-based writer Graham Bound said in a tweet: ‘Not clear if move has BA’s [Buenos Airies’s] or even popular local approval.’
And Roxanne King said: ‘Wow the Arg Gov really have spat the dummy out! It’s the people of Ushuaia who will be loosing out. Stupid stupid.’
One irony is that it’s the second month in a row that the Star Princess has been less-than-welcome at a port. On January, an outbreak of stomach flu on board meant passengers were not allowed to go ashore – on the Falkland Islands.
It doesn’t bear thinking about in too much detail, but this message from the editor of Penguin News, on the Twitter messaging website, is too good to resist:
Lisa Watson @Lisafalklands
Best tweet to me this week said I was the unwanted love child of Margaret Thatcher and Ian Paisley +once a year I paint my naked body orange
(Lisa has reported this week how she and other islanders have suffered abusive phone calls in the night from strangers in Argentina).
On days when no one’s emailing you, just be grateful you’re not the editor of the Penguin News. Lisa Watson has been getting lots of messages in recent weeks, mostly from strangers in Argentina:
‘Mainly I am referred to as a prostitute, liar, thief and pirate, other words I really wouldn’t like to mention,’ she told The Guardian in London.
That was before someone on her staff uploaded a picture of the Argentinian president on the website of Penguin News – the Falkland Islands’ newspaper.
There was nothing offensive in the text that went with it, you understand. But online pictures have a behind-the-scenes ‘file name’ that isn’t intended for anyone to see, and when people downloaded the picture of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, they found the file name was ‘bitch’.
The file was removed from the site, but the media got hold of the story and it took off: the Penguin was flying. And soon, so were the insults.
A search for “Penguin News” and “bitch” on Google News yielded 1,484 stories, and rising. Plus 151 in an alphabet that might be Greek.
There were also pictures of the offended president, and one of a penguin. Was someone having another dig, you ask?
Actually, no: this particular picture was from a story in Louisville, in America, under the headline:
No comment – none needed.
Twitter users are encouraged to follow @lisafalklands. This might also be a good week to subscribe to the online edition of Penguin News. As Lisa’s Twitter page says, ‘It’s not just news about penguins.’