Sunday, 1 January 2012

2011, the year of Uprisings (or Peri, Peri Chicken), that Impossible Question, an ex Midwife called Brenda, iPads and What We Still Have to Learn!

Welcome to 2012, a year some five hours old. Political and possibly also economically driven uprisings dominated 2011. In a new form of pan-national contagion, the phenomena of revolution has so far touched Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and many other countries in the Middle East. Colonel Gaddafi lost his life after a civil war in Libya, and in Egypt, President Mubarak, like many other people across the globe, lost his job.

Given this global phenomena I was not surprised to see that Nandos, the Peri, Peri Chicken restaurant chain launched a 45-second TV advert, called the ‘Last dictator standing’ in South Africa. This really bad taste advertisement opens with a Robert Mugabe lookalike wistfully picking up a Colonel Gaddafi place card from an empty dinner table. In a dream sequence he is then met by the deceased Libyan dictator who starts a water fight with a golden AK-47. It gets worse; Mugabe is seen partying with Saddam Hussein, South African apartheid leader P W Botha and former Ugandan president Idi Amin before the dream sequence cuts out. Nando’s 6-pack meal is then advertised in its place. Thankfully, I have it on good authority that Nando's have no plans to bring the advert over to Britain.

And I have to say I am with Dave (from Bridgend) and his observations on our own Peri Peri Chicken institution – the OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations). This leading UK awarding body is committed to providing qualifications that engage learners of all ages at school, college, in work or through part-time learning programmes to achieve their full potential. Unfortunately in 2011, 6800 teenagers in 335 School in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, were set a maths question that was impossible to answer in an AS-level exam.The question carried eight marks out of 72 being awarded for the paper and the OCR said it deeply regretted the ‘unfortunate error’ claiming it has a range of procedures in place to ensure candidates are not disadvantaged.

Disarmingly, (for those mathematically challenged  - such as myself), the OCR released full details of the error - in their paper ‘Decision Mathematics 1’: The question as printed asked candidates to verify the shortest route, for two given conditions, giving values of 32.4 + 2x km and 34.2 + x km. These values should have been 34.3 + 2x km and 36.1 + x km respectively. The error was not to have included twice the journey between A and B (0.9 km) and the journey between F and G (1.0 km) in the values given… …Hmm, as Dave said “Can't see what the fuss is all about. The question is worth eight points from a potential 72. Don't re-run the test, ignore the question and mark the paper out of 64. It's basic maths, not rocket science, although some people do like making life needlessly difficult”.

And ex Midwife Brenda set the example of reducing difficulty from one’s life with her simple strategy to secure a bargin chest of draws for her 20 year old grandson Joshua. She spent her entire 2011 Christmas camped outside a furniture shop so she could buy a chest of drawers for just £10 when it opened for the sales. Despite having her walking stick stolen by a partygoer 75 year old Brenda waited until 9am Boxing Day to pick up a chest of drawers reduced from £200 to £10 for her 20-year-old grandson Joshua. It’s to be hoped that Joshua appreciated the effort.

For me I hope the people of Edinburgh appreciated the efforts made on their behalf to put on the best possible firework display to welcome in the New Year. The effort gave rise to one of my favorite photos of 2011, superbly captured by photographer Jeff Mitchell and included in the Guardian news papers images of the year (now there’s a surprise Karen and Sarah). It was a photo of the 5.5 tones of fireworks at Edinburgh Castle ready for the city's Hogmanay celebrations, which were fantastic, unlike the slightly more modest display in Bolton last night which was based upon the half a dozen fireworks I saved from our 5th Nov celebrations.

However, sometimes less can be more. Zheng, a Chinese teenager was so desperate to acquire the new iPad 2 that he sold one of his kidneys for just £2,000 to pay for it. The 17-year-old confessed to his mother that he had sold the kidney after spotting an online advertisement offering cash to anyone prepared to become an organ donor. Trading human organs online is a common practice in China, despite repeated attempts by China's government to stamp out the practice. Last year Japanese television reported that a group of ‘transplant tourists’ had paid £50,000 each to receive new kidneys in China. According to official Chinese Government statistics more than a million people in China need a transplant every year, but fewer than 10,000 receive organs, driving an almost unstoppable black-market organ trade that enriches brokers, doctors and corrupt government officials.

Finally, I could not write a blog about 2011 on the first day of 2012  without mentioning the series of natural disasters we witnessed across the world this year - the tsunami in Japan; an earthquake in New Zealand; famine in the Horn of Africa; and floods in Pakistan and the Philippines. In our April School Development Day we remembered our colleagues and their families in Japan by observing a two minute silence while we watched the almost unthinkable scenes of devastation wrought by the tsunami.

During such times of crisis and disaster it is the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund that provides the resources in those crucial few hours, where delays and lack of resources can mean the difference between life and death. However, not all members contribute in a way that reflects their inherent wealth. For example, selected CERF donors in 2011 made the following donations:

• UK - 60m
• Sweden - £74m
• Norway - £68m
• Netherlands - £54m
• Canada - £41m
• Spain - £20m
• Germany - £16m
• Australia - £14m
• US - £6m
• Japan - £3m
• France - £720,000
• China - £500,000

As can be seen, Chinas contribution amounts to no more than 10 kidneys being sold on the organ black market, or 50,000 chest of draws purchased in Bath, and goodness knows how many firework displays in Edinburgh or 1000 iPads– maybe we still have some lessons to learn in terms of where to spend our money.

And on this first day of 2012, I hope that you are able to make whatever dreams, goals, hopes and thoughts you have for the year come true and work for you and those you care for.