Last night, I was asked if reading the Jakarta Post made me angry. The reply was “Of course”, with regard to the stories of religious violence, corruption and ineffective government. However, it is not much worse than reading about the Australian government detaining a 9-year-old orphan on Christmas Island, or wasting billions of dollars on old technology for the national broadband network. That’s what newspapers and TV news do – dwell on the bad stuff. We need to know about it, but there are some good stories too. The Jakarta Post features a couple of stories each week about modern Indonesian “heroes”, people who have overcome adversity and/or devoted their lives to making a difference. Good media outlets also do this.
Zooming in to the smaller picture, Helen has been in touch with our former housekeeper, in Bali. She has recently lost her husband, after a long (and expensive) illness and has two boys in high school. Everything went to try to keep her husband alive. As we say in Australia, she is doing it tough. She has a job – she is paid ~AU$85 a month, of which ~$25 goes in transport, to work from 8am until 3pm, five days a week, to cook, clean, wash and iron for two expatriate women. Now, I don’t know these people, but we were paying more than the going rate of $110 per month, ten years ago, when our housekeeper lived with us (so, therefore, no transport and food was included). Even that was a pittance, but, then, it was a liveable wage, and, her husband had a full time job. She is leaving her current job to set up a food stall, and her employers will find someone else who will work at that rate. (And, before we rail against expatriates, they often pay more for domestic help than the locals.)
Which leads me to luck. As is our custom, we spent our Christmas sojourn in The Lucky Country, and for the very great majority of Australians, it is exactly that. For a start, we have access to a very good education system. This was brought home to me at my daughter’s graduation. Listening to the list of doctoral theses made it abundantly clear how many brilliant young people there are in Australia, and the world.
Maybe they don’t all get their first choice of job, but that doesn’t stop them being committed, knowledgeable young people. In Australia, there are financial safety nets for most people who, for myriad reasons, don’t get paid work. Life is tough for some of them, but is not even close to the lives of people like our former housekeeper. She still has support from others, and has choices. Like millions of people throughout the developing world, she can turn her hand to a small business that would be impossible in Australia, because of health laws and other bureaucratic requirements. At least a billion people do not have that choice.
So, being born in Australia gave me a lot of choices. I may not have always made the best ones, but they have all brought me to now. I have food on the table, money in the bank (well, it used to be a good thing), reasonably good health and a wonderful wife and children. Everything else is a bonus, and there are plenty of them.
I count the opportunity to be an educator as something to be very grateful for. Professionally, I’ve had plenty of lows, plenty of highs, but, also, two outstanding pieces of luck. The first was way back in the last century, when a colleague suggested that I apply for the new Langwarrin Secondary College. I spent one of the best years of my long career with a dozen or so dedicated educators, and learned so much about how schools should work and how kids learn. The second was getting a job at Bali International School. The school was far from being the lucky aspect, but the fact that I became exposed to the International Baccalaureate was. In the Middle Years Programme, a lot of what I had learned at Langwarrin was actually being used in schools. (And, the Primary Years Programme was doing it even better, but Helen and I didn’t know that at the time.)
Regardless, because we have been teaching in IB World Schools, internationally, we have been privileged to work with, and are currently working with, motivated students, professional teachers and supportive parents. IB World Schools do not have a monopoly on this, and not all IB schools are excellent, but it certainly is a great indicator that someone in the school really cares about the education of the students, and knows a bit about how to get the best out of them.
So, for anyone reading this, because we are affluent enough to have access to a computer and the internet, we are luckier than at least two billion people on the planet. Like many folk, I subscribe to the view that we make our own luck, but we have to be born into a situation where we have that opportunity. I try to keep things in perspective by remembering that many, many people will never get that opportunity, and that I have the ability, and choice, to assist some who need it.