Kim Jong Il and Where Now?

A guest post by our Korean correspondent, James Barnett.

As widely reported, Kim Jong Il is dead. It’s not surprising given his health has been poor for at least three years now, which is perhaps why I’m not as worried as I could be (living in South Korea). I think that Jong Il and his leadership hierarchy will have been planning this for at least the last three years.

The likely new leader is set to be Kim Jong Un but how much actual power he will have remains to be seen. Jong Un is still very young (expect to see him be 30 this year so that Kim Il Sung is 100, Kim Jong Il 70 and Kim Jong Un 30 – they like their symmetry in numbers) and therefore inexperienced, also he still has a relatively low profile (although my guide in NK said “I really hope Kim Jong Un is our next leader” when I asked him) since he has only been known to the people for about a year. I think the actual power is going to lie in the hands of Jang Song Taek, Kim Jong Il’s brother in law, who is already number two in the country. Basically I think Jong Un will be a figure head until he gains more age and experience (age being very important in Korean culture).

However there is the alternative route…

Kim Jong Un has not undergone the same grooming as Kim Jong Il did. Jong Il was handling the internal running of the country for at least two years before his father’s death as well as being the head of the army. Yet it still took him 3 years to consolidate power when Il Sung died. So it is not unreasonable to think that things could go horribly wrong. Don’t go expecting a popular revolt though, I’m not sure those two words exist in North Korean vocabulary. The people will follow whoever eventually takes power. If there is a power vacuum then I’d imagine the very large military will fight to fill it. That scenario is scary, there are three outcomes:

  1. A group of military leaders succeeds in gaining control quickly and things return to normal.
  2. A long bitter power struggle erupts, bad for the people and the country (possible civil war!?)
  3. China steps in and “influences” things. China only entered the Korean war in order to prevent US soldiers being on it’s border. It is in China’s best interests to preserve North Korea as a separate state. Therefore they will do all that is necessary to stop an implosion.

The last question I guess one could have is: will there be a war? No. Why would there be? For many reasons, the South is not going to invade; and starting a full scale war (which they will lose) is not going to help anyone in North Korea consolidate power. So, I for one feel quite safe sitting here in the South.

One teacher’s response to NACT’s Charter Schools

A guest post by N0rdy.

The concept of charter schools is completely irrelevant to the NZ education context.

A couple of years ago I visited schools in the UK to investigate innovative practice in teaching and learning. I visited independent (what they call ‘public’ schools), state and academy schools (these are the equivalent of the charter schools in the US, controversially brought in by the Blair Government and about to be extended by the Tories.)

The two academy schools which I visited in highly underprivileged areas were extraordinary. They had inspirational leaders, who had developed school-based curriculum programmes which were relevant to the students in their schools. The focus was on students developing their learning capacity rather than content. Much of the learning was cross-curricular and self-directed. The students were highly engaged in their learning.  A range of clever interventions were used to keep students on track with their learning. This included heavy involvement of parents in their kids’ learning. Restorative practices were being successfully utilised in place of heavy-handed discipline.

How had this been possible? The UK state school system is highly centralised (and the US system is even worse). There are several layers of national and regional education bureaucracy which control school budgets, appointments and resources. The curriculum they implement is highly prescriptive, emphasising the specific content and skills which have to be covered at each level in each school. By allowing communities to run their schools for themselves, charter/academy schools bypass the education authorities and develop their own curriculum and approaches. But, how will Charter Schools function in New Zealand? Through Lange’s ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ Reforms, we had our education revolution in the late 1980s. The Department of Education was abolished, and the regional education boards scrapped. Boards of Trustees have their own charters by which they govern the schools their kids attend, they employ staff, set budgets and make all the key decisions about the school. Additionally, during the term of the Clark Government, a new curriculum was developed which gave schools incredible autonomy to develop learning programmes which meet their needs of the students. It is the envy of the world.

In short, we already have a highly autonomous school system. (This is why teachers have been so opposed to the National [Party] Standards which force teachers to move away from student-centred and interdisciplinary approaches enabled by the curriculum to focus solely on the teacher instruction on reading and writing.)

Banks, Key and Parata are twenty years late on this one. We have problems in New Zealand schools, but a lack of independence from centralised control is not one of them.  They have shown that in education they have no ideas of their own by importing a solution to a problem in the UK and the USA which doesn’t exist here.

Guest post: How the UK Labour Party select their leader

Guest post: With Tuesday’s leadership vote and the NZLP’s upcoming organisational review, I thought it would be an interesting idea to look at how our sister parties do things. Dorothy Macedo kindly offered to share her view on how the UK Labour Party select their leader.

The UK Labour Party leadership process reflects the balance of forces in the party. The unions bankroll the party to a great extent, much more so than in New Zealand, so they (along with affiliated socialist societies, eg Fabians) get a third of the electoral college, with a third for the membership and the final third for the Parliamentary Labour Party (MPs, MEPs, Peers). have a rather good run down of the process.

It is a delicate balance; the MPs obviously want someone they have confidence in as a parliamentary performer while the grassroots want someone who best reflects their values. The antipathy of much of the PLP to Ed Miliband is less a reflection on his abilities than the hangover from the Blair era when you were more likely to be selected as a Labour candidate if you were a TV personality or a dinner party guest of the Blairs and their pals than if you had the support of the local party. In some cases, parties were suspended if they looked likely to select the “wrong” candidate.

The unions have been remarkably restrained in their demands – since the vast majority of Blair’s tame millionaires ran a mile, the unions could dictate terms but they choose not to. Most British union leaders are much more interested in preserving their own power base than in Labour Party policy unless it directly affects them. Traditionally the job of liaising with the Labour Party is often given to someone who might otherwise be a nuisance (eg challenge the general secretary) or who is simply not up to any important role inside the union. The big unions expect to have at least one person on the Labour Party NEC and to have the ear of the relevant (shadow) minister when they have concerns to raise. They prefer closed door negotiations to open confrontation. It is a common complaint of union activists that the unions do not use their muscle to pressure the Labour Party into supporting the unions’ democratically agreed policies. When I was on the Unison delegation a few years ago, I asked why we were not supporting an anti-war motion at conference as the union had a clear policy of opposition to the war in Iraq; I was told the motion (being a lengthy composite of motions from several bodies) contained specific references that were not covered by our policy! The truth was that Blair had charmed/leant on the union leadership and as the war did not directly affect their work, they preferred to stay in his good books.

Interestingly enough, at the 2010 leadership contest, the General Secretary used constitutionally provided “emergency powers” to alter the rules so that people who had been a member less than a year were able to vote in this. It was not seen as a controversial move, and over 32,000 people joined the party during the contest.

Anyway I would welcome an opening up of the leadership election as part of a reform of the NZLP’s democratic structures. The exact format would be a matter for discussion, but we always found that giving people a say in these important decisions greatly increased members’ participation. Conversely in the Blair era when all decision-making was centralised, membership and participation levels fell sharply.