Saturday Headlines

United Nations And Saudi Arabia In Diplomatic Tussle
A once-hidden diplomatic fight came out into the open this week as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon accused Saudi Arabia and its military allies of placing “undue pressure” on a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, reports Reuters.

The dispute is centered on a decision by the UN last month to put Saudi Arabia on a blacklist over its role in the deaths of children in Yemen. The coalition has been accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian and nonmilitary targets in its battle against Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than a year

The Saudis vigorously disputed the report and threatened to withhold financial support for UN programs. Eventually it was removed from the list.

“This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” said Secretary General Ban Ki Moon this week, He added that if Saudi funding were removed, “children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and so many other places would fall further into despair…. It is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure.”

Human rights groups have roundly criticized the UN actions, which demonstrate the limits of the powers of the secretary general.

Study: Modern Slavery Remains Widespread
A recently-released study by the Walk Free Foundation finds that an estimated 45.8 million men, women and children around the world are today trapped in modern slavery – 28% more than previously estimated. They are enslaved through human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage or commercial sexual exploitation.

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, the countries with the highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India, and Qatar.

In North Korea, there is pervasive evidence that government-sanctioned forced labour occurs in an extensive system of prison labour camps while North Korean women are subjected to forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation in China and other neighbouring states. In Uzbekistan, the government continues to subject its citizens to forced labour in the annual cotton harvest.

Gates Foundation Backs Away From Common Core
In a letter from Sue Desmond-Hellman, the CEO of the Gates Foundation, she admits they jumped the gun in embracing Common Core education standards. She concedes that Common Core advocates were in such a hurry to do good that they just didn’t show much interest in hard questions or uncomfortable cautions.

“Deep and deliberate engagement is essential to success. Rigorous standards and high expectations are meaningless if teachers aren’t equipped to help students meet them,” she writes.

“Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning,” concedes Desmond-Hellman.

The letter is remarkable considering the Foundation’s deep involvement in pushing Common Core, particularly in financing the national adoption of the standards.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes,” reports The Washington Post.

The backtracking and the Gates Foundation’s efforts to promote Common Core have raised questions about whether it was trying to cram the goal of educational reform into a preferred means without doing due diligence in determining whether Common Core was the right vehicle.

“Usually, there’s a pilot test — something is tried on a small scale, outside researchers see if it works, and then it’s promoted on a broader scale. That didn’t happen with the Common Core. Instead, they aligned the research with the advocacy. . . . At the end of the day, it’s going to be the states and local districts that pay for this,” Sarah Reckhow, an expert in philanthropy and education policy at Michigan State University, told the paper.

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