This week I've been thinking about Rio de Janeiro. Never having set foot in South America, it was interesting to talk with someone who's lived there for over 30 years. Rio sounds like a pretty wonderful place, not least on account of its climate, whose average temperatures never fall below 18C. Throughout the year the highest average monthly temperatures range from 28C to 34C. How perfect is that?
Rio de Janeiro is the most visited city in the southern hemisphere and is known for its natural settings, carnival celebrations, samba, Bossa Nova, balneario beaches such as Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. Some of the most famous landmarks in addition to the beaches include the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer ('Cristo Redentor') atop Corcovado mountain, named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World; Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar) with its cable car; the Sambódromo, a permanent grandstand-lined parade avenue which is used during Carnival; and Maracanã stadium, one of the world's largest football stadiums. Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Summer Olympics, the first South American city to host the event, and will host the final match for 2014 FIFA World Cup. - Wikipedia
There are significant disparities between the rich and the poor in Rio de Janeiro. Although the city clearly ranks among the world's major metropolises, one fifth of its inhabitants live in neighbourhoods known as favelas, where housing is not regulated. In the favelas, 15% of the population are poor, compared to 10% in the general population. There have been a number of government initiatives to counter this problem, from the removal of the population from favelas to housing projects such as Cidade de Deus to the more recent approach of improving conditions in the favelas, bringing them up to par with the rest of the city, as was the focus of the "Favela Bairro" program. - Wikipedia
Today I came across this in the Guardian:
Rio de Janeiro gun battles leave at least 14 people dead
Many killed in major police assaults on favela strongholds of drug traffickers and gangsters
Prolonged gun battles between police and drug traffickers left at least 14 people dead yesterday in Rio . . .
The deaths came during a series of major police assaults on the city's slums, including one favela that serves as the HQ of the city's largest drug gang.
Triggered by a spate of attacks on police and drivers, the incursions began on Tuesday and involved hundreds of heavily armed police operatives, bulletproof vehicles and helicopters.
About 150 people were arrested during the sweeps by 17,500 officers while at least 22 people have been killed since Sunday, according to Rio's military police. The wounded have included two policemen and an 81-year-old man while an estimated 17,000 children were left unable to attend lessons as a result of the clashes.
"We did not start this war," Colonel Lima Castro, a spokesman for Rio's military police said last night. "We were provoked and we will emerge victorious."
The massive operations in at least 20 Rio favelas followed a wave of apparently co-ordinated attacks by drug traffickers who torched buses and cars and planted homemade bombs in various locations.
The attacks were reportedly instigated by Rio's oldest and most powerful drug faction, the Red Command, as a reaction against official attempts to pacify the favelas which have so far seen several suspected gangsters expelled.
After Tuesday's operations, the confrontations erupted again yesterday when armed police poured into the Complexo da Penha, a sprawling labyrinth of slums which is home to leading members of the Red Command faction.
It is controlled by scores of fresh-faced gang members armed with assault rifles and machine guns.
Helicopter images shot by one TV channel showed dozens of gang members, brandishing handguns and assault rifles, gathered at an entrance to the community.
Last night gunfights continued, cars burned and police roadblocks were set up across the city. Internet rumours of impending attacks, in shopping malls and in the city's beachside south zone, spread rapidly.
Rio's governor, Sérgio Cabral, also took to the airwaves. "This is an act of despair," he said. "We will carry on with the same policy of retaking territory."
One civil police officer told the Guardian that authorities expected further attacks. "There's going to be trouble," he said.
Brazil's a fascinating country, and is about to become a hugely important economic force in the world. It's politics are also very interesting.
Brazil is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population. - Wikipedia
President-elect: Dilma Rousseff
Dilma Rousseff is the first woman to be elected as Brazil's president. She is former chief of staff to, and favoured successor of, outgoing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Dilma Rousseff has pledged to continue the policies of her predecessor.
In the October 2010 elections to succeed President Lula, she narrowly failed to win an outright majority in the first round.
The result meant Ms Rousseff faced the second-placed candidate, Sao Paolo mayor Jose Serra of the main opposition Social Democracy party, in a run-off vote on 31 October.
Ms Rousseff, 62, was little known to her compatriots until Mr Lula selected her as his favoured successor after a number of high-profile candidates were forced out by corruption scandals during his time in office.
She joined the government in 2003 as energy minister. In 2005, Mr Lula made her his chief of staff, a post she held until March 2010, when she launched her campaign for the presidency as the Workers Party (PT) candidate.
During the election campaign, Ms Rousseff made it clear that she represented continuity with the Lula government, under which millions of Brazilians saw their standard of living rise.
She is known to favour a strong state role in strategic areas, including banking, the oil industry and energy.
Dilma Rousseff was born in 1947 and grew up in an upper middle class household in Belo Horizonte, in the coffee-growing state of Minas Gerais.
Her father, Pedro Rousseff, was a Bulgarian immigrant.
Her seemingly conventional background changed in the mid-1960s, when she was in her late teens. She became involved in left-wing politics and joined the underground resistance to the military dictatorship that seized power in 1964.
She has said that she was never actively involved in armed operations, but in 1970 she was jailed for three years and reportedly tortured.
After her release at the end of 1972 she studied economics and went on to become a career civil servant.
In 2009, she was treated for and recovered from lymphatic cancer.
Outgoing president: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, is set to step down on 1 January 2011 after two four-year terms in office, being barred by the constitution from standing for a third term.
President Lula da Silva
Lula promises to help Brazil's poorest while pursuing growth
Elected in 2002 on promises to boost growth and to narrow the gap between rich and poor, Lula, of the centre-left Workers' Party, secured a second term in a landslide election victory in October 2006.
In his first term, Lula implemented tough fiscal policies, overseeing economic stabilisation and falling levels of inflation and foreign debt.
He changed the pension system and pushed through a modest increase in the minimum wage.
Welfare programmes targeted millions of poor families. But he had to contend with a surge of land invasions by activists frustrated at what they saw as the slow pace of agrarian reform.
In 2005 his popularity was dented by claims of corruption in the ruling party, focusing on a cash-for-votes scheme in Congress. The president apologised and said he had known nothing about the alleged corruption.
In January 2007, Lula marked the start of his second term in office by announcing an ambitious investment programme.
Brazil is a major commodities exporter and Lula has argued strongly that countries should not put up protectionist barriers in response to the current global economic crisis.
Lula was born in 1945 in the impoverished north-east. His family moved to Sao Paulo when he was seven and he left school at 14 to become a metal worker.
In the 1970s, he honed his political skills as a fiery union leader in the industrial suburbs of Sao Paulo. He went on to help found the Workers' Party.
Oh dear - what to say about Gove and his White Paper? Some of the rhetoric sounds plausible, and is probably inspired by his pal Anthony Seldon and various anarcho-conservatives. Gove's own reactionary prejudices, however, are pretty apparent. He really is a banana.
School reforms: bad teachers out, social mobility in as Gove outlines goals
White paper transforms teacher training, creates an English baccalaureate and encourages traditional uniform
It encourages schools to have "traditional blazer and tie uniforms" as well as prefects and house systems.
The teaching unions claimed Gove's plans would sharpen the divides between schools. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the white paper would "increase bureaucracy and government interference".
"If the education secretary genuinely wishes England to do as well as countries such as Finland, to which he frequently refers in the white paper, he should follow its example by replacing the inspection system with school self-evaluation, refrain from the publication of results by school league tables and the setting of narrow performance targets."
The white paper also narrows the role of Ofsted, to oversight of four areas: pupil achievement, the quality of teaching, school leadership, and pupil behaviour.
The government plans to change regulations on removing incompetent teachers, enabling headteachers to "deal more swiftly, effectively and fairly with underperforming members of staff".
Gove told the Commons: "The best schools systems recruit the best people to teach, train them intensively in the craft of teaching, continue to develop them as professionals throughout their career, groom natural leaders for headship positions and give great heads the chance to make a dramatic difference."
The white paper includes new assessments of "aptitude, personality and resilience" for candidates seeking to enter teaching. High-fliers wishing to switch careers will be tempted by being offered an "accelerated route to leadership" rather than facing the prospect of starting their careers at the bottom.
Armed forces veterans with a degree will have their tuition fees sponsored if they wish to train as teachers and the government will explore a "bespoke, compressed" undergraduate route for former soldiers without a degree.
Gove told reporters: "Not every school would welcome the RSM from Sandhurst joining their ranks, but I have to say there are a number of heads I've talked to who'd bite my arm off to have him doing PE on a Friday afternoon."
The government will create a national network of teaching schools, modelled on teaching hospitals, which will receive funding to provide professional development for teachers and heads.
The white paper proposes a new financial incentive for schools to collaborate, encouraging stronger ones to support weaker schools and improve their performance.
What the reforms mean
The curriculum should set out core knowledge and understanding. It has been too prescriptive and has specified teaching method, which teachers should be free to decide. The national curriculum will be "slim, clear and authoritative" so that all parents can see what their child is expected to know. Academies and free schools will retain the freedom to set aside aspects of the national curriculum, but will be required to teach a "broad and balanced" curriculum.
The long-term goal is to move to a national funding formula under which money would go directly from Whitehall to schools, bypassing local authority control.
The government will not fund graduates who do not have at least a 2:2 degree. The Teach First programme, which recruits highly able graduates, will be expanded. Career-switchers will be encouraged, as will former members of the armed forces who want to teach. The government is to investigate creating a fast-track training route for former servicemen and women who do not have degrees.
Regular readers of Oxzen will be aware that this blog loathes Christine Gilbert's rotten regime at Ofsted, and all that it's done, and not done, to schools.
Zoe Williams wrote this column in the Guardian this week:
Michael Gove's missed the obvious target for reform – Ofsted
The inspectorate's disdain for teachers is shaping policy. But those in the classroom believe those who can't teach, inspect
Some elements of the white paper on education just sound a bit thick. I don't mind that. It is when the coalition sounds cunning that I dread it the most. Still, it bears pointing out that education secretary Michael Gove talks about a "toxic target culture" and then announces a stricter target: raising the threshold at which schools are considered to be "failing" to having fewer than 35% of pupils achieving five GCSEs graded A* to C. The current level is 30% – the change would bestow a failure tag on 439 schools (on 2009 figures). David Cameron spent most of the election vowing to free teachers who have to "teach to the test" only to launch a new test, this time for six-year-olds, to see if they can recognise words.
Teaching unions can defend their members stoutly, and teachers of course can defend themselves: there's no shortage of people saying that if lessons look "dull and uninspiring" it's because the autonomy and creativity has been stripped out of the process by the latest set of targets, and the ones before that. But what unions don't do is criticise Ofsted back, so from a bystander's perspective the inspectorate retains its air of authority and impartiality.
Privately, though, teachers are scathing about Ofsted. Dennis Charman, secondary teacher and secretary of the NUT in Hammersmith and Fulham, is very rare in saying this openly: "I've taught for 36 years and my school is regarded as an outstanding school. I wouldn't allow an Ofsted inspector into my house. There is no respect for them in the profession. Why do people leave teaching to take on this work, on a daily contract basis? Generally it's because they can't hack it in the classroom. I would stand up in front of 1,000 teachers and say this, and they would all cheer."
Targets are set, standards are raised in sometimes eccentric directions, teachers are never consulted but are then made accountable to rules in which they've had no input.
So a government appoints people who aren't teachers to set targets; those same people then attack schools for being too target-driven; and a new regime sets new targets to break the spell of the old targets. It would be more interesting, productive – and cheaper – to reform Ofsted, so that it drew its inspectors from among the best of the active teaching population. The "target" problem would probably solve itself.