08 May, 2007

Rhonda Galbally(AO) says........

A recent editorial from Rhonda Galbally AO,(CEO of Our Community) discussed a new report by Professor Tony Vinson claiming Australia’s economic boom has failed to improve the lives of tens of thousands of Australians leaving them locked into communities of deep disadvantage.

Galbally writes: 'A confluence of research from around the world has found that the greatest risk factor for virtually all illnesses – not only the old-fashioned communicable diseases, but also mental illness and non-communicable illnesses such as stroke, heart disease and cancer – is social and economic inequity. A community’s resistance to these challenges, however – its resilience – depends on what Professor Vinson measures as “social cohesion”.

Professor Lisa Berkman (Harvard School of Public Health) and Emeritus Professor Len Syme (School of Public Health, University of California Berkeley) trace this social cohesion to such human factors as a sense of belonging and hope. Important, too, is a feeling that one is able to control one’s life and participate socially in a meaningful way. All these factors are boosted by engagement in community activities, and community activities thrive where there is a rich culture of voluntary associations.

The lack of community infrastructure in disadvantaged areas results in a lack of opportunity to build ‘social cohesion’ and a sense of belonging by participating in community groups. So lack of community infrastructure is a significant risk factor for destroying resilience in individuals.

Strengthening local community infrastructure is vital because, according to Vinson,

“Building a sense of belonging to one's locality and increasing neighbours' interaction with one another can go a long way to shielding children and families from the full impact of social disadvantage.”

Research from around the world shows that belonging to community groups reduces crime and violence, increases respect for diversity, reduces youth suicide, and improves health. A doubling of the rate of membership in community organisations has the potential to reduce violent crime by up to a third and property crime by up to 10%.

To improve health, wellbeing and resilience these disadvantaged areas need more sports groups, more parent groups, more environmental groups, more disability groups, more older people’s groups, more car clubs, more associations of all kinds, addressing all interests and needs. In disadvantaged areas the quantity and quality of this infrastructure is significantly weaker.

As well, research in the new field of social epidemiology shows that communities that have a sense of control over the design, development and governance of that part of the community sector that delivers their services (e.g. emergency relief, disability services, aged care) are socially and medically healthier than communities where services are imposed through a top-down approach.

While the emphasis on building of community infrastructure is unquestionably necessary, by itself it won’t, of course, be sufficient – as Vinson says, “Such building of connections between the residents of disadvantaged areas needs to be accompanied by the creation of new opportunities in education, training and employment that open up life opportunities.”

There are a number of interesting issues in this abstract in relation to our chess program. What started as a simple classroom activity is providing an opportunity to improve childrens health across a rural community by providing access to volunteer programs, adult mentors & participation activities for young children and strengthening links with community organisations all, as Vinson desires, within a framework of education.


(Reprinted with permission from Our Community Matters. The full article can be found here.)


Anonymous said...

I have been hearing a lot about the movement to bring chess into schools in our region. I enjoyed chess as a kid and have spoken to parents of children in our schools and they are unaminously pleased and enthusiastic with what is happening. As a chess afficionado from way back I think it is a great program. Well done to the schools, the chess team and particularly the kids! We need more innovation in the way we school kids today because things are getting tough out there.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. But what are you implying? Are you saying that castlemaine has high levels of poverty? There are a lot of community groups, so there should be a high level of social cohesion.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,
Here is a story about the cognitive benefits of chess from GM Schwartzman
GM Schwartzman's Internet Chess Academy:
Articles From the Internet Chess Academy Provided by GM Schwartzman at US Chess Federation

Stop...and Play Chess
If you live in today’s America, even if you don’t have children, you must be aware of the growing education problem. Everybody seems to be concerned about all the potentially bad influences children get from the entertainment boom, and it is generally agreed that teenagers get in trouble, no matter what.

Parents are especially worried, because jobs and other duties keep them more than ever away from their children, who obviously need their supervision. Add to all this, the fact that, as Mark Twain suggested, children tend to do just the opposite of what they’re told, and you get a rather bleak picture.

In my opinion, our entire approach to this problem needs an overhaul. As a teenager I can say, that no matter how much we’re being told, unless we think it is best, or someone holds a gun to our head, we’re not going to do it. Raising children like army recruits, by orders, is not working. The solution to this problem lies in teaching the children how to think, so that they can decide by themselves what is good and what is bad for them.

Of course, then comes the valid question "how can you make kids think?" One way to do it is to post red stop traffic signs with the inscription "Stop and Think" everywhere, as a local school recently did, but coming from a communist country where we were fed slogans with the hour, I have strong doubts about this method.

The other alternative is to use a game, that children play and enjoy, and that teaches them to think, without even noticing. After all, isn’t this what you do every single move in a game of chess: stop and think? Benjamin Franklin observed more than 200 years ago that "several very valuable qualities of the mind are to be acquired or strengthened by chess, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions." Why not listen to him, and give more kids the opportunity to learn this wonderful game, raising a generation of people who think before they act.

Maybe, instead of posting scary red signs on all their benches, we should give children chess boards and tell them to "stop...and play chess"!

Harry & Steve said...

The question of social cohesion is a good one. CSC have just completed a full-day event called the 'Big Day In'- an incursion where the whole school (nearly 1000 students!!) were involved in workshops to generating a vision of what sort of school they want.

There were 40 groups of 25 students, with each group containg years 7-12.
Each group had a community representative- thats 40 community reps being involved with visioning from the future, working WITH students!
It was an amazing day, and perhaps the dawn of a new era for Castlemaine Education!
And yes, it should benefit social cohesion.