The Satchel Review - Saturday 5 May, 2012

'Surprise' and 'Afghanistan' are two words that go together like a pin and a balloon, but this week U.S. President Barak Obama put the two together when he swooped in to see his troops. 

His unannounced visit on Tuesday, during which time he signed a strategic agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai outlining America's financial and diplomatic commitment to the country following the official withdrawal of troops in 2014, coincided with the first anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's killing in Pakistan and comes as the US 2012 election campaign gets into full swing. 

President Karzai now faces the prospect of leading a nation where civil unrest is an everyday reality. Reports that the Taliban shut down half the schools in Ghazni province (where 40 per cent are girls' schools), in reaction to a government decision to ban motorcycles in the southern districts of the province to protect against insurgent attacks, gives us a glimpse into the ongoing need for security for vital government social services such as education. 

"We can't blame the Ministry of Education," said Ghazni MP Mohammad Aref Rahmani. "The security forces should secure the areas so as to provide the area safe enough to re-open the schools."

At least four students were killed and as many as 200 arrested in a raid by Syrian forces at Aleppo University on Wednesday amidst student protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. "Some students ran to their rooms to take cover but they were followed to their rooms, beaten up and arrested," Thaer al-Ahmed told the Associated Press. The university has suspended classes for the rest of the academic year.

In light of this, we should not take Aussie education for granted. 

Teaching standards and university entrance requirements are ongoing discussion in the nation's press. On Monday Craig Emerson penned a column in The Australian on education reform. His message? It's time for Aussie kids to lift their standards to compete on the international field while needs-based funding of schools, as per the Gonski Report, should take precedence.

Special needs have been in the press this week, too, with the Government's rolling out of a Medicare-style National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), as recommended by the Productivity Commission last year. The Scheme would streamline services and financial support for people with disabilities, their parents and carers. "The NDIS helps put plans in place so that people can have dreams," NDIS advisory group member Fran Vicary told The Courier Mail

Nationwide 'Make It Real' rallies were held in support of the NDIS. "Too often family members have to give up their job to care for loved ones with a disability," UnionsWA secretary Simone McGurk told The Herald-Sun. "Too often unpaid carers go without respite. The detail and funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme will be important to ensure that the conditions of employment for carers are fair."

Meanwhile, the family of Monika Samaan, 14, who was left paralysed and severely brain damaged by food poisoning when she was seven years old, successfully sued fast-food giant KFC. The $8 million in damages, plus legal costs, will go towards Monika's ongoing care. 

In a monumental move, Burmese National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was inducted into the nation's parliament this week after her party won 43 of the 45 seats in the April 1 by-elections, while blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from home detention last month, has been granted certain immunities, including permission to study law at university.

While Aussies are suffering "eco-fatigue", according to the What Matters to Australians report, they would also be forgiven for suffering parliamentary-scandal fatigue (perhaps instead turning their attention to Australian Fashion Week – metallic brocade frocks, floral prints, circle cut-outs, lots of dots... pretty!). 

It is hoped that the 'dark cloud' covering parliament will be removed for long enough for Wayne Swan to deliver his Federal Budget on Tuesday the 8th of May. Financial journalists will this forthcoming week be in lock-down study mode.

Girl With a Satchel