14 January 1999

Doctorates recently completed through the University of Queensland cover a wide range of areas including eye health among indigenous children, the beliefs shaping a former Singaporean Prime Minister and the struggle to introduce a new subject into Queensland schools.

The University of Queensland awarded 315 PhDs in 1998 - a record for the University. In 1998, 2280 students were enrolled in PhD programs.

o One-fifth Aurukun indigenous children experience eye problems
For her PhD with the University's Fred and Eleanor Special Research Centre, Dr Afaf (Awad) Tourky (telephone 07 3875 5621 at work or 07 3343 4808 after hours) screened the vision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in five remote Queensland communities - Lockhart River, Coen, Aurukun, Pormpuraaw, Bamaga and Thursday Island. 596 (290 boys) traditional indigenous children were screened ranging in age from two to 14 years.

She found most children had near and distant vision better than average although a number in each community exhibited eyelid problems or other eye health conditions. The highest prevalence of eyelid problems, as possible precursors to trachoma, was 12.8 percent among the 10 and 11 year age group. Trachoma is virtually non-existent in industrialised countries.

Pterygia and other eye health conditions were also frequent in these ages (9.6 percent and 5.8 percent respectively). Aurukun had the highest prevalence of eyelid problems among children (20.3 percent overall). Dr Tourky said features of the children's environment detrimental to eye health included dusty conditions (few community roads were sealed), community members spending a lot of time in bright sunshine and the presence of many flies as contributors to hygiene problems.

Dr Tourky said a notable result of the study was the absence of colour vision deficiencies. She suggested a long process of natural selection may have endowed hunter-gatherer communities with good vision and their system of kinship and marriage may have minimised inherited conditions such as colour blindness. Her thesis recommends a re-invigoration of primary health education programs for indigenous communities with schools and the school system playing a more active role.

"Many eye problems can be averted through knowledge and practices related to eye care and eye hygiene," she said.

o Lee Kuan Yew's beliefs examined in thesis

The man credited with Singapore's economic miracle, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr Michael Barr (telephone 07 3378 7163) through the University of Queensland's History Department.

Dr Barr says Mr Lee was a leading figure in the current revival of Confucianism throughout the Chinese world and an architect of the contemporary "Asian Values" campaign. This campaign maintains that democracy and human rights are culturally anathema to Asians who are more interested in strong families, strong government and economic prosperity.

According to Dr Barr, the keys to understanding Mr Lee are found in both his English education and Confucian/Chinese upbringing. He links Mr Lee's faith in progress to defining elements of his political views including notions of elitism.

"Whereas Mr Lee's faith in progress is thoroughly Western and very ?un-Chinese', his elitism is a happy marriage of a Confucian world view with traditional English class prejudices," he said. "Lee has raised elitism to a central place in Singapore's political life - to the point where Singaporeans now accept elitist rule and precepts as readily as Australians accept democracy."

o Struggle to introduce new school subject analysed

For his PhD with the University of Queensland's Graduate School of Education, Dr Brian Hoepper (telephone 07 3864 3443 at work or 07 3844 1617 after hours) investigated the recent attempt by a group of Queensland educators to promote a new school subject focused on ?futures'. Dr Hoepper said the radical, innovative subject was designed to empower young people to understand the world in fresh, critical ways, and to propose creative and imaginative pathways to more just and sustainable global futures.

The subject - ?Educating Globally' - encouraged young people to critique important elements of the status quo including individualism, economic growth and consumerism, he said.

"The proposal was particularly bold, because the proponents wanted the new subject to be approved by Queensland's foremost education accreditation authority, the Board of Senior Secondary School Studies. In the end, they largely succeeded - but only after a protracted and complex three-year struggle, during which the proposal was revised and renamed ?Futures'," he said.

His thesis describes and theorises the events surrounding the move by educational activists to use "official channels" to promote an initiative which might encourage students to question and challenge those official channels. Dr Hoepper said his thesis outlined the complex, sometimes messy ways in which power is exercised and experienced within institutions.

"I have highlighted how people can act in unexpected ways, possibly compromising their stated principles in the pursuit of strategic advantage," he said.

Dr Hoepper said he hoped the thesis would encourage educators who, in the current climate of economic rationalism and individualistic self-interest, wanted to advocate more collaborative, socially just goals for schools and society.

However, the study also offered a sobering reminder that such educators needed to be aware of the dangers of themselves becoming less than democratic as they pursued their lofty goals, he said.