As a Secondary School Science teacher, and part-time University Lecturer I have experienced the declining standards of students’ literacy and general maths competency within my subject area.
Here in the UK, we have a tendency to over-test pupils at all stages of their education in order to meet government targets and to contribute to school league tables. Even pre-school children are expected to have a structured education within their routine. The results appear to be showing great progress in the three major areas: Maths, English and Science. Excellent, you might think, and certainly a step in the right direction, however, these children have not been taught these subjects beyond the ‘exam techniques’ stage, i.e. many of them are unable to apply this knowledge to unfamiliar situations. They have been fully versed in the type and style of the exam questions they expect to encounter, and have probably spent at least a term practicing with previous years’ papers. Who’s benefit is this for? What does this achieve?
The main concern amongst teaching staff is that children join secondary schools with several excellent grades, unaware that they have not mastered even the most basic of concepts. This is both a disappointing blow to their confidence and ultimately a set-back to academic progress.
A particular cause for concern is the poor application of spelling and grammar. Teachers are often encouraged not to correct too many of these errors, as it can demotivate a child; this will help support individual creativity and expression. This is not helping teachers to actually teach children. How else do they learn the simple rules? Obviously poor standard of English literacy will have a knock-on effect for other curriculum subjects. Often assignments and classwork are virtually unreadable, and littered with ‘text-messaging’ notation.
Internet use and word-processing do have many advantageous uses, and, as such, they certainly deserve a place in modern education. It is not a coincidence that since this technology has been incorporated into classroom activities, there has been a decline in reading and writing skills (I am not proud to admit it, but even my own attention to spelling and grammar has followed this trend). With ‘spell-checkers’ life is so easy.
If a topic is unlikely to appear on an exam paper, it is unlikely to be taught! Final grades look great, however, these young adults then find the transition to University too great, and many drop out at the first hurdle. I have noticed this with the Science Undergraduates that I teach at University as well – as soon as the work increases in complexity, or requires the student to ‘think outside of the box’ many withdraw from the course.
The UK used to produce many high caliber graduates who could secure prime occupations around the globe – this does not appear to be the case at the moment. To re-address the issue, we need to be allowed to use our professional teaching skills at the early stages of Secondary School to re-introduce minimum standards of literacy and numeracy.
In the twenty-first century it is unacceptable that so many of our sixteen-year-olds leave school without basic reading or writing skills, irrespective of cultural or national backgrounds. Our youth are not just statistics, they are individuals craving an education. With today’s declining standards of education what hope of a stimulating future career are we offering them? Education is a tool for success; we need to use it wisely.
Investing in our youth at this level will raise educational standards considerably.