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U3A Writing: Education Today

A University of the Third Age discussion group recently focused on the state of education in todfay's U.K. Mr Average summarises their thoughts.

Education,Education,Education were the three words heralding in our previous Prime Minister on his election success in 1997 and one could be excused for assuming that a revolution in the education of our young was at hand. Our discussion group set about trying to unravel the mysteries of our present system.

We as grandparents are perhaps fortunate in being mere spectators in this arena of child education today and no doubt, with some nostalgia, recall our own childhood memories of school classrooms when all pupils spoke English and sat in wooden desks facing to the front where a well-dressed teacher personifying authority and respect was standing.

Multiplication tables were learnt by heart and reading and writing seemed to progress naturally without electronic aids or government interference. Exams were passed or failed without a public outcry of unfairness. At the tender age of 11 or 12 we were selected by examination to enter a Grammar School or to be directed towards a less academic but more practical and vocational type of education.

This simplistic generalisation undoubtedly had its faults and left much to be desired, but today one could be forgiven for doubting whether indeed the great revolution has taken place. Perhaps we have just changed some names. Words such as selection, pass and fail are no longer accepted. They have been replaced by league tables, lotteries and grades from A to Z. Some former municipal colleges have become universities, giving the illusion that 50% of our school leavers actually go to university. With an ever-increasing number of G.C.S.E passes, employers have difficulty in differentiating between the average and the above average and require further distinguishing marks. Selection it seems cannot be avoided.

Recent reports have indicated that some councils have instructed their schools to re-organise their classrooms so that all pupils face the front and give some thought to the old tried and tested ways of teaching mental arithmetic and reading. With the apparent shortage of craftsmen in many trades, apprenticeship schemes have once again been suggested as part of university courses on a vocational basis which does beg the question "Are we really improving or going round in circles?''

Grades A-Z also appear meaningless when some top universities have been instructed to admit pupils with lower grades than normally required on account of their so-called under-privileged background. Medical schools have been asked to do the same. Although one does not wish to deliberately exclude the less-fortunate, grades are grades and standards are standards. They should be the same for everyone or we will not have a level playing field. What is fair for one pupil will not be fair for another.

The effect of all this lowering of standards to accomodate the less-able is I feel at the expense of the more-abled which must result in a general lowering of standards for all and a suppression of the most talented. This is clearly obvious in the latest league table in which the U.K came well down the list. Nations ahead of the U.K. in the table used to send their sons and daughters to be educated in Great Britain because it was the best in the world, but no more.

Government Ministers of Education and those responsible for education seem to have lost sight of the fact that we are not all average. Some are above average, and others way above average. This is a fact which no doubt shows itself during our schooldays, as it does in later life.

Prince Charles recently put himself in the firing line by suggesting that the educational system today gave some school leavers the impression that are better than they really are. This view tends to rebound on them in later life when certain jobs are found not to be as easily accessable as anticipated. Perhaps he had a point!

In conclusion, it is perhaps only fair to add a personal note as writer of this rather opinionated piece to add that I never achieved a grammar school place, nor did I get to see the inside of a real university, as much as I would have liked to do so. This was not due to being under-privileged or disadvantaged. It was simply due to the fact that I was not good enough to meet the grammar school standards of 70 years ago, and I say so unashamedly. I class myself therefore as one of those averages who did his best with what was given to him, attaining a level where comfort and contentment prevailed.

What more can one ask?

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