Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thoughts on education

In his sixties, Michael was the epitome of the Oxford old boy and of a generation that had no need of one upmanship when it came to outshining me and my peers. We were tandem tutors teaching English for academic purposes to foreigners who even in my day would not have been allowed anywhere near one of "Blighty's" ivory towers. Yes, his grasp of semantics and syntax along with his orthographic skills left me fully convinced that Michael's peers had had an education which me and my generation could, at best, only enjoy in a diluted form.

Nevertheless, today it was with interest that I picked up in a little report in the 'Guardian' which would appear to lend substance to my belief that, just as Michael and his lot received a better, more comprehensive education, than me and my lot, the standard of higher education and the level of graduate that it produces today are far inferior to what they were in the early 80s. Yes, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, the main board director of Tesco is not wrong when she says: "There seems to be a fair amount of evidence now that [exams] are getting easier and failing to stretch people. The proportion of firsts and 2:1s has risen enormously so it's much rarer to get a 2:2 than a first. People who are clever today are achieving the grades of the very clever a couple of decades ago."

Yes, a problem, indeed, but what about those who are getting 2:2 and even third class degrees today? Even in the 80s they were, at best, only semi literate.  Yes, Michael was right to glance over at me, tut, tut, and shake his head, when I asked questions which I just shouldn't, at least in his opinion, have been asking but now it is my turn. However, when I look around and glance, and remember I come into contact with undergraduates all the time, it is a trifle frightening and, while quality, here and there, sticks out like a sore thumb, the general picture gives us no grounds for optimism.

Still, frightening as the general picture is, quality will, at least sometimes, prevail and a very good example of it doing so is the work being done by James Evan Pilato and others at 'media monarchy' .  Indeed, let us only hope that they and others like them can buck the trend and swing it around for the next generation. Nevertheless, they are a bit thin on the ground and the evidence would really seem to suggest that the manufacturers of consent and their sycophants are moving into easy street and it looks as if we will all be revisiting "brave new world".

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