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UK students worse than US at geography! November 13, 2007

Posted by Al in : educational,personal,scary , trackback

Here’s some very worrying news: for a long time the US has been known for it’s general lack of geographical knowledge. Australian shows have demonstrated that an average American could not identify Australia on a map of the world, let alone any of America’s enemies. What’s really worrying, though, is that students in the UK are now worse than American students on world geography. I fear that we are starting to turn into the US (although without the military aggression, hopefully), and that we will soon start to consider ourselves better than the rest of the world (if we are not doing so already), and that this arrogance will be the downfall of the UK.

I believe that the blame for this lies at the feet of the educational reformists of the last 20 years. How can they say that a huge increase in children passing their GCSE’s and A-Levels is down to an improvement in teaching, and is definitely not due to the exams becoming easier? Why allow comprehensive students to use calculators for all their lessons containing mathematics, when this produces students with no knowledge of how these calculations are actually carried out? Why move the emphasis on teaching away from hard knowledge and toward practical based, non-competitive learning styles that just don’t teach the kids anything?

The UK’s school system was once something that the rest of the world aspired to, but over the last quarter of a century the high values it once embodied have been eaten away by reforms that make teachers spend more time doing paperwork than teaching; that stop children competing in the classroom of on the sports field – as competition breeds aggression (no it doesn’t – it’s a release for aggression); that dumb down the knowledge that children receive, and the exams that they sit, as this improves school performance. Competition in schools has now moved to school versus school, with each establishment competing for an increased headcount in order to secure more funding. This is not necessarily good for the schoolchildren as this encourages schools to groom their pupils solely to pass the exams that they know are going to be set, and doesn’t encourage any depth or breadth of knowledge.

My niece is a bright young lady of 11 years, who has recently moved up to comprehensive school. She is good at mathematics, reasonable at science, and can speak 2 languages fluently and is learning a third. However, she was absolutely shocked the other day to discover that Catholics were Christians. This just didn’t make any sense to her, and she had even less knowledge of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism. It took a while to explain that there were different types of Christians: protestant, catholic, orthodox, etc; and she had heard of Jews, but knew nothing of their religion or it’s relationship to Christianity, let alone how Islam was also related to both Judaism and Christianity. this shocked me, as I’d have thought that at least a small amount of other religions would have been discussed in the RE lessons she would have had prior to joining this school.

Even worse, she has learnt her multiplication tables by rote, and has a basic knowledge of additions, subtraction and multiplication, but she cannot do long division on paper or in her head – she’s not even been taught how to approximate in division to at least get close to the answer. When I ribbed her about this, gently, then she replied that she didn’t need to know how to do this as she could use a calculator at any time. I’m really not sure how her generation of kids are going to cope with any form of original science research, computer programming, accountancy or even working out how much change to give if they work a till. If the machines they are being taught to rely on ever broke down, what would they do? It truly scares me, and not just for these kids sake: ill-education has got to be a factor in the current rise of loutish behaviour, as lack of breadth of knowledge leads to lack of empathy with anyone different from you and your peers. It also doesn’t help that of the kids who are now going through school (ie those aged between 5 and 16), at least a reasonable proportion will have parents in their early 20’s, and these would also have been through a school system that had just stopped caring about really educating it’s children. If the parents lack knowledge, and interest in gaining knowledge, then why should anyone expect their children to be any different?

I realise that I’m turning into a grumpy old man, and that I’m giving the impression that things were so much better in my day, but I really think that the standard of education in the UK has fallen dramatically since I was in school. I learnt how to do basic math before moving on to algebra and statistics; I learnt spelling, how to use English correctly, and how to use punctuation as well; I learnt comparative religions alongside the basics of Christianity, and was not forced into assuming that any one religion was right, or was better than another; and I learnt that I had to learn to pass tests and exams, and that I could not go home and cheat by using the Internet to do my homework for me. I wish that these kind of values could be brought back to modern schools:

OK. Rant over, and if you’ve read all that then I apologise for having bombarded you with my opinion for this length of time. However, this is my blog, and so I’m entitled to vent my feelings though it, every now and then.

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