Anything goes at the free for all younie

HOW clever is clever? Are university students the brainiest of them all? No, says Universities Scotland, which recently reported in its submission to the national education debate that our cream of Academe lack literacy, numeracy and thinking skills, and are unused to managing their time.

A damning report by all accounts. Let me take a step back to my own university days. Yes, it's 30 years or so since I matriculated for the first time but I'm fairly sure that I was familiar with the intricacies of the apostrophe S and, reading over my old essays, I am reminded of the praise regarding my thinking skills. Sorry about that quick boast and about any others which slip in.

Try as I may, I can't exactly recall the school pupil me. I do know, though, that it wasn't a shock to anyone that I left school with a clutch of splendid Higher results good enough to gain entry into any university, although admittedly I didn't go for Oxford or Cambridge. I am sure I was representative of the university population of the day.

Now it's very different. Far more leavers go to university and many of them without a single A or a B Higher pass. I'm not one to begrudge the pupil who scrapes a few Cs their few terms at some kind of a university but, quite honestly, I do sometimes wonder if admission to university has become something of a scratchcard lottery - anyone can win regardless of academic prowess.

So the universities have only themselves to blame. The increasingly widespread bums on seats philosophy has opened the door to virtually anyone. Summer schools exist to boost the qualifications of dubious candidates to a point where they too can be invited to the party. So it stands to reason that huge swaths of these individuals won't be literate - neither were they in the past. It's just that they were safely tucked away doing other things and universities simply didn't encounter them. Now they do, they are faced with how the other half live. That's why schools continue to scream for more support for learning teachers because literacy and numeracy are also at the top of our agenda. Welcome to the real world. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

On to another assertion by Universities Scotland - students cannot think for themselves. Surely, if that's true, responsibility for it lies not just with schools but with the whole of society. Cast your mind back to the Christmas commercials last year and remember how the advert about defrosting your turkey was constantly repeated. Why? Because, in this fast-food era, we are losing the ancient skills of cooking real food at the most basic level.

Consider the glut of adverts exhorting parents to speak to their kids. Why? Because apparently parents don't understand the importance of communicating with their offspring. What kind of cretinous population have we produced who need to be told to have conversations with their own kids?

In the light of this, the comment from the universities about the link between the curriculum in schools and a lack of thinking skills is almost derisory. Part of the problem at least lies with the universities themselves. In the past they were perceived to be the intellectual inspiration of the nation. Now the free for all admissions policy has diluted that intellectual capacity to a point when we can legitimately hypothesise on whether there's much thinking coming out of the universities themselves.

I know they'll say I'm talking a load of twaddle but they'll maybe concede a little. In any case, here is a challenge for them. Pupils in my new Higher philosophy class are talking and discussing in a most promising way. I therefore presume that there is thinking going on. Anyone who wishes to test that out is welcome to visit us.

Marj Adams teaches religious education,philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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