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Editor's comment

Have university lecturers ever felt that first-year entrants were ready for the rigours of higher education? Perhaps this was so 30 or 40 years ago, when fewer than 10 per cent of the population went to university. However, the transition has always been a difficult one - even more so than the primary-secondary leap.

Hence it is no major surprise that the poll by The TESS (pages 6 and 7) should find deficits in certain areas. Yet again, we are told of poorer essay-writing skills and less familiarity with literature in this, the internet age. On the credit side, school leavers are much better equipped to make a presentation than their parents were. But can they write a coherent report? Computer and oral skills may have grown in importance but written communication is still essential, even in the 21st century.

The student of today is highly adept at navigating the web, but may lack discernment when assessing sources. Too much "cut and paste" and not enough original research is the cry when academics assess student dissertations and investigative skills. Algebraic weakness is a serious concern among scientists and mathematicians. Even in business, there is disquiet about students' lack of confidence with numbers.

If these warnings are to be heeded, the time is now with A Curriculum for Excellence. The development of "successful learners" is one of the four capacities in the new curriculum, and we know its architects want teachers to be able to declutter the curricular furniture and provide depth of knowledge as well as breadth. The key areas of focus in the new curriculum have been decided: literacy and numeracy. This is the chance for schools not only to join up thinking between early years, primary and secondary, but also to improve the transition to tertiary education.

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