Standard grade technology gap alarms industry

BUSINESS leaders have sent a stern warning to the Scottish Executive that many of its policies could be at risk if the drift away from technological studies and modern languages is not halted.

The Scottish Council Development and Industry has decided to draw ministers' attention yet again to what it says is the dramatic fall in pupils sitting Standard grade technological studies which it says has a knock-on effect on courses in colleges and universities, and on the labour market.

Alan Wilson, the council's chief executive, wrote to Jack McConnell, then Education Minister, expressing these concerns two years ago. He has now decided to press them home with Cathy Jamieson, Mr McConnell's successor.

The numbers taking technological studies at Standard grade have fallen from 5,977 in 1995 to just 2,739 last year. Mr Wilson has also expressed alarm at the drop in maths, chemistry and physics.

"All of these subjects are relevant for those wishing to pursue careers in the manufacturing sector. It should be borne in mind that this applies equally to new fields, such as Scotland's growing biotechnology sector as well as to our more established industries."

While welcoming the Executive's drive to ensure industry can capitalise on research in universities, Mr Wilson says this depends on attracting students into these disciplines. Skills shortages cannot be tackled without science and technology graduates.

The SCDI has also thrown its weight behind modern languages, where numbers taking Standard grade French have fallen by 4.3 per cent and in German by 8.2 per cent. The council believes even basic language skills will become increasingly important in winning business as Europe becomes more integrated and exporters take advantage of openings in Central and Eastern Europe.

Mr Wilson wants to see "a real commitment to technological studies as an integral part of the curriculum, as opposed to devaluing its educational contribution through neglect".

There should be more emphasis on opportunities in manufacturing in careers advice, more school-company exchanges and on the benefits of proficiency in languages.

Mr Wilson says that schools can learn from the success of the young engineers' clubs the SCDI runs. "This approach could usefully be replicated in the mainstream school curriculum, rather than being left to dedicated individual teachers, who give of their time and talents to nurture their pupils' skills in this important field," he said.

Jim Johnson, president of the Technology Teachers' Association, said that a failure to market the benefits of the subject was partly responsible for the fall-off in interest. Universities were often not aware of it and employers tended to focus on passes in English, maths and science.

Some schools were given "unfortunate" timetabling advice which equated technological studies with physics or computing.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you