Grammar gripes

5th November 2004 at 00:00
I have long taken the view that Scottish education is in a parlous state, the proof of which can be seen from the fact that our universities are having to provide remedial courses for first-year students to enable them to begin their courses proper with some understanding of what they are being taught.

Confirmation of this is (once again) provided by press releases from the universities. Record numbers are being offered crash courses in basic English and grammar. Nearly half of Scotland's 13 universities have been forced to provide remedial classes because of plunging literacy levels in schools. Some students are unable to write simple sentences, cannot spell basic words or punctuate.

Professor Joe Farrell, a modern languages expert at Strathc1yde University, said: "We are dealing with people who have no idea of the grammar of their own language. We have to do very elementary teaching before we can do any proper teaching of the target language."

He said: "The problem is being concealed by talk of the percentage of higher passes being on the increase when, in fact, there is no improvement in basic skills.

"If you go behind the results and look at the skills being taught and the level of knowledge and compare with other European countries, it is something else we have to worry about. Scotland has a problem of declining standards."

I have been saying this for the past 40 years and continue to say it.

Meanwhile, our political and educational establishment go blithely on their way, brushing aside criticism and ignoring the facts. Any sign that there could be something fundamentally wrong brings a new so-called initiative, very costly in time, manpower and money, but no admission that they took a wrong turning back in the 1940s and, inevitably, no real change of direction to get Scottish education back on course.

On the principle of dripping water gradually wearing away a stone, perhaps such as Professor Farrell's and my own modest contributions might eventually have some effect.

George McMillan Mount Tabor Avenue Perth

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