Latin is not the language of tolerance

19th May 1995 at 01:00
The news that Dr Nicholas Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, is quoted as wishing to bring Latin and Greek into junior and infant schools, shows how desperately out of touch with reality some senior educationists have become (TES, May 5).

As a nation we are poor at learning languages. This is not a criticism of schools and teachers, but of the system and those who run it. Almost uniquely among European countries, the English education system (but not, of course, the Welsh) discourages primary schools from teaching modern languages.

For most British people it is lack of language skills that leads to a lack of understanding of our cultures, other countries and other peoples. A lack of understanding leads to fear which in turns leads to rejection. Some of Britain's indifference and intolerance of Europe and the European Union undoubtedly stems from a lack of languages.

For someone in Dr Tate's position to suggest that we should be teaching Latin and Greek, to our eight and nine-year-olds, rather than a modern language, shows both a fundamental misunderstanding of Britain's place in a modern Europe and a total lack of recognition of the problems that will face the next generation. He complains that "subjects which had a major influence on the formation of this country's educated elite continuously since Anglo-Saxon times have now been reduced". Education should not forget our national history but neither should it be about creating a system of "educated elite".

We need a reappraisal of our priorities for the future, not a reversion to the classics - important as they may be to many scholars. We should make it a priority to teach another language in all our schools as early as possible.


Labour education spokesperson

European Parliament

Labour Euro Office

Wembley, Middlesex

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