A vision for Scotland in 2020 is the theme of today's Edinburgh Conference, organised by The TESS and Edinburgh City Council. We invited 16- to 18-year-olds across the country to send in their ideas for a motivated, inclusive society. These are the two winning essays
Julie Wilson, 16 Liberton High, Edinburgh
Imagine an education system where there are no limits, no barriers. Pupils will not fear unemployment or the exam system. This can be achieved. It is not a dream; we don't just have to imagine it. It is a realistic vision.
We can make it happen, it can be achieved through a number of things; a fairer exam system producing better results, and better-equipped schools paid for by the Scottish Parliament, not private companies where the schools are driven by profit margins. The end of the privileges towards private schools is essential.
How do we make this dream a reality? Whilst it would be unfair to say the exam system at this moment in time is failing, it is certainly not without faults. It is not failing 80 per cent or so Scottish students, but it is to the other 20 per cent, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there are not enough choices in subjects. Some students are just not able enough in certain subjects but are still made to take them. There should be flexibility in the choice of subjects students wish to do. They should not have to choose only the essential subjects, like English and maths, but should be able to take exams in such areas as plumbing and hairdressing. This would boost exams results because when you enjoy a subject you try harder in it and achieve much more.
I am an example of this. I hated German and chemistry but I loved home economics and history. When I got my Standard grade exams results, I did a lot better in history and HE than chemistry and German.
The new subjects I refer to would be a lot more practical for students who leave at the end of fourth year. They would have gained good grades in subjects they enjoyed and skills that they could apply in their future jobs, rather than get average grades in subjects they hated.
As well as more choice in what exams we could take, classes should be available to students even if only one person wants to study that subject.
Last year, when I was choosing subjects, I wanted to take home economics at Higher grade but wasn't allowed to because there were not enough people to make up a class. This should not happen. You are supposed to play towards your strengths; pupils should be able to study any subject. More teachers being employed or students travelling to other schools could make this possible. Mr Blair promised to support education, but it looks like that is only going to happen if students can afford it. Why should my education be held back by lack of money?
The second strategy that should be aimed for is to make the exam system fairer. To this end we must abolish the stigma of learning difficulties.
For my Standard grade subjects, all my exams were scribed for me, and I also know people who had readers. This is fine at Standard grade but when I sit Higher English I still have no promise that I will be allowed the continued use of a scriber. Just because you get a scribe or reader does not mean you have less ability than someone who doesn't. Students who use a scribe and reader still have the knowledge. I got a Grade 1 for my English but does that, somehow because it was scribed, mean less? I thought it all up on my own, which is more than can be said for some of Mr Blair's speeches. So in the year 2020, I would like to see anyone who needs a scribe or a reader allowed one at any level and in any subject.
Pupils don't just need to be able to pick the right subjects but be able to learn in well equipped schools. Schools at the moment are often ill equipped and crowded. In 2020 I would like to see modern technology being used in every school; well-equipped classrooms for all chosen subjects.
Students will have a laptop each and will be taught how to use the new technology. This will greatly assist learning; it will be a teaching tool that teachers will be able to use.
The Scottish government, not private companies, should fund new schools.
This would let the teaching staff in these schools maintain the up-keep of the schools, and problems would be fixed quickly instead of the schools having to make contact with the school owners and asking them to fix the problem, which may take a long time. Anyway, what does a bank know about education or are we just good money-makers?
But what can the government do to stop priority being given to private schools? The best solution would be to abolish private schools. Why should it matter how much your parents earn? For too long private school pupils have been hijacking the better jobs. But I can't ever see private schools going away. So what we have to ensure is that our schools look better and are equipped better.
Please note, I say look and better equipped, I'm not condemning the teaching. The teaching in state schools is fantastic. But the government needs schools that look good and run well. Parents judge schools on looks, we need to have schools that look good and are well equipped so pupils in state schools have the same opportunities with modern technology as private school pupils have.
Pupils need to be given an even playing field. Every pupil in Scotland, whether you go to a state or a private school, should have the same opportunities. In 2020 it won't matter which school you went to or what tie you wore. All that will matter is if you did well or not. Everyone will have the same chances.
My vision for 2020 is that students will not fear unemployment as there will be jobs that everyone can do because they have the right grades in subjects they enjoyed. Imagine that pupils don't fear unemployment. Imagine an exam system which students and teachers get good results from. Imagine an education system that is no longer corrupted by the class system.