Yes, modern studies does fly the Saltire

10th October 1997 at 01:00
John Lloyd raises several interesting points in his article on modern studies (TESS, September 5), but his claim that there is a conspiracy to downgrade the Scottish dimension is completely without foundation. The national committee of the Modern Studies Association, the organisation promoting and enhancing the teaching of modern studies in Scotland, contends that Scottish politics is firmly established in the syllabus at all levels.

It is possible to teach Scottish politics from the first year of secondary right through to the sixth, and in the case of Standard grade it is impossible to complete the course without an understanding of this area. Many modern studies departments cover Scottish politics in their first and second-year courses, and the popular class textbook, Power to the People (Imprint), refers to purely Scottish issues in the majority of case studies.

The Standard grade course provides opportunities for study within a Scottish political context. Indeed, in this year's Credit paper the entire first question was based on the Scottish system. Pupils were presented with three options under the heading "Governing Scotland in the year 2000". One recommended the status quo, another suggested the creation of a Scottish parliament within the UK and a third advocated Scotland become an independent state. This is not consistent with Mr Lloyd's claims of downgrading.

At Higher there has been a question on Scottish politics in the exam for the past five years. This is set to continue with the advent of the new Higher which has as one of its major study themes "Central and local government in Scotland". The MSA's annual publication for 1996, Spotlight on Scotland, featured material entirely based around Scottish politics, for use by teachers of Higher modern studies. The new Advanced Higher also offers scope. For example, a student may study an issue in comparatives politics from a Scottish government perspective.

Alternatively, the Advanced Higher dissertation can be based around the Scottish political system if the student so desires. One possibility might be a comparison between the model of proportional representation used in the new Scottish parliament and that used in Germany. With a Scottish parliament imminent, it seems likely that Scottish politics will become more popular at Higher and Advanced Higher.

Modern studies is, by its very nature, a dynamic subject which reflects changes in society. Each year, the subject panel comprising representatives from a broad range of interested groups, considers proposals for certain topics to be included in or dropped from the syllabus. There was a detailed and extensive consultation exercise before publication of the final arrangements for Higher Still. Several significant changes were made as a result of the feedback from teachers and the MSA, with more than 400 members in Scotland, is very pleased with the outcome.

In recent days, many political commentators have highlighted the desire of the Scottish electorate to be represented in the new parliament by high calibre, well informed MSPs. It is the view of the MSA that the skills and values taught in modern studies make a unique contribution to the curriculum in this respect. The real challenge, therefore, for the MSA is to ensure that modern studies is available to all pupils throughout Scotland at all stages of their school career.

Although strong in some areas, the subject is weaker in others. In areas such as Fife and Grampian, modern studies is well represented, with most schools offering courses from first year upwards. In other areas such as Highland the availability of the subject has always been much more patchy. It is not uncommon for it to be offered only at Higher grade, thus denying pupils any opportunity to study the wide range of important issues covered in first and second year and at Standard grade.

As well as Scottish and British politics, these issues include the needs of certain groups in society, such as the elderly, the unemployed, the role of unions, the politics of aid, the ideology of the United States, China and Russia, and the role of organisations such as Nato and the European Union in the post Cold War era.

The association has been strenuously lobbying MPs, councils and headteachers, drawing attention to the value of the subject for both pupils and employers. Our future democracy depends on an informed electorate, knowledgeable about Scottish, UK and international affairs.

Rona Molloy writes on behalf of the Modern Studies Association, of which she is publicity officer.

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