I was talking to someone a few days ago who informed me that their child was being taught about subjunctives and gerunds at primary school. This is proof, perhaps, that Mr Gove’s tenure as the Government’s Education Secretary was not entirely wasted, despite bleatings from teachers about yet more changes to the national curriculum.
It was Mr. Gove’s stated aim to return to some old fashioned teaching methods, moving away from the ‘everybody has done very well’ culture back to a ‘that isn’t good enough’ model of learning.
I attended a recent local university forum where we were discussing the employability of students after graduation. I was stressing the need, irrespective of the degree undertaken, for students to have a proper command of the English language and be conversant with the basic skills of spelling and sentence construction. The professors leading both English and Creative Writing degree courses admitted that students often arrived, fresh out of school, with abilities well below par in these areas. How these students achieved ‘A’ level passes to enable them to enter university in the first place is baffling to me.
Hopefully, matters are now being corrected. However, a generation of young people have been poorly served during their school years by this lack of attention to what is a fundamental building block of learning. Writing reflects the individual and if a job application/CV is badly written the chances of employment are going to be greatly reduced. Work skills are of course acquired in the workplace, whether it be professional, clerical or blue-collar but unless applicants can read and write correctly their lives will be forever blighted. As I mentioned earlier, there has been a renewed emphasis on literacy in primary schools but in a recent and shocking study by Sheffield University, they stated that 17% of secondary school leavers in England are functionally illiterate.
The blame cannot all be laid at the door of inadequate education; from a very young age, children interact with one another via mobile devices, texting or using any of the social media channels – Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram etc. When using these, they adopt a short-form language that does away with spelling norms for the sake of expediency.
In addition, the reliance on spell-check to correct grammar and spelling errors contributes to an erosion of basic literacy skills; the keyboard’s gain is the pen and pencil’s loss. Furthermore, we live in a world of information overload where communications are reduced and simplified to cater for the lowest common denominator of understanding. Average broadcast news bulletins are rarely longer than 90 seconds per subject – on the assumption that we are now so time poor we no longer have the attention span to assimilate anything longer. The habit of multi-tasking, listening on headphones to music, staring at a computer/tablet screen and texting all at the same time is another new youth phenomena which does not encourage accuracy, or to my mind, coherent thought. But what do I know, I’m just an oldie.
However, it is hardly surprising that English is becoming reduced to some incomprehensible patois, featuring made-up street words and phrases, a new language only understood by the tribe to which you belong.
Be warned, I plan to write my next piece in rap.