Friday, August 25, 2006

The Three "R's"

The news that British schoolchildren are becoming brainier and brainier was greeted with whoops of joy from the government. After all, a pass mark approaching 101% in GCSE’s and A Levels is not to be sneezed at. And it’s been accomplished just by improving the educational system, not by lowering the standard of course.

Students are equally happy and, in a few years time, there won’t be enough space on the front pages of newspapers to hold the pictures of students deliriously tearing open their results envelopes.

The only ones who don’t seem happy about this are those miserable Scrooges in industry who find themselves in the invidious position of having to find employment for these budding geniuses.

For a manufacturer of black puddings, fitting in someone who has just aced his TV, Film and Media studies course is proving something of a problem. What he really wants is someone who can count (black puddings, presumably), subtract, occasionally do a bit of multiplication and, in extremis, be able to write a coherent letter. Unfortunately, students with any aptitude in these matters are hard to come by under the present system.

One wonders what would be the pass mark if these embryo eggheads were made to sit the exams that were in use, say, fifty years ago?

Even the university courses are of such a specialised character that students eschew the dull and dreary nonsense of English and maths. I believe the University of Boris Johnson, for example, offer courses in falling off of bicycles and how to be a member of an irrelevant political party, skills which are not in great demand on the open market but which are typical of the courses on offer.

Employers wanting to find someone with simple numeracy skills are forced to employ those from the Asian sub-continent, with the possibility that, at the drop of a Chapati, they will be scooped up by the fuzz and incarcerated. Air travel is also out for these employees.

What is really needed is a return to the three “R’s,” which you recall are reading, riting and rithmetic. Having got these embedded in the brain, almost anything else is possible.

Presumably as you are reading this (possibly by mistake) thinking it was concerned with literary matters, you may wonder what this has to do with writing etc. Well, I don’t think any of the really famous writers ever took a course in TV, Film or Media studies or probably took any course at all that would have prepared them for a career as an author. For instance, Somerset Maugham was a doctor, Mark Twain was a riverboat pilot and Charles Dickens, (before he taught himself shorthand and became a court reporter) filled blacking bottles.

But I suspect they had one thing in common. They could all read, rite and do rithmetic.


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