Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Stait Of Brittish Educatian

Overseas students are better at English than the British - Education News, Education - The Independent

For anyone in higher education, like myself, this is old news, although I've found that students from east Asia tend not to be so good at written English. I've always found the Germans write better English than British students.

The problem is that this nearly always gets reduced to a stupid spat about spelling. Spelling is important but it's not anything like as important as correct grammar and punctuation. Incorrect or sloppy syntax alters the meaning of what is being said. I've frequently encountered sentences that are not just wrong but incomprehensible. I've also read sentences that meant the opposite of what the student meant. The situation has been so bad in the last decade that the Royal Literary Fund (not a fake charity, I hasten to add) set up a fellowship scheme whereby practising writers are placed in universities to help students improve their writing skills (meagre as they are).

There's no point people saying it's always been like this or that it doesn't really matter. The situation has got worse - ask anyone working in higher education; ask anyone in business.

The situation is not made better by authors and academics (people who should know better) who declare that spelling, grammar and punctuation are not important because they get in the way of creativity. Not only is this obvious bollocks, it's not an approach they take to their own published work - which will proofed precisely to eradicate any such errors.

Critics of correct grammar, etc, don't seem to understand that precision is essential in the written language, otherwise its primary purpose - communication - is degraded. Learning correct grammar is a chore, but it has to be done. Spelling can be managed by using dictionaries and spell-checks as well as an extensive vocabulary. Punctuation is remarkably straightforward to grasp.

Perhaps it's just the plain fact that learning the basics is a bit of a grind that educationalists don't like. Or perhaps they're driven by a perverse political ideology that regards the old fashioned imposition of rules as against one's human rights. I don't know.

I say all this, not in criticism of the students, who are friendly, enthusiastic and hard-working. They deserve better.

One thing is for sure, though, and that's the education system has been truly shafted by 'experts' and 'advisers'. Along with just about everything else in this country.

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