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Pat Keenor: Reading, writing and arithmetic

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: November 22, 2012

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ON the face of it the news this week that thousands of UK teenagers cannot read well enough to understand their GCSE exam papers is shocking.

How can this possibly be true when every year GCSE and A-level results are better than the year before? And, sadly, who is even the slightest bit surprised by this research?

The study, by educational software company Renaissance Learning, looked at the results of reading tests. Findings, based on 29,000 children, suggest 15 and 16-year-olds in England have an average reading age five years lower than their actual age.

Even so, I refuse to get too het up by the fact that thousands of teenagers are leaving school unable to write a coherent fan letter to One Direction or think John Keats was voted out of The X-Factor in 2010.

For each one of them who writes in some strange form of illegible textspeak, there are hundreds who are perfectly literate.

We get lots of kids on work experience in our office – some we have later taken on as trainees. They are all without exception (well, there was that one strange lad in 2010) bright, well-mannered, hard-working and literate.

Every month we get articles submitted by teenagers for our Don't Judge Us page – they are well-written, well-researched and interesting.

It would be easy for me, in my privileged grammar school-educated way, to sniff huffily about the state of education today. But is it any different than it has ever been?

Submissions from our readers, not all of them in the first flush of youth, are sometimes badly spelled and ungrammatical.

I remember at my last newspaper getting a tirade about educational standards in an ungrammatical letter full of spelling mistakes, which proudly finished: "In my day, we learned the three Rs, Reading, Ritting and Rithmatic.

I resisted ritting back to him to tell him his rithmatic just didn't add up.

Lots of youngsters still at school today would in the past have left at 14 or 15 and gone out to work, getting a proper apprenticeship or training for something they really wanted to do.

I love reading and writing, but that doesn't make me any better than someone who loves farming or carpentry or cookery or mending cars – any activity that involves a different kind of creativity.

I may be able to string a sentence together (hopefully) but I certainly could never paint a picture or knit a jumper (just ask my mother) or even cook a cake that didn't look like it had been mixed and flung in the oven by a six-year-old wearing mittens.

I don't want a brain surgeon plumbing in my lavatory any more than I want a plumber tinkering with the few brain cells I have left.

As a society we should be playing to the strengths of all our members. If a young person's strength is rewiring your house, then why make him or her sit down and plough their way through Milton's Paradise Lost?

As Confucius said: "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

DID you vote in the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner election?

With apologies to those on the list, I had heard of only one of them. None of them put a leaflet through my door or visited my house. I saw just one circular because one candidate visited my local pub where the poor chap was button-holed and grilled by my very politically-minded better half.

He got my sympathy vote, if not my actual vote.

I was torn between wanting to register my disapproval for the whole affair and feeling honour-bound to vote for the sake of all those people in the world who would love the chance to see democracy in action.

I didn't want any suffragettes spinning in their graves either, even though only one of the ten candidates was a woman.

To vote or not to vote, that was the question.

In the end I carefully read the Journal page that listed each of the candidates and their policies and made my choice.

I may have voted, but I still think the whole American-style thing is a waste of money and I have yet to be persuaded otherwise.

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