Friday, 30 September 2011

The Education Elephant in the Room

APPARENTLY we’re crap. Yes, crap. Rubbish, useless and downright awful. That’s according to Professor Sir Robert Salisbury.

Sir Bob is the man charged with the numeracy and literacy review in Norn Iron. He has not as yet pointed out that most MLAs can neither spell numeracy or literacy let alone pronounce them, but we live in hope that this fact makes it into his final report.

The knighted prof slammed what he claimed was the “enduring myth” that we in Norn Iron are good, like, in edukashion, or, like, in doing sums, like. Amptinat (“Am I not” for those unfamiliar the local patois) telling ye lot all the time we’re a wee bit shabby when speekin the proper words!

No sooner had Sir Bob popped up on BBC to reveal to shocked Daily Mail readers across the land that in the top 30 rankings for reading we came in at 19th – well behind the English. Shocked radio announcers declaimed this fact in almost perfect grammar as producers sweated over whether Mr Green Ink of North Down would spot that incorrect participle or sloppy verb agreement in the previous bulletin…

And, when it comes to counting we ranked only 27 out of 30. Are these figures reliable? Well, we hope so as they were prepared by someone educated in a country ranked higher than 27th!

Of course, there followed an announcement in the Assembly that this education lark would be a doddle once we’ve audited, trimmed the fat, and generally knuckled down; followed by a perfunctory debate and name-calling.

Take a wee step back and look at our track record on dealing with education. We have eleven different systems: controlled; catholic maintained; voluntary; Irish medium; and integrated [see what we did there with a maths related joke…oh you didn’t? Well that’s perhaps why we’re ranked so low!]

And these systems are governed by eight education boards: Northern, South Eastern, Southern, Belfast and Western [What, you still don’t get the joke! We give up!]

And then we have the various ‘colours’ of the NI Executive, an examining board and the Department of Education, plus a whole load of smaller Arm’s Length Bodies we can’t remember. Your homework will be to link the phrase “over-governed” and “irony” through an exposition of whether this is comic irony, tragic irony, historic irony, situational irony, Socratic irony or taking the mick. We’re sure there’s a Google search result or Wikipedia page you can copy and paste from to help in your three or four word answer.

We have had four Assembly elections (1998, 2003, 2007 and 2011) to gather a group of politicians in the Big House. We’ve had more false starts than can be easily enumerated, more huffs than Carlos Tevez, and more talking than the chattering of the chattering classes. And we still end up with a rifted education system and dogma aplenty.

There are the ideological differences, there are the political differences and there are the differences for the sake of being different. What we can say for certain is that we have some children who do very, very, very well in GCSE’s and ‘A’ levels. And, we have way, way, way too many who leave school barely able to read the horse racing pages or count up their betting slips costs.

This tells us something. First, there is a thing called ‘functional literacy’ which means in short hand terms, the ability to function in society other than read the sports pages or do the maths showing why there are very few poor bookies.

So, this is a very simple challenge to the Norn Iron Executive – look in the dictionary for the word ‘agree’. You may be surprised by what you find. If you are struggling with translating this word into action head straight back to your dictionary and check what it defines under the word ‘compromise’.

[NB – there are at least, technically, five hidden grammatical errors in the preceding article. If, and when, you find them you have reached the stage of English-language Jedi Initiate, we wish you well on your journey to enlightenment, but we still want to check your passport to make sure you really are from Norn Iron!]

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