Is the education system failing our children?

Depressing news in The Independent this week: Overseas students are better at English than British students.

According to Professor Bernard Lamb, who carried out the research, British undergraduates are nearly three times more likely to make errors in written English than those from overseas.

Depressing? Yes. Surprising? No.

After spending a year studying the written work of his students, Lamb was appalled by spelling errors such as flourescence, alot, seperate, yeild, relevent and introduications.

Grammatical errors included ‘done by my partner and I’ and ‘a women’. Whilst poor punctuation ranged from the misuse of semicolons to a complete lack of possessive apostrophes.

The Queen’s English Society, of which Lamb is president, blames the errors on a “widespread deterioration in standards.”

Lamb goes on to say that “we need to raise the very poor standards of English by more demanding syllabuses and exams, more explicit teaching and examining of English (including grammar, spelling and punctuation) and by consistent correction of errors by teachers of all subjects.”

And I couldn’t agree more.

The wishy washy liberalism that has pervaded our education system means there’s a reluctance to correct written work. There seems to be a belief that pointing out a kid’s poor spelling, sloppy punctuation or bad grammar will somehow thwart that child’s creativity.

Here’s the news: it won’t.

Good grammar and punctuation skills are the foundation on which great writing is built. Kids that get the ‘rules’ enjoy the act of writing a whole lot more. It’s like explaining the offside rule to a kid who wants to be footballer; the more he understands the game the more fun it is.

Lamb demands a more “consistent correction of errors by teachers”. But the real worry is that teachers themselves have a poor understanding of the English language.

Take a look at this picture sent to me by Twitter pal @racinghippo. This came home with his daughter’s homework this week. Scary, isn’t it?

This week's homework

  • Matt Hill
    Posted at 12:44h, 08 October Reply

    I quite agree. However, let’s not forget that some children with learning difficulties will probably never be perfect writers, even with improved education standards.

    What are your views on spelling and grammar issues on the web, particularly informal blogging and twittering?

    • Sarah Turner
      Posted at 13:00h, 08 October Reply

      Hey Matt

      No, of course, kids with learning difficulties will have their own challenges. But Lamb was referring to undergraduates: young people that had gone through the entire education system and been bright enough to study for a degree. Some of the errors were pretty basic.

      As for writing for the web. Well, I have a very informal writing style – as can be seen by the ‘yeahs’, ‘whatevers’ and ‘cools’ sprinkled all over this site. But I still think the basic rules of grammar and punctuation should apply. I cringe when I see ‘there’ instead of ‘their.’ Or U instead of you.

      Good punctuation and grammar helps you communicate your message as quickly and as easily as possible, whether that’s a blog post, Twitter or a text message.

      And yes, I do punctuate my text messages!

  • Jason Regan
    Posted at 11:28h, 22 October Reply

    I have what I’ve believed to be an irrational annoyance over those lazy spelling mistakes that you always pick up so amusingly, and I’ll always make the effort to punctuate text messages properly. Language evolves though and I’m not sure whether we’re not currently just witnessing this in action. I’ll keep on doing my bit, but at the same time I also beleive in the old punk thing that a good idea executed badly is worth way more than a bad idea done well.

    Good call on Jan Moir though – your first point summed it up best, although what should we expect from the Mail anyway?

  • Jason Regan
    Posted at 11:28h, 22 October Reply

    I before e…

  • Morag
    Posted at 14:18h, 16 November Reply

    I agree that language evolves, but I don’t think it does so through dumbing down and not knowing basic grammar or spelling.

    I grew up in a family where both of these were corrected rigorously by my parents (both former teachers, who had that odd thing called standards). I do the same for my children, and my 11 year old is a beautiful speller (my 9 year old leans more towards the creative style at this age!).

    Seeing a teacher write Your A Star on a child’s piece of work (which was then pinned to the notice board!) brought me out in apoplexy, and I nearly ripped it down, there and then. When the teachers themselves can’t get it right, what chance do the kids have?

    You are quite right, Sarah, that correction does not hinder creativity, but gives the child confidence in their abilities. I mean, who wants to go through life with a sign over their heads saying “Im stoopid i am” ??

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.