Education: Word of mouth

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Holocaust Diploma:

When Jocelyn Krivine was knee-high to a grasshopper, he could not understand why he and his parents were forced to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothes, nor why his father had to flee from Paris to the unoccupied zone of France in 1941 to organise the family's escape from almost certain death. But Jocelyn was just five. How could he understand? Today, at 62, he understands the horrors of the Second World War only too well - but still cannot fathom the answer to one question: Why? So, the foreign languages teacher-adviser until his early retirement 10 years ago, signed on for a module on Nazi persecution of Jews at the University of Wolverhampton. As an associate student, he has a place in the school of education's religious studies department to study the Shoah, Perspectives of the Holocaust. "We constantly hear that anti-Semitism is far from dead and is even being revived in some areas. It is brave of the university to confront this through serious academic research and discussion," says Jocelyn, who came from France in 1963.

Dispelling Oxford:

David Blunkett is right. Primary schools should concentrate on the Three Rs. Without literacy, the rest of the curriculum would collapse and the country with it. To back my point (and Mr Blunkett's), I turn to Oxford University and those undergraduates who sat the Eng Lit Hons exam in 1986 and 1995 respectively. The current issue of Oxford Magazine lists 80 principal spelling mistakes perpetrated in the 1986 papers and more than 140 committed in 1995. So things appear to be getting worse, not better. Twelve years ago mistakes included: abscence, arguement, anomoly, elaberate, inditement, infinately, irreverint, sacrelage, sence and seperate. In 1995 they included: aberation, accross, apparant, assertain, concience, cocquetness, desparation, devine, endevour, exagerated, heirarchies, hierachy, hypocrasy, ostricised, pain-staking, paridoxical, prescence, sacreligious, relavent, sacramentel, tendancy, tenderhooks, twichlight and our old friend seperate. All this from our top-drawer students, many of them from the country's finest independent schools! Bernard Richards, a former English tutor at Brasenose College, who collected these atrocities, said some appeared once or twice but that others were "quite frequent". A dozen candidates spelt separate as "seperate". "In theory these students should be some of the best in the University, and indeed the world, when it comes to spelling, but the facts prove otherwise," quoth the author.

Porridge with LLB:

Nearly a year ago, the Open University signed an agreement with the College of Law to run the first OU law degree course. It became an immediate success and even Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, called it "an inspired step forward". What neither the OU nor the College foresaw at the time was just how popular the course would be with those serving prison sentences. I understand that, among the 900 students following the law foundation course, there are prisoners in at least three prisons. The College, among Europe's largest legal education providers, with 4,700 full-time students and another 8,000 following courses by correspondence, now sends tutors into the prisons to provide special on-the-spot coaching for those who have signed on. The days of self-taught know-it-all cell lawyers are clearly nearing an end. Soliciting in our jails has become professional. But where, I wonder, do the chaps behind bars find the cash to pay for the course? Because it isn't yet subsidised, it costs three times the OU's more usual pounds 400 or so.

Bett-er and Bett-er:

Last week's educational technology show (BETT) at Olympia was the biggest yet. I cannot recall it as crowded - 350 firms and organisations exhibiting their wares and an estimated 20,000 visitors, mainly teachers and lecturers, trying them out. No wonder more and more of us are suffering from RSI (repetitive strain injury), a devastatingly painful disorder. According to Body Action Campaign, which also had a stand at the exhibition, some 11 per cent of those who use VDUs are afflicted - and that includes pupils now regularly sitting in front of computers surfing the wretched net. Bunny Martin who deals with work-related disorders at BAC is the person sufferers in the London area should contact (Tel: 0181-767 2056).

Bronzed off:

Another of the smaller BETT exhibits was the IT Learning Exchange, which provides support in the use of information technology to schools and other educational institutions. For the past two years, this emergency helpline, once under the auspices of the now defunct Inner London Education Authority, but now housed at the University of North London, won high accolades for its work. Two years ago it was a silver medal, last year the gold, both for its splendid training and support services to schools. So what happened this year? They won again - but this time it was the bronze medal. Who beat them? The silver went to Legoland and the gold - wait for it - to Tesco. Not just a pretty supermarket, then.

And finally:

Mo Mowlam is without doubt the bravest woman in the Cabinet - and one of the nicest (she was recently voted Woman of the Year by readers of The Independent on Sunday). I warmed to her even more when I discovered her to be a computerphobe. When Redcar's MP and Northern Ireland Secretary visited the University of Teesside last Friday to open its pounds 11m Learning Resources Centre, she naturally hesitated when confronted by an entire galaxy of computers and expected to switch them on. But Mo did not flinch from duty. She was genuinely surprised when her own home page appeared on the university Web site. There she found a news release announcing her visit - until then kept secret for security reasons. She might enjoy a little Net surfing from time to time.