Madam: I write in reaction to the article by Carmel McQuaid on 20 April reporting on the analysis of Dr McEwan of Queen's University on the correlation between 0-level subjects and results and the AH5 tests used in job selection tests.
I would first like to stress the importance of not confusing skills conducive to good performance in the tests and skills useful to employers. The AH5 tests are designed to gauge job candidates' aptitudes in specific areas. Communication skills, the ability to work in a team, trustworthiness, specific technical knowledge and so on are not measured by such tests and must be assessed through interviews, formal qualifications, references, etc. Unfortunately, these tests are sometimes used for preselection of candidates, effectively discriminating against job applicants who have chosen to concentrate on non-scientific areas. I would contend that the proper reaction to this is not to discourage students from studying subjects in which they excel in favour of more test-friendly topics. A more targeted response would be to give students exposure to this type of test, much in the way that some schools give coaching in interview technique.
As a mathematics graduate working outside academia, I am also conscious that scientific subjects have the monopoly neither of transferable skills nor of academic rigour. However, the actual level of scientific and mathematical knowledge required in most jobs is very basic, and should be capable of more than adequate coverage at GCSE level. Non-scientific disciplines are vital to encourage independence of thought, creativity, the ability to present and support one's ideas, sufficient flexibility to react to new and changing situations, a grasp of non-numerical concepts, the capacity to make moral judgements, the ability to perform under pressure, and many aspects vital to employment and to life in general.
From Paul Langston
Madam: In your leading article "Teachers strike an uncaring pose"(17 April), you refer to the Japanese experience of producing very good academic results from children taught in classes of 40 or more.
Having referred to it, you immediately dismiss it on the grounds that Japanese culture is very different from ours; the implication is that the difference is so great that there is nothing from it which we can usefully learn. This is a perfect echo of British views of Japanese manufacturing methods in the Sixties and Seventies.
Despite the massive and continuing damage done to our society by this previous exercise in smug ignorance, as you demonstrate, we not only continue to dismiss the Japanese educational approach but little attempt (Judith Judd's article being a real exception) is even made to understand it.
I am sure there are cultural differences, and industry is different from education, but have we really nothing to learn? Perhaps the most relevant real cultural difference is that as a society we are too boneheaded even to begin to conduct a reasoned debate.
From David Bowes
Madam: A true and dedicated teacher of children is akin to a priest answering a call of vocation to offer his or her service for the good of the child. To resort to the negative of strike action denies and repudiates the positive of vocational sincerity by a teacher who undertakes such action.
As a recently retired teacher, I can recall that, until comparatively recently, primary classes often exceeded 40 children in numbers The class teacher then taught all subjects as required, had fewer resources and no ancillary helpers to assist with class activities. That conditions have so vastly improved and will go on improving is due to those faithfully vocated teachers and administrators who have the good of our children at heart, without primary concern for their pay packets or militant political activity.
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