TALKBACK

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The Independent Online
From Randhir Singh Bains

Madam: The recent Ofsted (Office for Standard in Education) report (Independent, 2 May) once again blames teachers for falling standards. Teachers are criticised for spending too much time on pupils who find mathematics difficult to grasp, thereby attenuating the educational progress of brighter pupils. But this situation is precisely what one would expect to encounter in a class where child-centred learning strategies take precedence over the teacher-led learning process.

Primary and secondary schools are in the process of being inspected by Ofsted. Inspections are designed to ensure that schools conform to the Government's guidelines on education, which require the teaching of the National Curriculum through the use of child-oriented learning strategies, differentiation in lesson plans to suit mixed-ability classes and by a series of form-filling exercises.

However, no concrete evidence has so far emerged, either in the United States or in Britain, that the child-centred learning systems engender better education results. On the contrary, the Taiwanese and Hong Kong experiences (Independent, 7 April) in raising education standards put a big question mark on the dominant role of individual-based learning techniques.

Since the teaching strategies "encouraged" by Ofsted are not known for generating better results, it seems grossly unfair to apportion blame for falling standards on teachers alone. Education achievement is considered a composite process, involving many factors such as culture, teacher-pupil relationship and the goodwill of teachers. These values can hardly be infused through the use of a mechanistic, top-down and dictatorial approach currently being employed by Ofsted. By choosing to blame teachers for falling standards, Ofsted has once again failed to address the real issues besetting education in this country.

Yours faithfully,

RANDHIR SINGH BAINS

Gants Hill

Essex

From Michael Storm

Madam: A students' union president is "shocked" by the high proportion of students living at home with their parents; your headline refers to the "Plight of the stay-at-home students" (27 April). But what exactly is so terrible about this trend? As your map shows, it has always been common for Scottish students to use their local university, and the same is true in many European countries.

The notion of the residential university, the community of students and scholars, is part of the Oxbridge tradition, and has medieval origins in cloistered monasticism. How appropriate is this convention for the Nineties? There has always been a large mythological component in this idea that being a "real" student necessarily involves separating yourself from your home area and community.

The rhetoric about the "maturing" effect of campus (or lodgings) life doesn't really stand up well to close examination. How "maturing" is it to exist in a claustrophobic single age-group environment for three or four years? Are we to assume that the majority of young people, who live with their parents until employment or family-building takes them away, are somehow permanently warped by the lack of this mystical residential experience? Furthermore, the mass migration of students effectively removes many of the liveliest, most able young people from communities all over Britain, and relocates them in areas to which most make little social or political contribution. The full, rich social life which is embedded in the rationale for residential higher education is not all that strongly in evidence on the many campuses that are largely deserted by their mobile or moonlighting students every weekend.

It is time we re-examined the conventional wisdom that "getting away from home" is an indispensable attribute of higher education. We might start by acknowledging that mass participation in higher education (which we need) will never be practicable if we inflate the cost of it by insisting on a residential dimension.

Yours sincerely,

MICHAEL STORM

Earley

Reading

Write to the Education Editor, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL and include a daytime telephone number; fax 0171-293 2056.

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