Letters: Cuts hit all learners
Thursday 08 May 2008
Congratulations to Neil Merrick for high-lighting the extremely disturbing shallowness of the Government's approach to lifelong learning ("Adult education fights for its life", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 1 May). There are, however, broader contexts than just cost-cutting which need stressing.
The Government put forward its Informal Adult Learning proposals in the wake of near-universal opposition to its plans to withdraw funding for people studying for qualifications no higher than those they already possess, and for non-vocational learners, and it's very hard not to see them as a cynical attempt to buy off critics concerned about the latter group.
The funding change itself is aimed at switching resources to first-time learners, but doing this at the expense of all other adult learning means denying nearly everyone second chances, as well as degrading the learning experience itself, as first-time learners lose access to the experience and skills of mature students. Moreover, the destruction suggested is utterly needless – the small sums involved could easily be raised by top-slicing, as was originally suggested.
Michael Ayton, Durham
I see that, in pursuit of his academy programme, Lord Adonis has been going after Oxbridge, Eton and various old boys' networks for support, although probably not money, which the taxpayer has to provide ("The man with Eton in his sights", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 1 May). It makes one yearn for the days when Labour supported comprehensive education – even if many of its leaders had gone to public schools. What such institutions offer their students are, of course, better facilities, as they have more money, and a degree of self-confidence in their abilities (whatever they may be). This will have passed Lord Adonis by, but the labour movement replicated the same kind of thing through the trade unions and largely still does.
Keith Flett, Tottenham, north London
It seems to me that Shakespeare (and, for that matter, Dickens and other "difficult" classics) should be taught in schools, but perhaps only to the most able third of pupils. This is what used to happen in grammar schools and before we were infected with the American disease of comprehensive schooling and mixed-ability classes ("Why it's time to give the Bard the heave-ho", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 24 April). The less able could study EastEnders and autobiographies of stars and comedians – which, at present, everyone has to suffer. The most able could study more challenging texts.
Why is everyone so against the academic study of Shakespeare anyway, and obsessed, instead, with acting it out? If you want to act Shakespeare, then you should be studying drama, not English literature. This obsession with turning English courses into drama ones couldn't possibly be because acting is far easier than hard, book-based study, could it? Or that it would allow courses to be even more coursework-based than they already are, allowing final marks to be boosted, especially for the less able? Moreover, some youngsters hate reading out loud and acting with a passion – why should they suffer because some teachers, many of whom are failed actors, are desperate to show off their no-doubt stunning acting abilities to the young and impressionable and thereby avoid the hard but wondrous graft of studying difficult analyses of challenging texts?!
Edwin Webb, Greenwich, London SE10
The article, the attitude, the understanding demonstrated here are seriously misinformed; worse, dangerous. The writer has insulted childrens' intelligence, and their capacity to learn.
The charity of which I'm chairman supports a variety of literary projects in the West Midlands at primary school level. We regularly bring hundreds of primary school kids to our Young Shakespeare days, the Ledbury Poetry Festival childrens' events, and to a variety of workshops involving the Bard. Incidentally, we have also supported almost illiterate young offenders working with the remarkable Bruce Wall's London Shakespeare Workout prison project.
The capacity of children to identify with the English of Shakespeare, the ease with which they can imitate and mimic the vocabulary of Shakespeare, the fun I have seen children obtain countless times from the use of Shakespeare, his grammar and vocabulary (simile, metaphor and insults to boot), offer compelling evidence that we can deliver an extraordinary treasure to young people with competent teachers.
George Orwell believed that if you reduce people's capacity to develop vocabulary, you reduce their capacity to think. Brandon Robshaw is recommending we do just that. His suggestions will dumb down our living culture. Teaching Shakespeare needs to be neither "a form of torture", "force feeding" nor even "aversion" therapy. It can and should be inspirational, exciting, mind-stretching, and thoroughly relevant to our 21st-century lives. Watching the governor of HM Prison, Brixton face Othello castigating him and the rest of the audience for our prejudices, made that clear. I'm sad to read such a mean-spirited and reductionist view of our human possibilities, and hope deeply that this doesn't represent a serious proportion of the country's educational thinkers.
Adam Munthe, London
The teaching of media in our universities is often treated with derision despite the huge role that the media play in all our lives ("The creative forces shaping the future", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 1 May). It was gratifying therefore to read Andy Sharman's excellent and serious piece on the teaching of new and digital media and the ways in which the university sector is responding to the continuous revolution in technologies and formats brought about by digitisation. I would wish to add, however, one small caveat.
The strong impression given was that it is the new universities that are leading the charge, and that Russell Group universities, for example, are struggling to keep up. This is not entirely true. Here at Goldsmiths, University of London, one of the 1994 Group of research-intensive universities, we have a media department which boasts an MA digital media that is over five years old as well as a BA media studies with digital content creation. I should also point out that the challenges emerging from the changing media landscape inform all good media courses, just as new media technologies increasingly play an important role in all disciplines.
Dr Gareth Stanton, Head of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London
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