The Government hopes to make tests on times tables and grammar mandatory in all schools by 2020 in a plan to improve the numeracy and literacy skills among students. Despite considerable opposition from many teachers in the country, including the National Association of Head Teachers, the Department of Education hopes to carry on with this initiative to ensure that the numerical and literacy abilities of young children in the UK can be improved to that of the level in “east and south-east Asia”.
From an early age, we are taught that how sophisticated we are in the academic world will be reliant on our abilities to use basic numeracy and literary skills. However, according to the recent ‘Trends in Mathematics and Science Study’, Singapore’s mean score was 618 compared to England’s 546. The Department of Education believes that introducing on-screen tests, which last five minutes and test the knowledge of times tables up to 12, will help bring English students up to the standards set by Asian countries. It has been stressed upon that the results of the tests will not be published and will not be used to implement any changes.
“These tests will end up being another stress-inducing burden on the minds of young children”
However, teachers around the country have insisted that these tests will end up being another stress-inducing burden on the minds of young children whose lives already comprise of numerous examinations and evaluations. There is also considerable speculation regarding the universality of the test, because it is difficult to create one test that can properly judge the knowledge of a diverse group of students with different abilities. Furthermore, teachers have said that the tests will not provide them with any new information that they were not previously aware of and is thus a pointless exercise to impose upon the children. Although the thought behind this initiative is understandable and progress towards meritocracy is always admirable, the method of implementation does seem futile. A five-minute test without repercussions can hardly inspire any extra effort from the students and ends up being an unnecessary burden
“English skills are crucial to a person’s chance of employability”
In light of this are queries over how the UK teaches another key aspect of a child’s education: grammar. At GSCEs, students are reminded of the importance of the quality of their written work, whether it be in English language, Literature, History, Religious Studies or Geography: 5% of a student’s mark will be based on their quality of spelling, punctuation and grammar. However, when it comes to the workplace it seems the government should be trying harder to push the message that English skills are crucial to a person’s chance of employability. According to the President of the COO of Moore Staffing Services: “of the 50-100 resumes that we receive each day… close to 90% of those resumes fall short of being perfect. Some of them need minor fixes to grammar… but many of them are poorly written or poorly designed”. He raised the question: “are the poor quality of resumes that we see so frequently due to the failure of our schools to teach students proper written language skills?”
What’s more, when we elude to successful businessmen and women, politicians, activists etc. we must appreciate that their ability to use language in a sophisticated and comprehensive manner is a key factor in their success. Audiences tend to be impressed more so by a speaker with an impressive use of language and whether they are able to express their ideas in a fluent and sophisticated way. Overall, you could argue that education is a key principle of their success.
The government and schools in the UK should aspire to provide a better quality of education to the students and aid them towards achieving more, although it is arguable that introducing more tests might not be the best way to approach the goal towards further academic achievements. The key aim the government should push for is an education system that equips children with the essential skills needed for their lives ahead – which all in all, is the fundamental principle of education.
Anusmita Ray and Olivia Morel