Education

Publication Date01 Mar 1983
Pages19-20
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb057306
AuthorBob Crew
SubjectEconomics,Information & knowledge management,Management science & operations
Education
by Bob Crew
The continuing failure of Britain's education system to turn out
the kind of recruits that British industry says it needs but is not
getting,
is not helped, of course, by recession and mounting
unemployment. Before recession, the education system was
allegedly not producing the goods, during recession it can
hardly be blamed for not producing them in view of educa-
tional cutbacks and zero job prospects
while after the reces-
sion (if, indeed there is to be an after) it will probably be in no
better shape than it was before.
However, if there is to be an after, there will be an even more
urgent need than before for future generations who are of the
right material for British industry. The government's Informa-
tion Technology Year with the avowed intent of putting a
computer into every school has highlighted the urgent need
for future generations who are technologically literate, while
the Computer Centre in Manchester has reminded us that
there are currently 20,000 available computer jobs in British in-
dustry that cannot be filled owing to a shortage of suitably
qualified people.
But it is not simply a problem of technological illiteracy that has
been bothering employers who, until recently, were complain-
ing of educational failure on many other fronts, including:
CSE-types who were deficient in the three Rs; degree-types
who had a distaste of industry and preferred to avoid it at all
costs in favour of jobs in government, the arts, the professions
and service industries; sales types who couldn't
sell;
exporters
who couldn't speak foreign languages; and feeble middle
managers who, compared with their counterparts abroad,
were an incurably weak link in the chain of command; not to
mention senior managers whose industrial relations were so in-
ept that strikes were probably unavoidable.
It was argued that nothing less than a complete cultural and
educational revolution with sweeping changes in the school
curriculum could bring about the improvements necessary
at all levels of the workforce for Britain to hold its own in the
modern world.
But, David Spawforth, headmaster of Merchiston Castle
School in Edinburgh, argues that it is no good waiting for
governments to get the education system sorted out or, for
that matter, for traditional academic attitudes to British in-
dustry to change and that concerned industrialists should
get more directly involved with schools now and support them
on industrial-link schemes designed to tackle many of the pro-
blems of which they are complaining. Commenting on the loss
of trade that results from a lack of foreign language ability in
British industry today, Spawforth says that, in 1977, he under-
took a research project funded by British Petroleum, which
looked into the problem of British school children who
unlike their European counterparts give up foreign language
studies (after "O" levels). As a result of this research he pro-
posed and set up, in conjunction with the Oxford & Cambridge
School Examination Board, a new course entitled German for
Business Studies. Similar courses in French and Spanish soon
followed.
The syllabus was aimed at those pupils who, on star-
ting their "A" level courses, gave up their foreign languages
for the most part, the engineers, chemists, technologists,
managers, lawyers, doctors, sales and marketing personnel of
the future. The object was to beat the education system
which,
with its early specialisation, later forces an employer to
choose between a linguist and a man with technical know-
how. David Spawforth says:
"Pupils having to meet the demands of two or three 'A'
levels in the area of their subject choice, to get them in-
to the university of their choice, are not likely to do a
demanding foreign language 'A' level if it is not an
essential subject for them. At the same time, they are
going to forget most of what they learned of a foreign
language at 'O' level. But, with 'A/O' levels in foreign
language studies, they have the opportunity to keep
their hand in without jeopardising their grades on their
essential subjects."
What this could mean is that pupils studying science or
business subjects, for example who are put off foreign
languages because they have no intention of studying
literature in depth or teaching languages could persist
with a foreign tongue after "O" level, instead of giving it
up,
as so often happens in Britain today. Better
still,
it
could ultimately lead to entirely language geared "A"
levels, additional to the present syllabus with its emphasis
on the learning of large quantities of classical literature. At
present, the able linguists in Britain are the people least
likely to be attracted to a career in industry the kind of
people who, in most other respects, are not the right
material for industry. Spawforth says:
"A proper understanding of industry is an essential part
of a pupil's complete education. It is too late to wait un-
til after school and companies really should get more
closely involved, not just in funding research, which is
always welcome, but more importantly in co-operating
with schools who are prepared to reschedule their pro-
grammes to allow pupils time to gain work experience
between studies."
It is not simply
technological illiteracy that
has been bothering
employers
At Merchiston Castle there are, predictably, very active
industrial-link schemes in progress, which releases "A"
level students to go off and gain exposure to different in-
dustries on two/three day attachments. Spawforth says:
"It enables school boys to see industry
from
the inside
IMDS · MARCH/APRIL · 1983 19

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