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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Digby on Education

Another week another outburst by Digby Jones, director general of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry).

Here's an extract from today's Observer:

Too many school-leavers arrive at work without the basic skills they need to succeed in business, CBI boss Sir Digby Jones warns today, as thousands of pupils await their GCSE results.
In a scathing attack on the school system, Jones said companies resent having to pay for teenage workers to be taught reading, writing and maths. 'Too often bosses have to pick up the pieces and the bill, with many resorting to basic training to compensate for the shortcomings of an education system they have already contributed to through business taxes,' he said.
More than 40 per cent of employers are unhappy with the skill levels of the school-leavers they hire, a new CBI survey finds, while half of bosses say that their teenage staff lack communication, team-working and problem-solving abilities. 'The UK is the fourth richest economy on earth. Surely it cannot be beyond us to ensure all our young people have the basic skills they need to get on at work?' Jones said.
His intervention came after another improvement in A-level results last week prompted business leaders to complain that the exams have become too easy. With GCSE results due on Thursday, Jones pointed out that only half of pupils achieve a grade C or above in maths, and 60 per cent in English.
'Business does not expect young people to be ready to do specific jobs when they are recruited, but it does expect them to have the basic skills to get started,' he said. 'How can school-leavers hope to succeed in the modern world if they cannot read or write?'

Ok, so reading and writing is important. No disagreement there. But notice whose interests are at stake here and the assumptions on the values of education. I remember a couple of good points somewhere along the line in my education. One was by an ancient history professor which I heard when sitting in on his class. He announced that his job was sadly not to educate people about the values of doing ancient history but to make sure they could spell properly and turn them into lower level managers for employment. Another was by a theology professor who said to me that while he was grateful he learned lots of languages he bitterly regretted not being able to have the breadth some of his students had from school and university, including some knowledge of religions and interdisciplinary approaches. This seems to me at least as valuable today (esp. in the present climate) as learning the basics of grammar and maths.


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