I would not say I was an exceptionally well-educated person. I left school voluntarily at age fifteen. I wasn’t happy at school and I wanted to go to work and earn money so that I could save up to travel.
However, I did leave school being able to read well, write a letter or story with good spelling and reasonably correct grammar, do maths problems and with some understanding of historical events and current affairs.
I know that even in back in the sixties and seventies when I was going to school there were kids who struggled to achieve that. Classes were bigger and teachers didn’t have the time to spend with every kid so the very bright and very slow to learn sometimes missed out. However, when I look around these days it seems to me that many young people are still struggling with basic literacy and maths and I wonder why.
I am not sure if things that we were expected to learn when I was at school are still taught. When I was in Primary School we learned the basics. Every day we spent a couple of hours on spelling, dictation, and arithmetic, this was in the days before “New Maths”. We spent a lot of time on English learning grammar, Reading Comprehension and writing compositions. We also had class novels which we read either out loud or to ourselves and were expected to answer questions about. There was “Reading Laboratory” which was a big box full of cards with a story to read and a set of questions to answer. They were colour coded for difficulty and I was proud to get right to the top colour every year that I did them.
In maths or arithmetic, as we still called it, we learned addition and subtraction, multiplication and long division. We had to master fractions decimals and learn about angles in geometry. We were supposed to “show the working out” on our page and we were not allowed to use calculators in tests. Actually, when I was in primary school there were no calculators. We did those sums where you calculated the cost of several items and even worked out the percentage of the total to subtract as a discount. In Mental Arithmetic the teacher asked you a question and you had to quickly write the answer while doing the working out in your head.
We had Social Studies which for Primary School students seemed to be a mixture of history, geography and current affairs. We learned a lot about things like stump jump ploughs, irrigation, gold mining, explorers, sheep and which states produced what products. Of course, we also learned a bit about Kings and Queens of England and even the Romans invading Britain. I am sure they don’t teach that to nine-year-olds any more.
In High School, we learned History and Geography, Algebra and how to use a slide rule. Don’t ask me, I’ve forgotten. We read novels and plays and our teachers were dismayed if any student did not know enough grammar to write properly.
As I never had children or grandchildren I really don’t know what they teach them now but I’m disturbed that young people in stores can’t make change without consulting the electronic cash register. When I was studying at TAFE a decade ago the younger people in the class had great difficulty in spelling and even more in writing a business letter. They just didn’t seem to have the vocabulary for it or know how to construct a sentence, possibly because they don’t write full words or full sentences in text messages. As for history, I’m sure that it is not taught which is a shame because I think you can learn a lot about the present from what happened in the past.
I’ll admit that I think that some things are better now. Classes are smaller, most of my classes right through school were 35 to 40 kids, sometimes more. Schools have better facilities, air conditioning and heating for instance and better equipment. Corporal punishment is a thing of the past. Honestly, I don’t think that hitting a child with a ruler will make them learn their tables faster. There were some really mean, sadistic teachers around in the sixties, I think for some Teacher’s College was where you went if you didn’t get into University. Some I met certainly did not like kids. On the other hand, I don’t think teachers get the respect that they once did from children or parents.
If so many young adults today can’t read, write, spell or do basic arithmetic how will the next generation cope? Although we have lots of technology we should not rely on that completely. If it all breaks down we need to be able to manage without it. I especially feel concerned that some young people are so unaware of historical events. There is so much fantasy on social media that without knowledge of the facts there will be no way for them to know what is real and what isn’t anymore.