A review group has noted that the English seem to have a ‘can’t do’ mentality where Maths is concerned.
Perhaps they should have looked deeper, we appear to be raising a generation who just “can’t do”, nor can they learn.
Ask a young person to perform a task and the most likely answer is “I can’t do that. I don’t know how.”
Explain or demonstrate and then leave them to it and you will probably come back to find a half arsed effort at best or no attempt at all at worst.
For example, teaching children to divide a decimal number by 10, say. Now I know we are told to use the correct terminology and methods but the easy way to do this is ‘to move the decimal point one place to the left’, yes I know the decimal point never moves but to say ,”move each digit one place to the right”, makes it a whole lot more complicated to the average 11 year old, especially when many of them do not count ‘0’ as a digit. So you demonstrate on the board, then you get children to come and demonstrate on the board, then you check using Q&A around the classroom and then you ask if anyone wants any further help and then you say, “Ok, turn to page 31 in your text book and start working through exercise 1.”
Then you start going round the classroom and you come across the most weird and wonderful answers, some having completely different sets of digits in the answers than are in the question, and you ask what have they done and they say,
“I don’t know. I don’t get it.”
Then you ask if anyone wants to go through it again and half the class put their hand up, so you do and they say they understand, but left to their own devices the results are just the same.
And so the process goes on.
Or take writng. You set a task, you tell the children to think about what they are writing, to remember capital letters and full stops, and to have a go at spelling any words they don’t know, and you highlight strategies for spelling; break the word up into syllables, sound out using phonics or mnemonic methods, (hear has an ear in it, here the place is like there the place, I’ve Got Hairy Toes words light, sight, might etc.) You’ve barely got back to your desk than someone will be there with their spelling book asking, “How do you spell Saturday?”
And you say, “How do you think you spell Saturday?” and they say,
“I’m no good at spelling.”
So you suggest they spell ‘sat’, which they do, then you go onto ‘ur’, which they spell ‘er’ but you suggest they have another go and they come up with ‘ur’, then you prompt them on ‘day’ and hey presto!
“You spelt Saturday, see you can spell,” but two minutes later they will be back with another common word which they should really be able to work out and which, if they looked, they would see appears in a display on the walls, and yet they can’t be bothered, and when you read through their work you will see that the next time they write ‘Saturday’ it will be spelt wrong.
It’s the same with everything. Ask them to load the dishwasher and you’ll find knives in the bottom, cups the wrong way up, plates stacked so they are touching and won’t wash properly.
Peg washing on the line, the washing won’t be straightened out.
Lay the table, there won’t be any condiments.
Cut the grass, the lawn will look like a row of Mohikins and you think, “Surely I don’t have to explain how to do this? Surely they can see how things are done and they will try and do it the same?”
But they don’t, so you explain how it should be done.
“You take the envelope out of the bag, you look at the address and check you have the right road and then you take a note of the number and you find the house with that number on it and you put the envelope through the letterbox, usually situated on the front door.”
But no, not only does the trainee postman walk willy nilly over everybodies’ gardens, he shoves a whole streetful of post through your cat-flap.
When you collar him he say, “Oh I couldn’t see a number.”
“Well look, it’s there, on the front door, number 12. Just above the letterbox.”
“Oh I didn’t see that. And the house next door doesn’t have a number.”
“No, the house next door dosn’t have a number, but the next one does and it’s number 16, so what does that make the house next door?”
“I dunno. Number 9?”
And so it goes on. And we are to blame because we let them get away with it. A university lecturer resigned last year after 13 students whom he and a formal examinations board deemed to have failed a course were allowed a pass by the university authorities. An official felt that students should be able to pass on lecture notes alone and did not need to do the required reading. But that’s the whole point of further education, it’s finding things out for yourself, looking at the sources, analysing the material and forming an opinion, it’s not just reciting what your lecturer chooses to tell you.
But no doubt, if these students had been asked why they hadn’t done the required reading they would have answered, “I didn’t know we had to.I didn’t know what to read. I didn’t know where to find it. I’m not very good at reading.”
And so they’ll whine on, denying responsibility and wallowing in self pity, safe in the knowledge that they will still get their degree, get their A level, or GCSE or Level 5 at KS2, because the government has set targets and has league tables and all our educational institutions have to be seen to be performing to target, despite the fact that in reality they are becoming woefully inadequate and letting down a whole generation of pupils.