Keith Rossiter: New international education study canes young people
IT'S WORSE than I thought.
We Brits are lagging behind most of the developed world in language, maths and computer literacy, according to a study by the OECD.
And our young people aged 16 to 24 are doing even worse than their elders.
Britannia which once ruled the waves is now just sinking beneath them.
NEW FROM SYMPLY - a wet dog food in a tray freshly steamed with real meat and veg you can see minimum of 68% meat content up to 72% in the adult trays.
Terms: Come and try tray at introductory price of £1
Contact: 01271 440626
Valid until: Friday, January 31 2014
The study, published this week, looked at 166,000 adults aged 16-65 in the 24 most developed countries, using the results to draw conclusions about the skills of some 724 million of the planet's richest people.
Unlike previous league tables, the OECD did not simply trust national governments to provide the information. It asked a group of experts to develop questionnaires so that they could go out and collect the data first-hand.
Bad as things are here, you may find comfort in the performance of some of our close neighbours.
More than one in four Italians and Spaniards were at or below the most basic level of reading, and France also scored badly.
Top of the pile was Japan, followed by Finland. In case you should doubt that this is the Asian century, a high-school graduate in Japan has literacy skills comparable with those of an Italian university graduate.
Numeracy was even worse: almost one in three adults in Italy and Spain performed at or below the most basic level.
The United States, third from the bottom, did not fare much better, but Japan again topped the rankings.
"Overall, these countries are quite severely challenged," Andreas Schleicher, co-ordinator of the study and the OECD's deputy director for education and skills, said. "Those skills are the foundation on which everything else is built."
And if you think that old-fashioned skills of reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic are a bit passé in the computer age, think again: millions of adults – up to a quarter in some countries – could not master even simple computer skills such as using a mouse.
Mostly the youngest group, aged 16 to 24, had improved on the performance of their elders, and not necessarily betters.
The biggest shock for us was that in England the reverse was true. While countries like Japan and Korea are seeing their youngsters climbing that ladder to future success, here our kids (many of them at least) seem to have gone downhill.
Old people always say that about the young, but for once the evidence supports them. Overall, England's adult population ranked 14th out of 22 in literacy and 19th in numeracy.
Those aged 16 to 24 were 19th in literacy and 21st (out of 24) in numeracy.
I don't have the figures for this, but suspect it isn't quite true in Plymouth, where the older generation had a particularly low level of qualifications.
You will probably have your own ideas about the possible causes, ranging from a dangerous complacency that we're all right Jack to poor teaching and meddling by governments.
THERE'S a danger in reading too much into this.
Some of the countries which saw a big improvement among the young were those which have newly joined the developed world. Their parents and grandparents would have had little education.
And we would not necessarily see an advantage in their attitudes to education. This scenario was reported to me a little while back: A South Korean child at a British boarding school, confronted with second-rate end-of-year exam results, was trembling with fear.
Her room mate asked whether she was all right.
"My father is going to beat me for this when I get back to Seoul," the girl said, and burst into tears.
Young people in South Korea were ranked third in the world for literacy and fifth for numeracy, but I certainly would not want to beat my child for any reason, least of all under-performing at school.
And the ability to learn by rote may not be adequate in the modern world.
Britain and the United States extract a lot of value from their smaller skills base than does Japan, for example, where rigid hierarchies block the way for many skilled people, particularly women.
Yet we somehow need to inject a bit of enthusiasm for learning into our young people. They are all born with it so it can't be that hard to sustain it.
If you want your kids to do well, my advice would be: strictly ration computer games, and don't use the TV as a cheap child-minder.
THE picture is not all bleak. At the best levels education is given the respect it deserves and children really do love learning.
Some of those will be at Plymouth's Festival of Physics on Saturday, November 16.
The event runs from 10am to 4.30pm in the Levinsky Building at Plymouth University and is being organised by city councillor Dr David Salter on behalf of the South West Committee of the Institute of Physics.
Dr Salter has had a distinguished career in science and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics.
He says that young people often have to leave Plymouth for training, or after their training to get a job.
"Having been one of those Plymouth boys myself, I want to help others not to have to leave.
"Boosting the city's activities and investments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics seems one of the best ways of our competing in the world of the future."
The festival is free, but you need to register.
This cannot yet be done using a quantum computer, but your normal device will get you registered at http://fopp2013.eventbrite.co.uk/.