So an international league table in the Education at a Glance report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has revealed that 12–14-year-olds in England spend less time learning the so-called 3Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic – than children in any other country in the industrialised world.
According to the figures, schoolchildren in England spend 11% of their time focused on the 3Rs and 12% on maths, with the rest of the timetable filled with minor – although arguably still important – subjects such as sex education and citizenship. To put this into perspective, France and Poland focus 16% of learning time on literacy, Ireland as much as 28% and South Korea 13%.
The issue was raised by Tory backbencher Philip Davies on Friday, but mainly – it seems – so he could point fingers at the Labour government for pouring millions of pounds into funding literacy and numeracy projects, while – he said – “a fifth of our school leavers are functionally illiterate”.
“Our children are so busy learning about community cohesion, climate change, healthy eating and sex education that they don't have time to learn how to read and write,” Davies reasoned.
While I can appreciate what he's trying to say, it seems counterproductive to pursue an either-or approach. Surely there are enough years of formal education that both the basics and the 'extras' can be taught?
Of course, literacy and numeracy are the fundamentals of a successful education, career and – ultimately – life. Without them you can't complete an NVQ, much less attend university should you wish to, so there's no argument there.
But aren't these 'time-wasters', as Davies seems to think of them, important too? If it weren't for them being taught in schools, how many more obese teenagers would be falling pregnant, throwing their empty fast-food wrappers at little old ladies?
I guess the best we can hope for now is that the politicians will use this information to do more than just sling mud at each other and actually do something useful for educational reform.
And perhaps if we as parents were more involved in our children's learning of the basics, opportunities would arise for them to learn more about those 'extras' from us too.
What do you think? Should schools be taking all the responsibility for literacy, numeracy as well as social consciousness, or should there be something left for parents to teach their children?