Real education

The view that pupil numeracy levels will be improved by more teaching (Editorial, 1 May) is dubious. These depend mainly on genes and environment.

In the same issue are articles on the importance of passive smoking and diet to health. Many children are exposed to the former and a lack of good nutrition. Inability to afford adequate food is now common, and few get their “five a day”.

Moreover, many children get too little exercise and spend too long sitting at screens. There is a strong chance they will have poor health as adults.

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Addressing these problems is more urgent than improving numeracy (and literacy). Such can happen later.

Children vary hugely in their ability to learn particular subjects. Expecting them to have specified knowledge and skills at a particular age is ill-conceived and likely to lead to boredom, low self-esteem and misbehaviour. From experience I know that trying to teach pupils things they don’t want to learn is a hapless exercise.

Comparisons with countries with very different conditions are dangerous, especially when only mathematics and science are considered. Their systems do not have similar broad aims to the Curriculum for Excellence but focus on learning facts which can be used to pass exams. Personal development, physical and mental health and creativity are little considered.

The idea that the role of schools is to train pupils to compete in the international market is odious. Only a minority will have these kind of jobs. There is no need for the majority to be competent in maths, science or a foreign language. I obtained Highers in maths and two languages but these were of little use in my career or personal life.

I would have been far better served by learning to think, deal with and understand emotions, motives (my own and others), relationships and politics.

Only a tiny percentage of what I know was learned in my schools an universities.

People require competencies which cannot easily be assessed and compared by examinations. There is a real risk that the focus of parents, employers and governments on subjects which can be numerically assessed will, as before, limit the extent to which children’s, and society’s, real needs can be achieved.

Walter Markham

Atholl Road