WHAT a joy to see the concert performed by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra and the young people of Raploch, Stirling ("Raploch children can make Big Noise in Caracas", The Herald, June 22).
All who are involved in coaching and organising for this event deserve the highest praise. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, and his rapport with the young people and the musicians of his orchestra. He emphasised that the Sistema project has the goal of bringing children of poor backgrounds to music and to demonstrate that children can do anything, given opportunity and access.
How this contrasts with the recent debate around Michael Gove's proposals for education in England and his retreat to Victorian views about rote learning and the acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy.
As young progressive-minded teachers in the 1960s and 70s we were excited by the pedagogical theories of the Brazilian Paolo Freire, who argued for education to stem from the cultural values of the children being taught and the importance of learning moving from the "known" to the "unknown". Freire also emphasised the need to start from the realities of poverty and working-class/peasant life and for mutual respect between students and teachers. I am certain Freire's theories will have played a key role in Cuba's highly successful literacy campaign. Watching the Simon Bolivar Orchestra (many of whom have origins in the poor families of Caracas) one begins to get a sense of progressive influences in Latin America today. Scotland also has had a long tradition of belief in universal literacy and education. The Scottish Government has underlined some of the Freire principles through the demand for Scottish children to know their own literature and history. Long may the Sistema project co-operation continue.
36 Woodend Drive,
THE central concern about a compulsory question on a Scottish text in the new Higher English examinations is that pupils' learning of and exposure to Scottish literature will be limited by the context questions that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) must now set (Letters, June 20). Those kinds of questions on set texts were like those from the Revised Higher in the 1990s. There were only nine authors on the list, with the same texts by them repeated year after year. Extracts from the novels or plays, or complete poems, were published followed by questions such as "by referring closely to the language of the opening stanza, show how sympathy for the mouse is created" (that one was worth four marks). In the same 1994 paper, only eight marks were awarded for discussing one of Burns's central themes in his poetry.
I want the same things for Scottish pupils as John Hodgart and the authors of all the reports he cites want: a broad and deep "appreciation of Scotland's vibrant literary and linguistic heritage". A mandatory Scottish component within the new courses is also something I am happy to embrace.
But when the assessments become the principal means of ensuring that teachers do what you want, then you immediately forsake the central tenets of the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and end up with a lowest-common-denominator approach to teaching and learning. Enjoyment, challenge, relevance, personalisation and choice – these are principles worth placing at the heart of your assessment regime and are the true progressive means of engendering a life-long love for the literature and culture of your nation. Lists of analysis questions out of 25 marks on the same set texts year after year just aren't.
There are imaginative ways of wedding the compulsory teaching of Scottish literature to progressive CfE-friendly assessments.
A U-turn on a compulsory Scottish question in Higher English does not have to involve a U-turn on the commitment to Scottish literature that we all wish to see in our schools under CfE.
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