Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Many years ago, as a young man,  on my very first foreign trip, in the beautiful city of Bologna, a place I will some day revisit, I enjoyed a meal courtesy of our hosts. At the end of that meal, we were invited to sign the guest book and my senior colleagues signed the book ‘Here’s tae us. Wha’s like us? Damn few, and they’re a’ deid. Mairs the pity.’ As they did, I wondered how arrogant that entry must seem to, not only, the restaurant owner but, to others following in our steps in this beautiful eatery. That memory came back this past week as a result of two different but, I believe related events, and a comment made by one of our contentious sports journalists on the exceptionally poor performance of Scottish football teams in Europe this week. His, the journalist’s, argument was that we, Scottish Football, hadn’t embraced change due to our own arrogance; for some reason the comment resonated.

Much has been written, in Scotland and possibly beyond, our arrogance is such that we believe that we are still of sufficient importance for others to be interested, this week about the problems in Scottish Football as all our teams crashed out of Europe.  Excuses have been proffered, ranging from lack of resources, facilities, money etc, yet, teams and countries with fewer resources do better. We apparently have one of the best coaching teaching set ups in the world which doesn’t translate to success either. Why, then is our national game in such a mess? Is it our psyche? Are we afraid of the hard work, dedication, commitment and graft to make it to the top?  Does the problem then lie with our youngsters, as some would suggest.

Alongside this footballing debate, but receiving far fewer column inches in Scotland was Eric Schmidt’s , Google’s chairman,  statement that ’education in Britain is holding back the country’s chances of success in the digital media economy.’  The speech was delivered in Scotland, it is no leap of the mind to say that the statement was if not targeted at Scotland certainly included Scotland. Once upon a time, we could state without fear of contradiction that Scottish Education was among the best in the world, I’m no longer certain, despite pockets of excellence among a few of our Universities, that the statement holds any longer. The comments, anecdotal stories, observations and employer statements that suggest a decline in our education standards are in many ways not too dissimilar to the type of comments about Scottish football made a few years back.

The warning signs for our education systen are there but,  like our football there appears a reluctance to acknowledge the decline and a temptation to hark back to a past where the mantra of Scotland having one of the best educational systems in the world is constantly repeated. If we repeat it often enough it must be, a bit like the constant claim that Glasgow Rangers v Glasgow Celtic being greatest club derby in the world.  Perhaps, the slide is masked by how we measure and perceive our game, how else can we reconcile more and more youngsters achieving examination success with a decline in standards. It doesn’t add up, or does it?

It may be that it doesn’t add up because we are no longer teaching the things that matter, like our football we measure and teach for our own backyard not for the bigger stage. If we want to play on the big playing fields, we need to change. Our education system may not be at the same low point as our football, but if we don’t take appropriate steps we may well reach that point. We need to change; one of the biggest barriers to change in Scottish football to date it is argued has been arrogance of people, structures and systems, however, last  week’s embarrassing results may be the shock required to force that change. It’s difficult to think of a shock to the education system in the same vein; more likely will be a continuing decline in meaningful work opportunities and a brain drain as our brightest leave for greener pastures. An article printed today suggests that unless Scotland changes it will be a third world country by 2030, an extreme claim, maybe. The case for change is strong, part of that change must be that we teach the things that matter.  Schmidt, I believe is right we do need to bring ‘art and science back together’ and ‘reignite the passion of children for sciences and technology.’ You never know, in doing so we may be able to reinforce the disciplines of hard work, dedication and commitment that are required for all works of life including a decent football team.

What about the cat, I hear you cry. For those who expected cat pics I would hate to disappoint, there is no other link.




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Calendar events, whether it be Christmas, Easter, Hannukkah, Diwali, are celebrated across the world. They provide a point of reflection, a celebration of the present and offer hope for the future. We all have those wonderful memories of Christmases past and try to relive many of these through our children and our children’s children. In some households, planning of the day seems to preoccupy minds for a huge part of the year.As a child these calendar events are also associated with holidays and other than Christmas the big holiday is summer, 6/7 weeks without going to school. The thought of the summer break brings back memories of long summer days of hanging out with friends, long lies in bed and doing very much what you want to do. For the majority of grown ups these heady days are condensed to 2 weeks, in which we attempt to maximise every single day and/or lie beside the pool in the sunshine.

Dreaming of the pool - Our last holiday in the sun

Well, its one week to go to that great annual event – school summer holidays. The kids in Scotland break off a little earlier than the rest of the UK, I think in some parts of Scotland the holidays are already here

This is the part where I may lose you. I work in education – calendar events for us are our principal drivers throughout the year. As they say in sporting parlance, the business end of the season is coming to pass. All through the term there is someone on the teaching staff who can tell you how long it is until the next holiday, almost to the hour. After Easter, or spring break, all teaching efforts are geared towards helping students prepare for that final push but everyone knows the when the end point is. From then until now, life is a combination of assessments and examinations, and for the last few weeks, for teaching staff, it is about marking and resulting. That part is now almost finished. For those last few weeks, every single member of teaching staff in every college and school in the land has had their eye fixed on the last day of term and the summer break.

Do we deserve the long summer break, of course we do, I wasn’t going to say anything else, was I. Yes, we will do some work, some reading and for some us, me included, we will pop into the office but for these coming weeks we are in charge and we are on holiday. For those 6 wks we can forget the trials and tribulations of the past term.

We’re not going away this year so I have a number of things that I need to do – house maintenance, the garden, relax with the cats and of course there is the book launch. We’ve had a hard time with the cats this year, so need to spend time with them and enjoy them.

Chilling with the cats

Of course, my book, Bernie Bolts Bergen launches on the 8th August so I need to do ensure everything for that is in place. I’m lucky, I’m very lucky. I can still celebrate that great childhood event, the long summer hols. Yes, I can still hang out with friends, chill with the cats, lie in my bed and do what I want to do for the best part of 6 weeks and there’s only one week to go. I can’t wait.

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Anyone who has worked in education whether at school, college or university will know that the time of the year is measured relative to the next holiday. Someone, somewhere, on the staff will be able to tell you at any point in the term how many weeks and days there are before the next break. The run from January to Easter is the longest one without a break and the short days and the long cold dark nights make it feel even longer. Students wilt as the period tends to carry the meat of the course, sorry about the pun, essays and courseworks build up and staff tire.

In the last few weeks all these aspects have been to the fore and there has been a steady stream of students and staff at the door. Some of the student problems have been quite serious and challenging in both a practical and emotional sense. And there lies my problem with the blog and the book.  I have also found the last few weeks tiring and have not been able to give the time required. I can hear those employed in the ‘real’ world choking,  spluttering and muttering about extra long holidays and how we in education should be made to get a ‘real” job.

Despite my weary state, I exaggerate, I have managed to almost finish the editing. There are ten pages left to do and then the process of retyping will begin which will let me have another check on the manuscript. The editing has been quite ruthless and in a strange way enjoyable. I think the flow of the book and the story is tight so this final part is more about refining and sculpting the final product.

The next few weeks will be busy as we move towards the Easter/spring break but the two weeks at Easter offer the opportunity to concentrate my efforts on the launch. To meet that objective everything has to be in place i.e. the editing, typing and redesigning the cover.  So let’s hope that the hardest part of the academic year is over once again and that I can find the time needed. If I can’t find the time I’ll have to make the time. Time will tell

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