Friday, 21 August 2015

Exams. Tasers. Poolside conversation.

Yesterday was GCSE results day in England. Another step along the way to deciding the future of masses of young people, including a young relative of mine who got herself an A* for Spanish and an A for Russian. Not at all bad in a situation where the numbers of students taking modern foreign languages has been going down year on year. Some whizz kid advised the government that it was a sensible thing to make studying a modern foreign language non-compulsory beyond age 14 and now they wonder why the numbers have dropped. Grades for languages have improved, however; they say this is probably because only the brighter pupils are taking the exam. 

That's not necessarily completely true. Being bright doesn't guarantee success in language learning. In my experience as a modern foreign language teacher, while a good grade at GCSE was usually a reasonable indicator of continued success post-16, there were always some who only really got into the swing of it in sixth form and suddenly blossomed. Maybe it's because the content of GCSE is so limited that it's not terribly gripping while A-Level should, in theory at least, allow students to discuss more interesting topics. 

There is still a striking difference between the attitude in the UK, where little importance is given to learning a foreign language, and here in Spain where parents push their offspring to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and practise English. And, of course, the interest level goes up because so many pop songs are in English. 

One article analysing GCSE results commented that Maths remains the most popular subject. Hmm! I wonder! It may be the subject with the most entries but is that a true measure of popularity? Almost every avenue open to young people beyond the age of 16 demands a pass grade in Maths. Everyone knows that and so even reluctant students of Maths sit the exam. I bet the numbers would go down if you made it non-compulsory beyond the age of 14. And judging by the numbers of students I saw having to repeat Maths GCSE in sixth form, it certainly isn't the most successful subject. 

I read an odd little story yesterday about a man being tasered on board an aircraft. It was a budget airline that only allows one piece of hand luggage per passenger. This man wanted to take two bags on board and turned abusive when challenged. So they tasered him and he was arrested. Who knew that cabin crew went armed with tasers? Be careful what you say when you travel and keep those badly behaved children under control! 

Down at the pool this morning I overheard an odd conversation about pooh, la caca in Spanish. (Incidentally, while caca is in the Spanish-English end of the dictionary, pooh does not appear in the English-Spanish end. At least not in my little Collins. I just checked. Does this say something about the two nationalities?) The pool-maintenance people were checking levels of chemicals in the water and a lady came and spoke to them about something she had seen in the water the yesterday. In fact, she said, she thought it might still be there. She could see something dark at the bottom of the water. It turned out to be a leaf, thank heavens. Apparently he suspicions had been aroused after a conversation with a her grandson. She had maintained that pooh floats and, therefore, his suggestion that what could be seen at the bottom the pool might be suspicious were groundless. Ah, no, he told her. The very little boys in his pool in their comunidad in Madrid were always doing their business in the water and, in his experience, little tiny poohs, bolitas as she called them, did not float but sank to the bottom. These are things that small boys learn! 

I will never regard small boys in the same way again. And I will always examine the bottom of the pool carefully before getting in!

No comments:

Post a Comment