Friday, 5 September 2008

Snobbery over language.

Hands up, who learnt (Or was taught, there is a distinction between the two) a language at school? French, Spanish, German? There was a school not too far from where I live that offered Japanese alongside the more 'traditional' languages. That school later gained special status as a Language School- three guesses what their specialty was?
I learnt French and Spanish for three years, then 'dropped' French and carried on with Spanish to GCSE. Some pupil's took both French and either German/Spanish at GCSE. This seems to be the general model that the majority of schools adopt.
There were pupils' in my school that also did other languages at GCSE, outside the taught curriculum. A girl in my form sat a GCSE in Mandarin, and several others took Urdu and Gujarati. Personally, I think it's brilliant. Unfortunately, my opinion doesn't appear to be the general consensus.
Languages such as Urdu, Gujarati, Mandarin and Polish are being recognised by the awarding bodies as qualifications but a hierarchy amongst teaching/learning these additional languages exists. The afore mentioned languages are considered 'community languages' not 'Modern Foreign Languages' (like French, German, Italian etc). The attached labels support the hierarchy amongst subjects in schools, a view supported by various professionals. For the most part. Subjects placed under the titled 'Community Languages', to put it bluntly, are unfortunately not seen as useful or important as 'Modern Foreign Languages'.

There are so many schools whose 'mission statement' is to celebrate diversity (This should take place in all forms of diversity; culture and language, background, gender, opinions...) This has turned into a bit of a catchphrase, along with every child matters. In practise, not much celebrating goes on. To put languages into two categories, either Modern or Community, devalues the qualifications and also the process of teaching and learning that are associated with them.
Some languages are given a high status because of the trade/economic benefits that are associated with them. The teaching of Mandarin is being developed and recognised as a result of the economic and political factors in relation to globalisation and the growing economic force of China.

Last year, part of my course was the theory behind multilingualism. Our lecturer asked how many of us considered ourselves to be multilingual. A few student's didn't consider that the languages they spoke fluently and used daily, alongside English, counted as being multilingual. Their explanation? "It's not useful" or "It doesn't matter". How sad is it that an integral part of some student's/pupil's persona's and cultures are being dismissed and placed under such a hierarchy, that even the student themselves starts to question their importance.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

(being in the) Red is the new black.

This isn't ground-breaking news or a new discovery at all, but inevitably going to University leaves the majority of student in ridiculous amounts of debt. Being in the red is now considered a charming student attribute, like a love of cheep booze and sainsbury's basic pasta sauce (don't knock it 'til you've tried it!) The effects of this (socio-economically) tend to follow one of these models:
1) Everyone you know at Uni is in the same position and there is general consensus of compassion.
2) You're in debt, but loads of other's aren't at all. Cue bitterness on your part and a massive divide between you and 'them'

Lets discuss situation 2).
Whilst you're scraping by on the meagre loan that the powers that be have decided will be more than adequate to survive on, or supplementing this loan by working part-time (Or in some extreme cases - full time), your fellow colleagues are living it up with a seemingly disposable income all throughout University. Obviously, every situation is different and far be it for me to start labelling those lucky few who do not have to worry about the financial implications of a degree, but inevitably it makes you compare your circumstances and start totting up figures. "I pay X amount in rent, and when I graduate I will be X amount in debt, but the starting wage of the job I will end up in is X". It doesn't bear thinking about, but then what choice do we have? Not much, unfortunately.
In a bizarre twist, it is the introduction of top-up fees that have allowed so many of us (Myself very much included) to actually GO to University in the first place, on a 'buy now, pay later' basis. And here is why.
Top up fees have meant a huge loan is made available to pay for them, alongside the standard 'maintenance loan' which prior to the introduction of the fees was intended for rent, all outgoings, PLUS the fees for your course. To try and fit everything in on around £3500 per academic year was a black art not even Houdini could master.

According to the BBC website: "Variable or "top-up" fees began in 2006 and are capped at £3,145 a year - but could rise in the future".
(Well, of COURSE it's going to rise in the future! More on this later.)
They have already risen. My fees were about £200 more expensive this year than last year.

Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammel reckons that "The new system is working, as is demonstrated by record levels of applications and acceptances, up by 6% this year. Record numbers of students from all social classes are choosing to go into higher education and reap the benefits this brings."
Yes, people are applying but when it comes to the crunch- how many student's are actually going to University? How many realise that, actually, they cannot afford it?

Basically, this is what I think: Socio-economic divides exist. Always has, probably always will. University, whilst educates, further strengthens and scaffolds these divides. If education was 100% free, then perhaps this would not be the case. Although, I have a feeling it still would.

A new term...

So, I should probably start by saying 'Welcome!'. It's the start of a new academic year here in the UK, for Universities and Schools alike. With this in mind (and through browsing my reading list) I decided to start a blog on something which I, suprisingly, seem to know and care a lot about.
Secondly, an introduction.
I am currently in my second year of a BA in Education: Culture and Society. Before starting my studies, I worked within education for about four years; mainly as a support worker in various Learning Support Departments. This meant I sort of went about things in a backwards fashion- practice THEN theory. During my degree I have lost count of the number of 'If I knew then what I know now...' moments.

I feel strongly about inequalities within Education for both pupils and staff; but then, who doesn't? This is something I hope to will document about fairly reguarly.