Posted tagged ‘writing skills’

Writing skills

May 4, 2009

Some weeks ago I wrote a post in which I considered whether better examination results were evidence of ‘dumbing down’ in higher education. This triggered a fairly lively discussion. More recently I was at a dinner and was sitting at a table with several businesspeople – well, let’s be honest, they were all businessmen, but that’s another topic; I asked them whether they believed that university standards in Ireland had dropped. There was some discussion and some differences of opinion, but then one man there made a comment with which pretty much all the others agreed. He said he could not be sure whether standards were slipping, but he was inclined to say they were. And why? Because almost no graduate he employed just coming out of university could write grammatically correct English. There was a lot of nodding of heads when he said this. Jumping straight into defensive mode, I helpfully pointed out to him that in the statement in which he made this complaint he had split an infinitive and failed to use the subjunctive where it was required, but I don’t think this took him off his stride, alas.

I think I could not easily deny the truth of this assertion. However, I might add more generally that inadequate writing skills seem to me to be a feature of society more generally these days and are not confined to recent university graduates. I get scores of letters and emails which make me wince as I read them and have to negotiate my way through sentences lacking the basic grammatical elements.

The problem here does not, I think, lie in universities. We are not remedial English institutions. If someone cannot write when they get as far as us it may well be too late already. It seems to me that we need to ask whether our pedagogical methods at all levels of the education system are sufficiently directed towards these elementary but vital skills. If we are producing a generation of inarticulate young people we are creating some very serious problems for ourselves – it is an issue we need to take seriously.

It may well be that we have altogether lost a sense of the importance of grammar in particular – but I shall leave that for another post, soon.