Have Literacy Standards Taken A Nosedive?

Schools across Britain are reporting that students who sat GCSEs in English have been ‘harshly marked down’, as a result of this year’s GCSE A*-C results falling for the first time in the exam’s history. One headteacher has condemned the GCSE exam board as being ‘unfair’, and claims that her ‘pupils have had their life chances damaged’.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has always alleged that the value of GCSEs and A-levels has been corroded by the “dumbing down” of exams, and the over-generous awarding of grades.

The question is, have standards genuinely fallen, or were this year’s GCSE exams particularly harsh?

There has been much speculation in previous years about exam standards becoming progressively easier. It always seemed difficult to believe that Britain’s teenagers were getting increasingly more intelligent every single year, particularly as there have been conflicting reports suggesting that literacy standards have been falling in Britain since 2005.

Although it is considered “cool” for teenagers to type in “text talk”, what implications might this have upon literacy standards – if at all? Arguably, if one is not reading quality literature, or writing at a high standard on a regular basis, it is very easy to fall into a situation where spelling standards decline, and writing standards do not progress as quickly. I do not suppose the US English spelling, which is so commonplace on the internet, helps terribly much, either.

Furthermore, consider the poor quality of writing in the ‘Twilight’ series of books, which are ever so popular with today’s teenagers. When teenagers are familiarising themselves with the following examples of syntactical car-crashes, colloquialisms, and appalling overuse of adjectives, would it really surprise us if we discovered that English standards are falling?

“He leaned in slowly, the beeping noise accelerated wildly before his lips even touched me. But when they did, though with the most gentle of pressure, the beeping stopped altogether.”

“Time passes. Even when it seems impossible. Even when each tick of the second hand aches like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. It passes unevenly in strange lurches and dragging lulls, but pass it does. Even for me.”

“He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare.”

This bizarre adjective reduplication also takes the cake:

“He was both dazzling and dazzled.”

Perhaps incorporating the study of one of the ‘Twilight’ books into the National Curriculum would not be such a bad idea; not because the books are an example of quality writing, but because they are actually very good examples of a poor writing style that teenagers should be taught not to emulate in their own writing. As some of the more “eloquent” teenagers are already reading the books recreationally, why not use ‘Twilight’ as an opportunity to educate teenagers in what not to do, in a manner that will actually be enjoyable for most of them, and will thus be easier for them to relate with. Moreover, although somewhat off the topic of English studies, the ‘Twilight books might also be a useful learning text for PSE (Personal and Social Education) classes, as the ‘Twilight’ books also send out the wrong message about relationships. For example, the main character, Bella, abandons a number of things (school, her relationships with others) in order to allow her entire existence to be engrossed in her adoration for Edward, resulting in an underlying message that almost makes it seem “cool” for a girl to allow herself to be defined by a boy she obsesses over. Maybe it would be a good idea to let teenagers realise how destructive such a mindset could be.

Back to the topic of English, the following examples discovered on Twitter may just about sum up the general standard of some teenagers’ literacy:

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A tweet posted by @AngryBritain, which commented on the TV programme, ‘X-Factor, lead to the angry response of a teenager who, it would appear, was previously uninformed as to the definition of the word “snigger”. She was, therefore, under the false impression that the tweet read the word “nigger”, instead of ‘snigger’.

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Something tells me she may have been right about that…

I rest my case.

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