"The newspapers and other media constantly inform us that in the field of education, girls learn much quicker than boys do today, yet neither female nor male learn half as well as pupils of the past, did.
Having been schooled between 1948 and 1958 (mostly in a Catholic school), before I commenced work in the mill, I have a few ideas as to why this might have been so in some respects but not in others. From a purely psychological viewpoint, there is much more for a boy in a modern classroom to be distracted by today than in my time. I can honestly say that all of my female teachers were far stricter than the male teachers and they both dressed, looked and performed much differently to the female teachers in today's classrooms.
It will always be disputed whether pupils are as learned today leaving school as they were in my time. Unfortunately, despite one's own personal views, there is no definitive answer. Education is, in its content, purpose and delivery, much different today than in the 1950's because it served a different time and generation and cannot, therefore, be compared 'like for like'.
In 1951, 'A-levels' were introduced as a standardised post-18 qualification that replaced the 'Higher School Certificate.' Were I to compare an 'A-Level' Examination Paper from 65 years ago with one today in almost any comparable subject, there is no doubt that it was harder to get a pass then it is today. To achieve a pass then depended upon the ability of the pupil's mind to store, absorb and reproduce facts and figures. Today, in some subjects, examinations papers are filled with multiple choice answers for the tested pupil to choose from, whereas in my day, one had to find their own answer.
There are many modern day educationalists who argue that the old-fashioned method of learning by 'rote' involved developing the memory of the pupil and reproducing such details accurately under examination conditions, whereas today, a greater emphasis is placed upon the ability of the pupil to understand what the mind takes in and its relevance to modern day life.
Educational traditionalists will be quick to point out that before they attended 'First School', they had been taught to read a child's book, write their name and recite their times' table up to 12x3, whereas today, there are some pupils who enter 'Secondary School' without adequate literacy and numeracy skills. There are also millions of people over the age of sixty who are still able to mentally calculate quicker in their heads than their children can achieve by use of a computer.
Yet, were I to present an old timer who was tops at arithmetic at school in their day, to sit a modern day maths examination alongside one of today's pupils, I very much suspect they might come a poor second in the rating. There is a world of difference between what we knew as 'Arithmetic' in the 1950's and what comes under the title of 'Mathematics' today!
Whichever side the argument favours, the one thing which is common to the advancement of pupils then and now is the quality of the teachers! Where there is a significant difference in both good and bad teachers, whether they be teachers in 1950 Great Britain or the Great Britain of 2016, it is in their methods of teaching where any meaningful distinction may be found.
All good teachers start with providing conducive conditions where learning can take place. That is why, good teachers always start where the pupil is coming from. If the teacher acts as the captain of their learning vessel, they may not be able to direct the wind, but they can adjust the sails to make all the pupils in their class feel included. If the pupil's dream is to one day navigate the globe, the task of the teacher is not to direct their passage but being able to show them the map of discovery.
Most of us will have some teacher in our background who had a profound expression on us at a crucial stage of our lives by something they said or did or even in the manner of their teaching methods. Mine was a teacher called Mr. Paddy MacNamara, a sports teacher at 'St Patrick's Roman Catholic School' in Heckmondwike, where I attended between the ages of 6-11 years. I was very fortunate to have been a very bright pupil from the age of six years upwards and was rarely positioned less than first or second in my class, whatever the subject. Being from a poorer background, I hadn't been brought up with books in the home, with the exception of the Bible. Before my twelfth birthday, I incurred a traffic accident that left me with severe injuries and kept me in Batley Hospital for almost nine months. While many of my school mates visited me in hospital, Paddy MacNamara was the only teacher to regularly do so.
Mr. MacNamara recognised gaps in my education yet sensed that I was much more intelligent than I believed myself to be. He essentially believed that unless I was able to appreciate how far I could go in life, I'd never know how far to stretch myself. Consequently, he arranged for me to be Mensa tested in Batley Hospital. The tests revealed my I.Q. to be 142, which is pretty high. That knowledge alone boosted my desire to learn more than any other single act by any previous teacher had ever done. I must point out that one's assessed I.Q. level is not an indication of intelligence level as many people think, but reflects that a different reasoning and learning/thinking pattern of the brain that distinguishes itself from the norm, exists in the person of higher I.Q.
As congratulations for my test results, Mr MacNamara presented me with the first book I ever owned. I have read thousands of books over the years besides having written a few dozen, but I'll never forget that book called, 'Terror in the Quicksands.'
Although the school's sports teacher, like may of the teachers of his day, Mr. MacNamara also taught other academic subjects. He was a man who possessed the capacity to make learning easy and where other, more academically trained teachers relished in explaining complexity, Paddy MacNamara revealed the simplicity of the subject being learnt. He was also one of the few teachers who never handed out additional work to do after school hours. After leaving his class, I always went home with something to think about besides homework! A teacher can affect one's whole life; they never know how far their influence takes another or where it stops. In later years, I discovered that Mr. MacNamara had left the formal teaching profession to join some Holy Order.
Another teacher, who I will not name, would lose her temper in every lesson when she discovered someone talking, not listening to her or with their head down. She would first scream and shout and would either send the offending pupil to the head for caning or alternatively throw her wooden blackboard rubber at them or whatever else she held at the time. I was not the only one to be hit on the head by one of her flying missiles. Whenever she achieved a 'bull's eye' with her missile throwing, she would loudly pronounce, 'I am much more than your teacher; I am the one placed on this earth to awaken you!"
It is true that many of our teachers, parliamentarians, bank managers, civil servants and other workers today do not command the respect of their audiences as they once did. As a holder of one of the Queen's awards, I would stop handing out medals and knighthoods to the hobnobs who do no more than what they receive ample payment for, and instead, give deserved recognition to all the good teachers in the land who truly 'make a difference' to the lives of their pupils. The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you. Anyone who does anything to help a child emerge into the adult of their potential is a hero/heroine in my book and is deserving of all the recognition society can heap upon them. God bless you, Mr MacNamara, for recogising in me what there was to bring out." William Forde: November 22nd, 2016.