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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 15:17 GMT
Lecturer says students 'know less'
Lecture theatre
University language courses have been altered
Scottish students are lagging behind their peers elsewhere in Europe because schools expect too little of them, according to a university lecturer.

Professor Joe Farrell of Strathclyde University says first year courses now amount to no more than "remedial" education.

He has warned that undergraduates have found themselves unable to master modern languages because they do not have a proper grasp of English.

They know less than they once did and also, more importantly, they know less than their peers in other countries

Professor Joe Farrell
And he is demanding a wide-ranging investigation into the Higher Still scheme which he claims is leaving Scots students lagging behind their European counterparts.

Professor Farrell, who teaches Italian at the university in Glasgow, raised his concerns in a letter to the Herald newspaper.

He said: "We in our department have found ourselves obliged to recast our first-year courses to provide what is often no more than remedial education.

"The teaching of languages is hampered by students' lack of knowledge of the workings or structure of any language, including their own."

He told BBC Radio Scotland that people should be concerned about Scottish students' level of knowledge.

Grammar 'neglected'

"I have been talking to a lot of teachers, most of my family are involved in education, and there is a concern among all of them about the basic standards of knowledge," he said.

Professor Farrell, who has been teaching for more than three decades, said knowledge of the inner workings of a person's own language was needed before they could acquire another language.

"This is the thing which has traditionally been called grammar and which has been neglected," he said.

Professor Joe Farrell
Professor Farrell: "Lack of knowledge"
"This does make it more difficult for people to acquire other languages and to some extent explains - although it is by no means the full explanation - why we fall so far behind other countries."

He claimed that things which required hard work had been eliminated from the Scottish educational system.

And stressing that students were not any less intelligent than in the past, he said: "They know less than they once did and also, more importantly, they know less than their peers in other countries.

"It is certainly not the problem of teachers. They complain of the administrative load and I have every sympathy for them.

"It is to do with what we are expecting of our young people and we are expecting too little - and other countries are not."

'Strong record'

However, students themselves did not accept that standards were slipping.

And a spokesman for the Scottish Executive rejected the professor's claims.

"These comments reflect the views of one individual and we strongly refute Professor Farrell's claim that education standards have fallen," he said.

"The Scottish Executive has a strong record of commitment to and support for foreign language learning, a key part of which is knowledge of the structure of the English language."

BBC Scotland's Asad Ahmad reports
"Students do not accept that standards are slipping"
Professor Joe Farrell
"I think that things are getting worse"
See also:

17 Jan 02 | Talking Point
Are Scottish students lagging behind?
14 Jan 02 | Scotland
Mixed report card for schools
26 Oct 01 | Scotland
Cash boost for 'poorer' schools
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