Students lacking the basics

That universities are trying to cope with incoming students lacking basic skills is not new; when I was a teaching assistant in the mid- to late 1990s, I too was surprised by how poorly written some of the papers handed into me to mark were. At the time my reaction was to blame the high schools for not preparing the kids properly for university — we were doing their job for them, I fumed — and the Globe and Mail article echoes that line of thought.

Except that now I hear from high school teachers who complain that students are leaving elementary school with virtually no math or reading skills. If you think it’s bad to have first-year university students with a 90 average but only Grade 9 writing skills, how about a Grade 7 student who reads at a Grade 2 level? (Granted, that student is not likely to be university-bound.) And then I hear from elementary teachers who have to play catchup with kids who are way behind the norm for their age group, and they’re spending a good chunk of their limited time playing catchup. Once a kid falls behind, it seems that it’s almost impossible for the system to bring them back up. But where does it start? Blaming the teachers (or the system) at the earlier level, it seems, is at best incomplete.