Note to teachers: The following role-play has been used successfully with advanced level adult students. It doesn't follow standard recommendations for teachers regarding avoidance of certain taboo subjects (see the section on taboos in general) and should therefore only be used with a group that the teacher has "tested" on previous occasions with other, possibly less polemic issues and provided the teacher is confident of his/her ability to put out fires if need be...
The lead-in consists of a series of three dictation exercises spread over the last 10-15 minutes of three classes. They serve as the background to the role-play and once correction of each paragraph has been made, it should be discussed fully before going on to the next dictation exercise. Natural (?) pauses are marked /
Once the background has been dealt with, and to prevent any suspicion of foul play, students pick their roles out of a "hat" and spend as long as they want to prepare their role, asking the teacher for help with any language if done as a classroom activity, or for homework.
The government’s recently introduced law / on compulsory primary and secondary education / has got off to a rocky start. / Some autonomous communities, / as well as the main opposition party, / which governs in some of those regions, / are appealing to the Constitutional Court / in order to have the law abolished. / Nobody denies that reform is necessary. / Despite the six previous laws / brought in over the past 20 years, / and aimed at reforming the / country’s education system, / your country’s academic results are still poor, / with one of Europe’s highest drop-out rates. STOP
With the announcement of / the government’s reform of the education system, / seen by many in your country/ as yet another attack on reforms / made by the previous government, / the mainstream media, / for many years struggling / to appeal to a population / devoted to the “press of the heart”, / have discovered a goldmine / in that most people, / regardless of the quality / of their own schooling, / whether they have children or not, / consider themselves valid interlocutors / on the subject of education. / Thus, any number of commentators / and members of the public, / all more than willing to give / their opinions, / have something to say, / be it based on / their own experience or not. STOP
Added to which is the fact that your country’s education system / is one of the most traditional in Europe, / having a strong base in / private or semi-private schools, / many of which are run by / religious communities. / The Church itself, / still a power to be reckoned with / in a country where a large majority of / the population professes to being Catholic, / has strongly criticised this latest set of reforms / as it relegates religious education / – understood by the vast majority / to refer exclusively to Catholicism – / to an optional subject / not leading to assessment. / All of which comes at a time / when many people are questioning / the current validity of the education system / and civil values in modern societies / and the need to make amendments. / Some questions you might like / to know the answers to / relate to the following issues: / assessment – values – teachers – modern societies – the role of the media.
You are the influential editor of a leading national newspaper. Your line is clearly anti-government and you use your paper as a platform from which to stir up general unrest in the country. As this coincides nicely, from a journalistic viewpoint, with the growing trend towards devolution of education to the country’s autonomous communities and local authorities, you are seizing the opportunity to link the recent steps taken by the Ministry of Education to the turmoil in the country caused by, amongst other things, rising inflation, lack of competitivity, immigration, high levels of unemployment, and growing crime rates – combined with recent episodes of bullying and the generally high school drop-out rates.
As sales of your paper have increased sharply over the last few months – following the UK’s experiences in the field of sensationalism –, your strategy is obviously working and you are well-satisfied with being invited to appear on an almost daily basis on radio and TV chat shows to give your opinion on any issue.
You are an expert in education and, as such, you are very upset about the irresponsibility of the media and the politicians in bringing this issue out into the public light without providing a minimum of rationality and background information based on the state-of-the-art in education.
While you approve of the need for public debate on such an important matter as the education of future generations, you consider that the damage being done to these same future generations, not to mention to the good name of many professionals, just for the sake of a few votes or selling more issues of the papers or higher TV ratings, is unacceptable and that qualified voices from all the social sciences should be more active in the on-going debate on education.
The whole issue of education – at all levels – is such a complex matter, and at the same time one about which everybody has something to say, that you consider it cannot be left to party politics and opinion-makers but calls for a short-middle-and long-term consensus.
You are a parent concerned about educational matters. You have three children, aged 14, 19 and 22 currently studying at the corresponding levels of education. They have all studied at the same local primary and secondary school as you – and where you have been chair of the PTA for the last four years – and been affected by the various educational reforms carried out over the years. And of course, your generation had a totally different education, but you are still not sure if their education has been better or worse than yours in some aspects. You understand that reform is necessary, but only in order to adapt it to the changing times, with their implications for employment and society in general.
While you agree that there should be a minimum amount of homework – there seems to be clear evidence that it leads to higher standards – you think that children should have more free time to play and to develop their social skills. You also consider that schools should do more to prepare pupils for higher education.
You have taught for over twenty years both at conflictive state schools in run-down districts and at posh private schools in more affluent areas. Unlike some of your colleagues, many of whom suffer from burn-out, you are still very enthusiastic about teaching. Your experience tells you that, barring specific anecdotes, teachers, parents and pupils all share similar concerns. One clear conclusion to be drawn from the public debate is that authorities must dedicate greater resources to education, resources which must be invested directly in improving teaching standards and conditions.
You are concerned that politicians, who seize any opportunity to attack their opponents, and parents, trying to justify their shortcomings as parents, are making scapegoats out of teachers. Some of your proposals: more mentoring, more teachers, more and smaller schools, fewer pupils per class, fewer teaching hours and less money spent on building overly-expensive school gyms to be inaugurated by local politicians and then only used for a couple of hours a day.
You are a well-known society commentator who has taken an active stance on this issue. You believe that the main cause of the heated public debate as to the suitability of the new law is due to three main aspects: that parents clearly perceive that the generations educated by religious bodies are far less conflictive and more law-abiding than the new generations taught under non-secular ideologies; that the public education system is staffed by ex-hippies who have a cushy job with three months’ paid holiday and is responsible for the country’s high drop-out rates and consequent rise in delinquency; and that the model of private schools funded by public money produces better-educated pupils as they favour a more competitive learning environment.
Likewise, you believe that the universities in your country should model themselves more on the American system, especially as regards funding and their close links with industry, and move away from the traditional European model of state-run education.
You are a sociologist. Experiences from other countries show that the issue is not exclusive to your country: the school of the 21st century is clearly an institution in crisis. As these countries have already found, it has little to do with the personal capacity of the many professionals dedicated to education, but of a general neo-liberal trend in society which considers economic viability as the only legitimate claim to success and therefore, existence. Modern society is increasingly more complex, and schools and educational institutions will have to learn to adapt to a new reality just like any other organisation, company, or indeed, individual citizen. Added to which is the growing unrest in society as it becomes increasingly difficult to bring up a family – yet another example of an institution in crisis – in an ever-more competitive environment. Likewise, you see that Europe’s aim of becoming a knowledge-based economy is a priority which has yet to be realised by those sectors of society with most to gain from it.
You are the head of a well-established private girls’ school and spokesperson for the leading association of private schools. You personally favour single-sex schooling until the age of 16, with mixed classes thereafter. You have recently started to cite what you claim are the “startling” results of a 2004 Cambridge University study which shows that a co-ed school which had introduced single-sex teaching for French and mathematics, two subjects in which, respectively, boys and girls in mixed classes tend not to do so well, was able to raise the pass level of the GSCE exams, taken at 16, from 68% to 82%.
Your own experience shows, on the one hand, that single-sex schools are likely to be old-established and well run and, on the other hand, that parents who choose to send their children to single-sex schools are far more likely to be involved with the education of their offspring and thus more concerned with performance-enhancing factors such as ensuring they have breakfast, early nights and a quiet place to do homework.
As an official of the Ministry of Education specialising in higher education, you are concerned about the transition from secondary education and college to university. Over the last twenty years there has been a clear fall in the standards of the students entering higher education. A major reason is the “democratization” of higher education, in that it is no longer the domain of the moneyed classes. This has led to a sharp increase in the numbers of students sitting and passing the exams at university entry level, leading, in turn, to the inevitable statistical effect of falling standards.
Another key reason is the constant meddling of politicians, introducing their partisan ideas and/or business interests into the education system and changing the law with each new government, instead of letting the experts get on with their job. In terms of European competitivity, you are also concerned about the fact that some private educational institutions are awarding degrees on a far more free-and-easy basis than they should.