Saturday, 23 January 2010

Do 3rd class degree graduates make poor teachers and process engineers?

With an election in the UK fast approaching, the politicians are on the cheap votes campaign by making empty promises that are ill thought out and often totally impractical.

This week David Cameron, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party has promised to improve the education system by ensuring that third class degree graduates do not become teachers.

Apart from being deeply offensive to the many excellent teachers with 3rd class degrees, it is also superficially-crafted nonsense.

I have little experience of school teaching, but I would have thought that, although a high intellect would be desirable, it may be secondary to good social skills- the ability to communicate, command the respect of students, sense of humour etc.

In this respect, teaching has a lot in common with process engineering. I left industry in 1974 to take up a lecturing position at Camborne School of Mines, and I have always felt that it was my sporting prowess, rather than intellect, that helped me get the job (in fact, on reflection, that must have been the reason!). During my 22 years at CSM I saw many graduates leave for a variety of positions in the minerals industry. What soon became obvious was that a first class degree wasn’t an automatic passport to success in industry. Many of the high-flyers were ideally suited to ivory-tower research positions, but often lacked the people-skills to make themselves a success in the mining environment. Conversely many of the 3rd-class graduates made it to the top in the mining industry, probably having honed their social skills during student life, to the detriment of their final degrees. Only recently I reported how South Crofty tin mine in Cornwall is being revitalised under the dynamic leadership of John Webster, a higher diploma graduate from CSM.

So, David Cameron, if you wish to lose many potentially excellent teachers, go ahead with your harebrained scheme, but my advice would be to think before you leap.

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