I've been doing a bit of catching up on TV viewing recently thanks to the excellent 4OD service. I watched the recent Dispatches programme on illiteracy amongst our kids in this country with shock and disbelief that so many were getting left behind.
I have to declare an interest as a parent of a four year old who has started Primary School this September but I'm frankly shocked that anyone could think that anything less than 100% literacy in the 21st Century in a system with 11 years of compulsory schooling is acceptable.
I'm going to sound like a bit of an old git here but as a University Lecturer in the 90s I couldn't believe the number of my students who were unable to cope with fairly straightforward numerical calculations without resorting to the use of a calculator. The impression I have is that things have probably got even worse with many adults innumerate.
If we don't get these basic things right then we have little chance of implementing much else of a Liberal agenda in this country. Education has remained the key in the 21st Century for liberating the potential of all our citizens as much as it did in the 19th Century where Liberals (and Conservatives, to be fair) supported the ideal of increasing access to education to wider sections of the population. The evils of poverty, ignorance and conformity still need to be addressed head on even now.
Nick Clegg has touched on the issue in his platform, mentioning the idea of a "Pupil Premium" which has the potential to reduce class sizes where it is needed more, in the most disadvantaged areas of our country. I can't help but think of the kids who live on some of our most deprived estates in Folkestone East and Harbour Wards and wonder how many of them we are equipping to have a better life in the future. Possibly not too many yet.
I can't see anything from Chris Huhne on this issue but I suspect that he would also have something to say, or I would certainly hope so even if he isn't the candidate I am backing in the leadership election!
The most appalling thing is how we have allowed our nation to get into this position. What kind of future we are storing up for ourselves when disadvantage is perpetuated and what are we going to do about it?
This is most certainly not a teacher bashing post. The teaching profession has been forced to cope with considerable change and impossible odds in very difficult circumstances over the years. Reduced funding and dilapidated buildings were the legacy of the late 1970s and 80s. Teachers have been held in low esteem by many and frankly I think many of them deserved a medal for continuing their vocation against appalling odds.
My desire is that the Liberal Democrats will not become co-conspiritors in the politics of educational failure. If we are to liberate our citizens then we must ensure that all of them come out with the basic equipment to participate in our society. Too often we have focused our attention on further and higher education whilst not paying enough attention to the fact that too many young adults had no hope of accessing either because they can't read, they can't write and they can't add up.
We need a new crusade to crush the root cause of so much disadvantage and crime, we need to commit ourselves to stamping out illiteracy.