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EDUCATION Formal schooling of the young in preparation for life, usually as a passage through various institutions set up for that purpose and arranged in the levels primary (around the ages 5–7 to around 11), secondary (from around 12 to 15–18), and tertiary (from 16–18 onward). Formal education in the Western style acquired its present form only in the 19c, during which the concept and ideal of universal education has grown with the increasing complexity of society. With the development of institutions such as kindergartens and play groups for the early years, on the one hand, and further education and higher degrees for later adolescence and adulthood on the other, the concept of education has expanded so much as to be seen as virtually a lifelong process.

Education and language

In most systems of Western and Westernized education, the skills of READING, WRITING, and arithmetic (the three Rs) have been basic. Such systems were once dominated by LATIN, through which in addition GRAMMAR, LOGIC, and RHETORIC were taught. Until the late 19c, knowledge of contemporary foreign language was regarded as a social ‘accomplishment’ rather than an essential part of a school's curriculum; all LANGUAGE TEACHING was prescriptivist, assuming a grammar based on firm rules and concentrating on a relatively fixed CANON of literary texts both as source material and as models for composition. In the 20c, such assumptions have been increasingly disputed and greater language awareness has led to new, often experimental and controversial, approaches. Prescriptivism, however, is by no means dead. In contemporary educational practice, oracy as well as LITERACY is regarded as important, and a foundation of linguistic competence is taken to be essential for all subjects: that is, ‘language across the curriculum’, as recommended by the UK's Bullock Report in 1975.

Young people are currently introduced to many kinds of language material, including reports, advertisements, and technical instructions, as well as literature of various kinds. Free expression is encouraged in writing, rather than composition on a set theme with assessment based largely on correct SYNTAX, SPELLING, and PUNCTUATION. Some educationists, however, consider that the processes of liberalism and liberation have gone far enough, and throughout the English-speaking world there appears to be an impulse towards basic knowledge and firmer standards (back to the basics). The teaching of foreign languages also looks to the living situation rather than a given literary CORPUS, with emphasis on the direct method and, wherever possible, complete immersion in the target language (especially by living among its speakers). Language in education has often been influenced by political factors: for example, WELSH was proscribed in the schools of Wales for a long time in the 19c, but is now part of their curriculum. In the many countries with substantial ethnic minorities, decisions have to be taken about the status of the mother tongue in relation to the national language or language variety, as a result of which it has often been necessary to introduce specific teaching of the national medium as a ‘second’ (sometimes in effect a ‘foreign’) language.

Education and English

Although a general recognition of English as a significant literary language developed in the second half of the 16c, it was long before it was equally honoured in the educational system. The principal aim of education was for centuries to inculcate skill in LATIN and to a lesser extent in GREEK. The grammar of ‘Grammar Schools’ was Latin grammar, and the use of Latin continued at the ancient universities. Richard MULCASTER, who offered guidance in the basic teaching of English in The First Part of the Elementarie (1582), was exceptional among schoolmasters; John Brinsley made a plea for English teaching in 1627, but these lone voices were virtually unheeded. Thomas Sheridan in 1763 advocated the study of English grammar at the universities, but classics continued to dominate their curricula until well into the 19c. However, more attention was given to English in the Dissenting Academies for sons of nonconformist families, such as the Northampton Academy founded in 1729. Where ENGLISH TEACHING developed, it was prescriptivist and based on formal grammars like those of Lowth and Murray.

The foundation of new universities in the 19c led to chairs and eventually whole departments of English. There was much concentration on OLD ENGLISH as giving a sound philological training; ENGLISH LITERATURE was taught largely in historical terms, with major authors and defined periods. The grammar schools and public schools of England began to give attention to English: for example, at Rugby, Thomas Arnold laid emphasis on essay-writing in English. In 1868, the Taunton Commission on the endowed grammar schools recommended the teaching of ‘modern’ subjects, including English, a view endorsed and strengthened by later official educational reports in Britain. As late as 1886, Winston CHURCHILL at Harrow was among those who ‘were considered such dunces that we could only learn English’ (My Early Life, 1930). The Victorian movement for popular education through Mechanics' Institutes and similar organizations gave some impetus to the study of English in circumstances where the traditional prestige of Latin and Greek did not come into the question.

By the beginning of the 20c, the teaching of English at all levels was established throughout the English-speaking world. A Board of Education report, The Teaching of English in England (1921), criticized the survival of old-fashioned approaches in both schools and universities. Subsequently, the teaching of English has been influenced by wider understanding of the importance of language skills. In the schools, free composition and oral practice have largely taken the place of formal exercises. University departments of English have proliferated worldwide, the historical approach being superseded by practical criticism and personal response to texts. More recently, the abundance of rival theories of literary criticism has meant that a particular approach may be dominant in a department. Genre studies and work on writers outside the traditional canon are now almost universal. In addition, English is not always treated as a separate subject, but may be incorporated into media studies or communication studies, with wider attention to other forms of expression.


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