Foolish divide

February 25, 2000

The article on John Wood (Teaching, THES, February 18) is the perfect illustration of the folly of perpetuating the divide between vocational and academic education. Designers of the new foundation degree should take note. As Wood points out, if we expect designers to take responsibility for what they do, the educational process must enable them to develop a critical and reflective voice integral to their practice. But this has to start early and grow organically.

The post-16 framework is a mess. There are too many qualifications and the distinctions between them are too artificially clean cut. Sixteen-year-olds can opt for qualifications that focus too narrowly on practical skills and factual knowledge. Enhancement of literacy, cultural and historical perspectives and critical thinking may be neglected for two years or more - a setback from which many do not recover.

We need to ensure foundation degrees are exactly that. This means balance and breadth, not vocational bias. Individuals develop at different rates and ages. Why does the duration of study for a qualification need to be fixed? Surely we can devise an open and flexible educational continuum free of stigmatising and privileging labels and discriminatory funding arrangements?

Geoffrey Matthews. Senior lecturer, Hull School of Architecture, University of Lincolnshire and Humberside.

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