Tag Archives: higher education

More on the ‘Exciting’ Survey at the Surgery

In which The Author has cause to question
his life expectancy

I had an appointment at the surgery this morning. I was approached in the waiting room by a postgrad student from Cardiff University, who asked me if I’d be interested in helping with a research project. It was the ‘exciting’ project I told you about in about ‘I Want Some ‘Excitement’ in My Life‘.
Well, I had to go for it, didn’t I? After all, I’m always keen to help medical students out. I’ve been doing it for years. (Bless ’em, some of them can’t even write their own names without adult supervision, or use the telephone, or speak to strangers without their parents acting as intermediaries.) So I agreed to take part.
She explained that the object of the exercise was to enable GPs to better communicate health promotion and lifestyle changes to their patients. There’d be a short questionnaire about drinking, smoking, diet and so forth, to fill in before my consultation, and a more detailed questionnaire afterwards. There’d be a follow-up questionnaire sent to me in three months’ time, and then another meeting in a year’s time, to see what lifestyle changes I’ve adopted since signing up for the project. I was in no rush, so I agreed to take part.
The questionnaire itself was pretty straightforward. There was the usual ‘Have you ever had any of the diseases on this list?’ question – I swear I must have ignored every box on this list at least half a dozen times in the last year, on meeting every single nurse and doctor at orthopaedics clinics at Llandough Hospital and elsewhere.
There was a page about my smoking habits. I was able to ignore this as well – never have, never been tempted. Peer pressure? Piffle! Then there was a question about alcohol – also not applicable for the time being (although we’ll have to see what happens once the academic season and Christmas are upon us) – and a section about diet and exercise.
Since the operation on my shoulder I haven’t been able to do any heavy lifting, but in work I do a fair bit of fetching and carrying. I also cover a fair few miles in the course of a working week. (Jeff and I often say it would be fun to wear pedometers for a day and see how far we walk by the time we knock off.) I can run up a flight of steps without gasping for breath, and I can walk for ages without feeling any ill-effects. I also spend a fair proportion of the day sitting (at least two hours a day, just on the train to and from work), so I gave a fair approximation for these figures. I know I don’t get anywhere close to five a day, and I do like chips, but I don’t eat meat or much saturated fat.
I would have thought I’d be an ideal subject for the survey – if only to make up part of a truly representative sample. One of the other blokes waiting in the surgery was a chronic alcoholic of my acquaintance – he must be one of the unhealthiest specimens still in circulation in Aberdare. He and I would obviously lie towards opposite ends of the chart; if he was in, I wanted in as well.
My doctor had to countersign the forms. He took one glance at them, ticked a box, stamped and dated it, and gave them back to the researcher.
I’d been rated as ‘Eligible, but not appropriate.’
What does that mean?
I’m forty-two years old, I’ve been off the beer for six weeks, I’ve always been tobacco- and drug-free, and I don’t have any life-threatening conditions.
Not that I know of, anyway …
It’s a longitudinal survey. That means that they track the subjects over time. Does ‘Eligible, but not appropriate’ mean that my number’s going to be up before the twelve months elapse?
As if I wasn’t already losing sleep …

Lite Racy Rats

In which The Author reads a worrying
report in a newspaper

Under-fives struggle with writing – report
One in seven children are unable to write their own name or recite the letters of the alphabet by the age of five, according to government figures. The results, based on teachers’ observations of more than 500,000 children throughout England as they start their formal schooling, also concluded that a third failed to recognise simple words such as ‘dog’ or ‘pen’, while 15% could not write ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ or their own name from memory.
Lee Glendinning, The Guardian, 12 October 2007
That’s scary enough, isn’t it?
It’s worse when you consider that a large proportion of those children will never grasp the basics of written English – not even after they’ve left school with 11 A* GCSEs and five A levels at Grade A.
A substantial number of them will end up at university. A percentage of those will end up imparting their half-learned ‘knowledge’ to future generations, after finding their way to a PGCE course and ending up in front of a classroom full of kids.
At present in work we’re dealing with the new intake of students to what is laughingly described as ‘Higher Education’ or ‘Further Education.’ A substantial number who come to us every year with mis-spelt reading lists, or who can’t even grasp the concept of a bibliography.
‘The author is Evans, John,’ they quote slavishly from their precious pieces of paper. They don’t even possess the imagination or initiative to turn it around and say ‘John Evans’. (Or even this: ‘I need The Mayor of Casterbridge by Hardy, T.’ – presumably the same Hardy, T. who’s listed in the phone book, living in Bridgend!)
Grasping the concept that books may actually be shelved in alphabetical order poses much the same intellectual challenge for these students as understanding that the Earth orbits the Sun did for Renaissance Europeans.
‘Where’s your ‘Quantitative Methods’ section?’ one student asked me yesterday. I think she was stunned to learn that it doesn’t exist. There were one or two books on the subject, among all the other Business Studies shit. What was she expecting: a whole bay labelled Quantitative Methods?
And explaining that a recommended textbook might not actually be available is equivalent to explaining Quantum Mechanics to a six-year-old child. It simply doesn’t register in their tiny minds. It’s beyond them.
Read Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut Jr – his first novel – for a frightening look at what our future will be like, now that our education system has been totally dumbed-down.
(Of course it’s back in print. I wouldn’t tell you to buy an out of print book, would I? What do you think I am – a fucking lecturer?)