Shakespeare shun angers Bard expert

TARYN UTIGER
Last updated 05:00 06/11/2012
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Shakespearean mastermind Ida Gaskin has blasted a Ministry of Education policy change which some people fear will lead to Shakespeare disappearing from high school education.

The ministry has decided to remove the Shakespeare achievement standard from NCEA level three English, making studying and writing about "The Bard's" plays entirely optional for year 13 students.

In exams, the students will be able to choose between writing about Shakespeare or other, more contemporary texts.

Mrs Gaskin, 92, said the decision was disastrous. "I really can't think of anything more depressing than schools not giving students the chance to learn something challenging," she said.

The teaching of the playwright has been one of the core and recommended achievement standards since the introduction of NCEA in 2002, although individual schools could choose to drop the paper.

In 2013, students may be able to write about Shakespeare in their external exams, instead of a novel, but only if their school chose to teach a Shakespeare play.

But Francis Douglas Memorial College assistant principal Richard Marris believes that will be unlikely. "I can see Shakespeare disappearing in most schools," he said.

Mr Marris said the school had already dropped the Shakespeare achievement standard.

"We haven't done it this year. Students have trouble with the language, in fact they get quite hung up on it. It takes more time to teach Shakespeare than other texts and that's not good when the curriculum is so tight," he said.

Mrs Gaskin, who has the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to education, believed the change would affect the education of many young people. "This is absolutely idiotic, it's completely stupid," the Shakespeare scholar said.

Mrs Gaskin, who won the popular television show Mastermind in 1983, believed young people could relate to the aspects of human nature Shakespeare wrote about.

"He deals with human problems and relationships we can all understand. The language may be difficult to begin with but children need to be challenged. We are constantly removing things that may be difficult for them. Where is the sense of achievement in that?" the retired teacher asked.

Judith Lamb, the head of English at New Plymouth Girls' High School, said although the Ministry of Education had removed the Shakespeare achievement standard, the department would still be electing to teach his plays.

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"I don't approve of the decision to remove it. Shakespeare is the father of literature. At our school we are going to continue to teach him," Mrs Lamb said.

"It doesn't matter what you assess, it's about providing the girls with a solid education. Schools that don't teach Shakespeare next year will be doing their students a disservice," she said.

Kathy Gracia, the head of English at Hawera High School, agreed. "The students find Shakespeare difficult, but Shakespeare is always where the best grades have come from. That's the whole purpose of year 13, to challenge students and to get the best possible marks from them," she said.

Mrs Gaskin said education had become more about assessment and less about a love of learning.

- Taryn Utiger is a Witt journalism student

- © Fairfax NZ News

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