Dame Mary Beard: People need to stop being ‘fixated’ with Oxbridge

Dame Mary Beard has said that people need to stop being “fixated” with Oxbridge, as she criticised Britain’s “snobbish” attitude to education.

The Cambridge classics professor and television presenter also suggested that carpentry is just as important as her subject.

Dame Mary said that Britain has been “terribly snobbish about what education is for” and that it is “deplorable” to make students think they have to choose between classics and engineering, for example.

She told the Times:  “We tend to chatter about whether you can do Latin at school, [or] whether you can do engineering or carpentry. I think it’s deplorable.

“It’s rooted in a whole set of versions of British education which we’re still trying to throw over.”

Although Dame Mary has spent her “life” doing Latin and Greek, which she said has “huge value”, she refused to say that “it’s more important for someone to study Latin and Greek rather than practical engineering”.

She added: “Most of British culture is still held back by class and privilege, aspirations which rank these subjects into sort of what clever posh kids do and what other people do.”

Although Dame Mary admitted that she benefited from an expensive and privileged education, she warned that this had not helped many others of her age.

She also suggested that exams are “in some ways past their sell-by date” as a form of assessment, and that students today are more likely to learn only what is needed to achieve top grades, rather than exploring a subject.

In evidence she gave to the Times Education Commission, a year-long review of education in light of the pandemic, the Cambridge professor said: “We’re putting a brake on kids’ explorations and achievements — none of this is entirely a bad thing, you know kids expect now that you will tell them what they have to do in order to get a good mark, well that’s a reasonable expectation, rather than to have a sort of mystique of what a first-class [degree] is like.

“But that brings with it almost inevitably in its train, a kind of limitation — [someone wanting to know] what do I do to get a first and how you can teach me that instead of somebody saying, I want to explore this subject as widely as I possibly can until my head hurts.”

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