Friday, 7 May 2021

Teaching formal written standard English: bottom-up or top-down? Or both?

Teaching school students how to write has been one of the main tasks of education for hundreds of years. 

One view is that writing should be taken down to its 'nuts and bolts'. Students should be told what these nuts and bolts are called. They should do nuts-and-bolts exercises involving spotting the nuts and bolts in specially devised sentences and phrases. There should be nuts-and-bolts tests. There should be writing tasks where students should show that they can include the nuts and bolts that they've learned. Job done, the students will be able to write. 

Are there problems with this?

First, let's deal with the nuts and bolts question. What are we talking about here? Usually, this means the so-called 'rules' of language, the names for the words, and longer clusters of words: phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs. Intermingled with this, there will be some talk of 'functions' which may mean the functions of words within phrases, clauses and sentences, or it may also mean functions in terms of the jobs that words, phrases, clauses and sentences are thought to do in more human terms eg ask questions, issue commands etc. 

This is what education calls 'grammar' but which in actual fact is a very limited descriptive apparatus that is restricted to descriptions of sentences in formal written standard English. If this is how this 'education grammar' was served up, we would at least know how limited its field is. That's to say, it doesn't cover the language of conversation and speech, nor the written languages of song, poetry, plays, films, TV drama, advertising, signage, slogans, mottos. 

So when we say school-based 'grammar' teaches us the nuts and bolts of language, this is at the very least an exaggeration or distortion. In addition, it may or may not teach us the nuts and bolts of formal, written sentence language. 

Let's deal with this first. Where do we find these formal, written sentences that most people are agreed that students should learn how to write? You or I can make a list: most narration in most fiction; most non-fiction - history, geography, science, philosophy, self-help, gardening, cookery, sport etc; most instructions and information in relation to the things we use - medicines, fridges etc; newspapers, magazines and online versions of these; administration - government, management, the law and justice system, finance and reports from within these worlds...and so on. It's clear from this list that we ask of this written, standard English to do what society regards as the important stuff. In fact, some linguists call this 'prestige'. 

The question is, does teaching (and testing) the grammar of formal, written standard  English help students to write this way? 

One huge body of evidence emerged after 20 years or more: the results of the old O-level exams that the grammar school students who lasted in school till they were 16 and the fairly small cohort of secondary modern school 16 year olds in the post-war years. The three main questions of the English Language paper were 'Precis', 'Grammar' and 'Composition'. The prĂ©cis was an exercise in reducing an unseen text to about a third of its original length. The grammar question was to answer questions according to what was at that time (not now) thought to be the most important elements of formal, written standard English. The composition question was a piece of formal writing. Students were set an unseen title or theme as with say, 'Trees' or 'An Enjoyable Weekend' or 'Fox-hunting'. In other words, the topics varied across non-fiction themes, to personal and to subjects that you could debate. It was made clear to us that this writing had to be correct - according to the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation we had learned over the previous nine  years or so of schooling. I don't know how marks were awarded or detracted on this matter, but the marking also addressed the matter of whether candidates 'wrote well' according to criteria agreed by examiners and education authorities. 

After more than 20 years of this, involving of course tens of thousands students, the examiners could find no correlation between the scores on the grammar question and the scores on the composition question. Of course, this flies in the face of the claim that teaching the nuts and bolts leads directly to enabling students to write formal standard English. 

Before I jump to the conclusion that this proves that there is now an open and shut case that teaching the nuts and bolts does NOT ensure that students end up writing formal standard English well, I should complicate matters.

1. The lack of correlation might be that there was something wrong with the teaching methods of teaching grammar and if this was tweaked, a better correlation would result.

(To which I would say: from my personal experience at a grammar school 1957-62, the teaching was thorough, consistent, constantly marked. We were given systems and routines every week for five years  (eg box analysis, clause analysis and that because we also all learned at least one foreign language for the whole 5 years we were exposed to the terminology of eg cases, subject and object, conjugation, tense and so on in these lessons too.)

2. The lack of correlation might be because the criteria for marking the composition was not finely enough tuned to loading the marking towards those students who produced grammatically correct compositions. Similarly, that it was loaded towards subjective judgements about 'good writing' or 'writing well'.

(To which I would say: even in the most narrow way of marking grammatically correct writing, the issue of 'good writing' has to be factored in. It is, after all, quite possible to write incomprehensible gobbledegook that is grammatically correct. Let me have some fun doing it on the topic of 'Rain' (one that I remember having to do in English). 

Rain is a strange banana. If telephones capture lemurs, the rain which has up till now been solid, may explode. However, rain can also be found on the ocean floor. It was Jacques Cousteau who said, 'Better the shark you know than the onion you don't.' 

I'll leave that one with you.

Now let's switch tack and consider the argument that there are better ways of teaching the grammar of formal, written standard English with a view to teaching how to write formal, written standard English.

Here are some them:

1. Demand that students in class only talk in 'complete sentences'. They must not speak using slang or teen talk. They must try to speak with the accent of southern British, educated English (BBC English or Queen's English, so-called). They must not use 'dialect' language eg Cockney, Yorkshire, Geordie etc. 

(To which I would say that the problem with this is that it assumes people speak standard English. No  one does. Not even Boris Johnson. Speech involves repetition, self-correction, a lot of umming and erring,  insertion of many phrases like 'kind of', 'you know', adjustments like 'well', and 'you see'; tailing off into seemingly unfinished parts; using words and phrases that aren't part of complete sentences; using gesture, facial expression and tone of voice to indicate meaning and intention, to structure utterances in such a way as we tend to put the theme/subject/topic at the front and the provisos, conditions or caveats after; we interrupt each other mid-flow and so on. It is unrealistic to expect conversation to follow the 'rules' of written standard English. The main way we hear standard English is in the scripted talk of radio and TV announcers or in audio books or indeed, people reading to us. 

The further problem is pyscho-social and political. We all speak a dialect. Boris Johnson's dialect is the dialect of a public school educated person who has stayed in that milieu for the whole of his life. Other dialects don't have the 'prestige'  of his, but they are no less part of the identity and ethnicity of people. The question we have to address is whether it's advisable to tell young children and students that they shouldn't use spoken language that is part of their identity and ethnicity. (I'm not talking here about obscenity or offensive language.) 

When we ask all students to write formal standard English, it is for every single one of them a different form of language from the one that they speak. There is a valid argument for saying that some versions of spoken English diverge more widely from formal written standard English than others. The question then, is whether it's right and worthwhile to ask of those who diverge most to self-correct. An example would be the London 'we was' construction. Many teenagers in and around London say this. Do we know that if we ask of them to never say 'we was' in school, that such students will write formal standard English better? Do we have the evidence for that? Are there other ways of exposing students to the idea that when we write formal standard English we do not ever write 'we was'? 

One suggestion is that we teach codes, registers, dialectology and what is in effect a form of sociolinguistics, particularly in relation to dialect. That's to say, we ask of students to compare speech and writing, to compare their versions of spoken English with the English of formal, written standard English. The idea here is that we give students the 'toolkit' to see that all language involves 'choice'. Ultimately, no matter what we are told in school, how we speak and how we write will always be as a consequence of what we want to do. After all, in various ways students in schools have been told for the last 100 years or more that speaking in certain ways are wrong, and yet regional and class variations in speech go on including forms like 'we was' and we go on producing slang words, phrases and expressions that don't find their way into formal, written standard English. Education might be about equipping students with what it takes to make informed choices about all this.

2. Try to integrate the 'grammar' teaching more with 'writing or a purpose'. I'm sympathetic with this because it integrates the abstractions of grammar with real language use. It veers away from the absurd invented sentences that students are invited to read or write in grammar exercise books, tests and high stakes exams. It also takes us towards seeing that the language we use or create comes in what Michael Halliday called a 'mode'  - a word he used to cover the types of text we read and create, whether that's in terms of genre or overall purpose or form. So even with formal written standard English, there are variations between, say, the narration of a piece of adventure fiction, an explanation of a statute, a political manifesto and the instructions on how to take thyroxine pills. The grammar of these different types of formal written standard English is indeed worth looking at.

My argument with this is that grammar may be a necessary condition for this type of writing but by no means a sufficient one. I've already touched on this by referring to Halliday's 'mode'. Because all language, and within that all formal written standard English comes in a form or type or genre (or hybrids and combinations of these), there will always be other nuts and bolts other than what is available to us through grammar. One way to think of this is in terms of bottom-up versus top-down. Or, if we don't want to think of it as an opposition - how do we combine bottom-up with top-down so that we end up with the 'whole'? 

If I accept for the moment that 'grammar' gives us bottom-up ways of constructing formal written standard English (I don't but I'll leave that to one side), what gives us the top-down of overall purpose, theme, type, genre of the passage that we're trying to write? 

In my experience the best way for top-down is through immersion, imitation, investigation, interpretation and invention.  

Immersion is reading loads of standard English and hearing it read to us - as much as possible both in and out of school ie a lot of 'reading for pleasure' and all that that entails. 

Imitation is just that: let's write like the instructions of on a box of pills, let's write like a sports journalist in the Daily Mirror, let's write like the opening of a novel etc.

Investigation is asking students to find patterns in formal written standard English. Some of these tools are: prosody, lexical field, patterns of imagery, patterns of 'affect' (language about feeling and/or designed to make us feel something), code-switching, use of rhetorical devices like hyperbole, bathos etc, thematic  similarities and contrasts, using terms like instruction, command, imply, suggest, evoke, reveal, digress, headline, foreground, focalise, time-frame, point of view, implied audience, message, elaborate, figurative language (eg metaphor, simile, personification)/literal language, detail, specific, general, abstract, questioning, tone, speculative, argue, emotive, justify, illustrate, instruct, analytic, imaginary, evaluative, inclusive, non-sequitur, analogy, example, tentative, theme, motif, symbolic, literal, allusion, illusion, echoing, pre-figuring, time-frame, red herring, point of view...and so on. 

In my experience, learning this material is best done from two ends at the same time - investigating from one side and being told (instructed) from the other. 

Investigation can lead to interpretation - what is this piece of writing? What is it setting out to do? Does it succeed? (if yes, how?If not why not?) Another form of interpretation is invention. 

Invention can of course be in many different directions and methods. But if, let's say, we are looking at the formal standard English of popular music criticism. We can have a go at inventing a band, inventing its music and style and writing a piece that would be acceptable in a magazine or online. We can then use the top-down and bottom-up tools to see if it fits what seems to be required for such an article. 

My argument is that we won't get that bit of writing right unless we do both. 

What is grammar?

 I'm someone who believes that there is something we call 'reality' or 'nature' or the 'material  world' and this precedes the terminology we use about it. A cliff exists before we thought up the word 'cliff' and before we decided that the cliff was made up of 'rock', 'pebbles', 'stones', 'earth', 'soil', 'mud'. We also decided that a significant thing to say about cliffs is that they are 'eroded'. This language represents a selection of bits of the material world and giving them names, and selecting what we believe to be important processes and giving them names too. 

I'm not going to say that any of this is wrong but with a bit of imagination, you or I might choose some other bits of the cliff and other processes and regard these as more important to talk about. For example, my top priority might be cracks and fissures. I could create a whole classification system for these and provide an argument as to why they are the most important thing about cliffs. Or, instead of erosion, I might wish to classify cliffs in terms of 'the most suitable for hang gliding off'. 

With this talk of cliffs and language about cliffs, it's quite easy to see that what we choose to describe and how we frame knowledge can vary a great deal. This depends on where we are in the history of ideas and the purposes for which our terminology is needed. 

Why would 'grammar' be any different? And yet people often talk about  'grammar' as if it is some kind of holy writ, a perfected descriptive apparatus of 'language', and that its processes - variously called 'functions', 'rules' and the like - explain all that there is to know about 'how  language works'. Indeed, some will talk of 'grammar' as if it is language or as if we can reduce 'language' to 'grammar'.

This last point would be the same (and as ridiculous) as saying that the cliff is the descriptions of it. 

So before we go into what is grammar, we have to be clear that language precedes 'grammar'. Grammar is a descriptive apparatus to describe something, not the thing itself.

Further, the term 'grammar' can not and does not mean one grammar or even 'the' grammar. In short, there are several, if not many, grammars. What has happened is that the inventors and writers of 'grammar' have managed to elbow themselves in front of all the other grammars and convinced powerful people (eg who run education) that their grammar is 'the' grammar. 

In fact, the grammar that primary aged  school children have to learn is 'one grammar that describes some terms and processes used in written standard English sentences'. That's it. However, under that heading, they do throw in some other stuff that isn't really grammar. They are:  examples of their sentence grammar straying into bits of semantics (eg use of words like 'command' for descriptions of forms of sentence), value judgements about ideal usages (eg with their use of words like 'formal', 'informal', 'correct' and 'incorrect'), stylistics (eg use of the notorious 'fronted adverbial' which is a choice we make according to what effect we might want to have on a reader), and false concepts that have nothing at all to do with 'grammar' (eg synonyms and antonyms). 

The field that this 'grammar' applies to is one small part of our total language output. By far the greatest amount of our language output is through speech in conversation. In comparison, the output of written standard English is tiny: very significant but tiny. All talk of 'correct' or 'right' or 'wrong' has to be seen in this light. Yes, if we want to say that written standard English must conform to certain ways of writing, fine - correct is OK. But let's not kid ourselves that this applies to speech. Speech has a whole 'grammar' (or many grammars) that are needed to describe eg how we converse, how we shape our subject-matter, how we revise what we say, how we emphasise, how we use prosody (sound, rhythm, speech-patterns, musicality), how we create patterns, how we use cohesion, how we are sensitive to different participants, different kinds of speech-situations, and different kinds of speech forms. Speech also tolerates hesitations, revisions, incompletions, noises that aren't usually called words yet convey meaning, gestures, tones of voice, volume of voice and a huge range of dialects and accents. All this is how most of us conduct our lives. Most of us do not conduct our lives through the medium of written standard English. 

This means that the 'grammar' that is taught in English primary schools has excluded the main way in which we communicate, share thoughts, ideas and feelings and how - when we do it - think in words. How bizarre! 

(By the way, let's not forget that written standard English is not the same as 'writing'. That's another hoax foisted on us. Poetry, song, plays, film scripts, TV drama scripts, dialogue in novels, advertising, signage, slogans, mottos, emails, texts, chat-room chat, etc are full of non-standard written forms. Much of what are described as 'rules' or 'correct usages' aren't rules or correct usages for these other forms of written language. And yet this 'grammar' by implication,  treats all  this other stuff as less important. It's not.)

But, as I pointed out in the previous blog, this 'grammar' excludes a whole set of conditions that explain how and why we write what we write. It excludes the role of the participants in any given piece of language. It excludes the genre, channel, text-type. It excludes the subject matter of the text . It excludes the historical conditions for the text. 

As if this wasn't enough exclusions, it also excludes processes that are vital for explaining our choice of language eg cohesion. Though the English primary school sentence grammar makes a nod towards cohesion, in fact it is a fundamental part of how we communicate in writing or speech. That's because cohesion processes are in effect what I have dubbed the 'secret strings' of language at various levels: through sound, patterns of imagery, patterns of 'affect' (ie language designed to convey feeling) repetition of words/phrases/clauses/sentences, similarities of any kind, contrasts, or  language that fits into this or that 'lexical field' ie forms of language we can group or link together by virtue of them being on the same topic, theme, or even language which co-refers to the same entity as with the pronoun system but also with phrases or words that 'refer back' in a text as even with the crucial word 'the' (!).  In fact, you could create a grammar of cohesion, make up your own terms for the processes involved, and for the particles or items that  you've selected and you would find that you had a very interesting and rich alternative to the 'sentence grammar of written standard English'!

The claim is made that we need  this 'sentence grammar of written standard English' to be able to write and to be able to analyse writing. I believe both of these propositions to be false. Some of this grammar is quite useful for 'writing sentences in standard English', but I argue that there are much richer descriptions of language that help us do this: most of which fall into the category of 'stylistics'. I have written a good deal about this elsewhere on this blog. Same goes for analysing writing. I do not accept that something so limited and weak in its explanatory power, and so inconsistent and confusing (and confused) in its terminology has much to tell us that is any way as powerful and rich as the full range of stylistics.  

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Grammar - what it leaves out

For several hundred years, some people have been interested - at times obsessed - with dividing the world up into categories, 'sets' or 'classes'. Some of these become so fixed in our mind that we can easily forget that they are made by people. They are not identical to the way the world is. They are human inventions, devised ultimately for our own use. Think of the distinctions we make in education between say, History and Geography, or between PE and Dance or between shampoo and soap. 

We have to also remember that some of our activities are not directly about the process of classifying even if they use classifications or 'types' that others have made. You could argue that the moment we begin to write or say something, we write in a 'genre' that has evolved over time: a letter, a poem, a tweet, an insult, a song...and so on. 

Some people tend to view these as rules, while others are more easy-going about it. I'm up the easy-going end of things because these are not laws, there are no genre police, and doing a bit of genre-busting can be interesting. 

This is all by preamble to what we do with language. The grammar that is taught to primary school children in England is obsessed with categorising and classifying language. It's done according to some ancient systems and in so doing slices off some crucial parts of speaking, writing, reading and listening. For a start it is based entirely on written standard English - one small part of total language output. Within this, it is based entirely on the sentence, which again is a main part of SE but not entirely so. Secondly, its systems of terminology, categorising and classifying are either based on itself or it starts from itself and maps it on to activity outside. 

So the basic notion of 'subject' and 'verb'  is not derived from how humans relate to each other. It's derived from categories from within observing language. Or if you look at a category like 'command', this isn't based on how we 'command' each other in  its entirety, but is mapped from a verb form (the 'imperative' so called) on to the way we command things of each other. However, we command each other in many different ways. This kind of 'grammar' excludes these as not being commands! 

When we are immersed in the language and classifications of this 'grammar' it's hard to see what kind of system it is, and how weak it is in explaining how we use language, how we behave with language, why we behave with language in different ways and how we change language. It is in fact a descriptive-prescriptive mess. It claims to describe but in the hands of those who demand that it be taught, instantly becomes prescriptive: you will make the subject and verb 'agree'! You will not use 'informal language'. You will use a fronted adverbial. You will expand your noun phrases. You will not mix tenses...and so on. 

I heard a national broadcaster say that she is  'bad at grammar'. What did she mean? That she didn't speak properly? That she didn't write properly? That she didn't know the names for the things she was saying and writing? How could someone end up blaming themselves for not knowing this stuff or thinking that there was something imperfect about how they spoke and interviewed people nearly every day on the radio?

The main reason is that this system - 'grammar'  - is an abstract code, a kind of maths of language - far removed from how we actually use it most of the time. It is positioned at some distance from our feelings, our reason for saying or writing something, our reason for wanting to listen or read, our emotions as we read and listen, and indeed many of our social needs to persuade, convince, coax, condemn, organise, hustle, and hundreds more.

What a bizarre state of affairs! 

Humans invent something that is fluid and total in the way that it is part of our behaviour and along came some people who've classified it in such a way as to not include the social reasons for having created it! 

The thing is though, not all 'grammars' are like this. Some people have tried to incorporate our social, historical and psychological reasons for our speech, writing, our ways of being affected, and our ways of understanding. People like M.A.K. Halliday, Dell Hymes, and a host of others who've worked in fields of eg cognitive linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, sociohistorical linguistics, the grammar of genres and styles, or 'communicative competence' and others.

I'm no expert in these but the more I dip into them, the more I am impressed by what it is many of these people have tried to do: to  locate language in our social behaviour (perhaps all behaviour is 'social'!) and in our needs. They have looked at language as a matter of eg choice, purpose, an effort to make meaning, as part of how we are with each other (social organisation, social conflict), and how we feel, how we are affected by language and how we produce 'affect' and much more. 

At first glance, this kind of thing might look much too complicated for schools. But is it? How complicated is it for students of all ages to look at advertising and to discuss what is it trying to do, why and how, and where did it's phrases and slogans come from? How hard is it to compare how different people in their lives speak or write? And then to investigate possible reasons for this. Our main instrument for using language is our voice. How hard would it be to spend time listening to different voices and discuss why we might think someone has 'soothing' voice, why someone else seems to 'sound aggressive' and so on through scores of other emotions. Every school student other than those with severe speech impairment has to use their voice to express themselves. Why is that not a subject worth studying? 

One of the consequences of the kind of 'grammar' taught in English primary schools is that it fools us into thinking that this 'grammar' has captured how language makes meaning. Its grammarians have broken Standard English down into parts, processes and functions (within itself, not social functions!) and claimed actually or by implication that this is the meaning-making machine. I play games in my shows where I tell them a line (the only line I remember) from the first poem I ever wrote. The line is 'and now the train is slowing down'. I condemn myself for having written something boring. Then I check myself and ask the audience can we make it more interesting by changing the way I say it? Happy voice? Angry voice? Sneery voice? Sad voice? In a hurry voice..and so on. It's an exercise in changing meaning through phonology and prosody, something we do all day every day, and yet is outside of the world of 'grammar'. In other words we fib to children that meaning lies in grammar and because of grammar alone. And if the argument against this is that you can't do this in writing then a hundred years or more of advertising, signage, graphic design etc have spent trillions for no purpose, no effect, no outcome. 

Arts, education and the child

The power of comparison and analogy: when a child says 'this' is like 'that', they're on the first rung of a ladder that leads to making categories and classes or abstractions. Reading is one way we can do this, comparing what's in a book, with our own lives or in other 'texts'.

In 'At the Very Edge of the Forest', Carol Fox points out that for very young children, stories often do a lot of cognitive work to do with eg scientific concepts adults take for granted: gravity (falling), properties of matter (melting), relative speeds (chasing) etc.

Even as high art is celebrated and consumed in high art venues and stately homes,  the arts are being downgraded for the rest of us. High art often celebrates the interpretation of other art: paintings of Greek myths etc but in education interpretation has to be in sentences and tested in exams.

Millions of words have been written by people interpreting 'Line of Duty' as it unfolded, speculating about what might happen next and why. Education can create these moments too, enabling flexible thought and debate based on evidence from texts.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

My 'secret strings' game to unlock 'texts' (stories, poems, plays, non-fiction etc)

 You tell the children/students that they are going to be poem or story 'detectives' and their job is find the 'secret strings' in a poem or story - or play or any 'text'.

Secret strings run within texts linking words, phrases, sentences and pictures or 'images'. The students' job is to find them. 

Sometimes the link is to do with sound - eg alliteration, assonance, rhythm, rhyme, repetition, long phrases, short phrases. 

Sometimes the links is to do with images - similar, contrasting. 

Sometimes the links are to do with repeated actions or 'motifs' or themes. 

Sometimes it's different words with a similar theme - 'lexical field', as it's called. 

Anything links to anything else if you can prove it.

Authors quite often don't know the secret strings that they themselves have created.

The longer you play the game, the more you find out about how a text is put together.

The longer you play the game, the more you start to come up with thoughts about what the text means and why it's been put together in a particular way. 

One example of 'motif': in 'Where the Wild Things Are' - Max says he'll eat his mother up. His mother sends him to bed with having anything to eat. The Wild Things say they'll eat him up. When Max gets home, there's something for him to eat. Secret strings. If we ask what is the symbolic meaning of 'eating', we might say, 'gratification'? 'Pleasure'? Then the secret strings tell us a little story about forbidden, withheld and granted pleasure...

Then there are the secret strings between texts - called 'intertextuality. You can apply the same method - echoes, allusions, shared themes, shared imagery, shared archetypes, shared plot lines, share genres...these are all the play of secret strings between texts. Looking for them, finding them, talking about them is a great way to discover how texts are structured and helping us to find out how themes and ideas are given to us. 

You can play these games by actually drawing on texts (if that's allowed!). I've seen children sitting on the floor with a poem copied in large format on to a sheet of sugar paper with huge margins all round. The children had different coloured felt-tips and drew loops round the items they were linking and lines for the 'secret strings'. Different colours for different reasons for the link is fun.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

What did we know on March 16 2020 about Covid? What was the advice from the WHO?

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 16 March 2020
16 March 2020

Good afternoon everyone.

In the past week, we have seen a rapid escalation of cases of COVID-19.

More cases and deaths have now been reported in the rest of the world than in China.

We have also seen a rapid escalation in social distancing measures, like closing schools and cancelling sporting events and other gatherings.

But we have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing – which is the backbone of the response.

Social distancing measures can help to reduce transmission and enable health systems to cope.

Handwashing and coughing into your elbow can reduce the risk for yourself and others.

But on their own, they are not enough to extinguish this pandemic. It’s the combination that makes the difference.

As I keep saying, all countries must take a comprehensive approach.

But the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate.

You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.

We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.

Test every suspected case.

If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to 2 days before they developed symptoms, and test those people too. [NOTE: WHO recommends testing contacts of confirmed cases only if they show symptoms of COVID-19]

Every day, more tests are being produced to meet the global demand.

WHO has shipped almost 1.5 million tests to 120 countries. We’re working with companies to increase the availability of tests for those most in need.

WHO advises that all confirmed cases, even mild cases, should be isolated in health facilities, to prevent transmission and provide adequate care.

But we recognize that many countries have already exceeded their capacity to care for mild cases in dedicated health facilities.

In that situation, countries should prioritize older patients and those with underlying conditions.

Some countries have expanded their capacity by using stadiums and gyms to care for mild cases, with severe and critical cases cared for in hospitals.

Another option is for patients with mild disease to be isolated and cared for at home.

Caring for infected people at home may put others in the same household at risk, so it’s critical that care-givers follow WHO’s guidance on how to provide care as safely as possible.

For example, both the patient and their care-giver should wear a medical mask when they are together in the same room.

The patient should sleep in a separate bedroom to others and use a different bathroom.

Assign one person to care for the patient, ideally someone who is in good health and has no underlying conditions.

The care-giver should wash their hands after any contact with the patient or their immediate environment.

People infected with COVID-19 can still infect others after they stop feeling sick, so these measures should continue for at least two weeks after symptoms disappear.

Visitors should not be allowed until the end of this period.

There are more details in WHO’s guidance.


Once again, our key message is: test, test, test.

This is a serious disease. Although the evidence we have suggests that those over 60 are at highest risk, young people, including children, have died.

WHO has issued new clinical guidance, with specific details on how to care for children, older people and pregnant women.

So far, we have seen epidemics in countries with advanced health systems. But even they have struggled to cope.

As the virus moves to low-income countries, we're deeply concerned about the impact it could have among populations with high HIV prevalence, or among malnourished children.

That’s why we’re calling on every country and every individual to do everything they can to stop transmission.

Washing your hands will help to reduce your risk of infection. But it’s also an act of solidarity because it reduces the risk you will infect others in your community and around the world. Do it for yourself, do it for others.

We also ask people to express their solidarity by refraining from hoarding essential items, including medicines.

Hoarding can create shortages of medicines and other essential products, which can exacerbate suffering.

We’re grateful to everyone who has contributed to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Since we launched it on Friday, more than 110,000 people have contributed almost 19 million U.S. dollars.

These funds will help to buy diagnostic tests, supplies for health workers and support research and development.

If you would like to contribute, please go to and click on the orange “Donate” button at the top of the page.

We’re also grateful for the way different sectors of society are coming together.

This started with the SafeHands Challenge, which has attracted celebrities, world leaders and people everywhere demonstrating how to wash their hands.

This afternoon WHO and the International Chamber of Commerce issued a joint call to action to the global business community. The ICC will send regular advice to its network of more than 45 million businesses, to protect their workers, customers and local communities, and to support the production and distribution of essential supplies.

I’d like to thank Paul Polman, Ajay Banga and John Denton for their support and collaboration.

WHO is also working with Global Citizen to launch the Solidarity Sessions, a series of virtual concerts with leading musicians from around the world.


This is the defining global health crisis of our time.

The days, weeks and months ahead will be a test of our resolve, a test of our trust in science, and a test of solidarity.

Crises like this tend to bring out the best and worst in humanity.

Like me, I’m sure you have been touched by the videos of people applauding health workers from their balconies, or the stories of people offering to do grocery shopping for older people in their community.

This amazing spirit of human solidarity must become even more infectious than the virus itself. Although we may have to be physically apart from each other for a while, we can come together in ways we never have before.

We’re all in this together. And we can only succeed together.

So the rule of the game is: together.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Phoney localism in the Super League debate

I am seeing some phoney 'analysis' of power within football. Local fans aren't the 'workers' in football. We are the consumers. We buy a product either at the gate, or through merchandise, or indirectly buying the televised product from a retailer, the media, who is in effect the distributor of the product. The owners of clubs are the capitalists, the players (and ground staff) are the workers as supervised/overseen/managed by football coaches.

It's very interesting therefore to see that the football workers have been excluded from a debate (and the government intervention) as to how the owners operate their leagues (trading cartels, if you like). Are oil workers represented when OPEC meet? (I don't know, but I would doubt it. Prove me wrong!)

In Feb 2020, Johnson said that he was against 'market segregation' in his approach to Covid. Why now is he in favour of government intervention in football? And if he believes now in bringing all parties together, why aren't players represented at the meeting?

As I've said, I distrust the phoney localism going on defending something that doesn't exist in the top flight anymore: the local link between players and fans. Premier League teams are made up of an international cadre of 'workers'. The great heroes of the team I support have had no more than a tiny handful of north London players over the last 20 years.

As someone has pointed out to me, if the issue is really 'let's support localism', then why isn't the government rushing in to support local libraries, post offices, pubs, high streets? So neither in the publicly owned sphere or the small business sphere is the government really in favour of 'the local'. 

This is window-dressing.