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Friday 19 September 2014

Big picture: Things you don't know in sixth year

School-leavers do not always see the big picture and are unaware of the options available to help them adapt to living in the real world, writes Wayne O'Connor

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

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Lauren Vesey, 18, a student from St Raphaela's Secondary School in Stillorgan looks at her Leaving cert results with friends. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

TOMORROW, 78,000 CAO applicants will be offered courses and will go on to further education, but according to the ESRI almost 40,000 of them have already made the wrong choice.

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Nobody tells a sixth year class that almost half the students go on to regret the choice they made after the Leaving Cert, and until three years ago, I was part of that 50pc. The leap from a teacher-led approach to self-directed learning is a vast one, and with it comes a new way of life.

The majority of students face the pressure and responsibility of living away from home for the first time - paying bills, dealing with landlords and housemates, cooking, (occasional) cleaning and ensuring that you manage to turn up for classes without mammy or daddy getting you up in the morning.

At 17, I felt unprepared for this and chose to buy a year by repeating my Leaving Cert. However, 12 months on, I was still unable to map out the rest of my life in accordance with the CAO.

Figures released by the ESRI last week also demonstrate that 80pc of students going on to further education found significant differences relating to the workload in college and what is expected of them.

There are post Leaving Cert courses (PLCs) that prepare students for this leap to college or the workplace, yet many do not avail of them.

Only 5pc of males and 16pc of girls went from the Leaving Cert into a PLC in the last 10 years and only one in five CAO applicants have applied for one in September.

This year, the Teachers' Union of Ireland reported a 59pc drop in one-to-one guidance counselling, meaning many of the current school leavers are unaware of the options available to them.

Students are going into college blind after the Leaving Cert without the necessary skills to survive.

While they are all familiar with computers and social media, many students have never sent an email before going to college or even have active email accounts, yet most communication with lecturers and tutors takes place online.

More than one in six new entrants to college fail to progress to second year in their chosen course and this figure rises to one in four for students attending an Institute of Technology.

Upon leaving school at the start of the recession, I undertook a business course in IT Tralee. I had been advised to do a broad course while keeping an eye on where the jobs might be when I graduated. This was a challenging feat for the best economists at the time, never mind a confused 18-year-old, so what chance have today's students got considering the dive in guidance counselling?

My attendance in college was abysmal because my interest in the dreary economics/accounting/computing-based content was non-existent. Talking about what I studied acted as the ultimate contraception. The majority of my time was spent in an apartment with a group of friends and copious amounts of computer games and alcohol. The only time we spent in college was to play pool or football.

I was too immature and college was too different to what I was accustomed to for any good to come out of it.

Some 16pc of first-year students drop out of courses early for various reasons and after miraculously passing my first-year exams, I did three days of second year before leaving IT Tralee and turning my part-time job in retail into a full-time one.

Here I received a true 
education.

I learned how to look after myself and live in the real world because A1s or CAO points count for nothing when you're stacking shelves.

I learned how to speak to people by interacting with staff and serving customers. I was confronted with conflict, challenges and tasks but as long as I was showing up every day, I would get paid. This provided an incentive that you simply do not get in college. As a result, I became more confident and while still living at home, with cash on the hip, I was able to enjoy myself.

However, after five years of this, I felt unfulfilled and wanted to challenge myself.

Knowing that I was not equipped for college, I enrolled in a PLC before eventually going on to university as a mature student. This time, with my acquired sense of responsibility and skills, adapting to college was easy.

I had established a link between my Leaving Cert and college by visiting the halfway house that is a PLC.

Students do not always see the bigger picture. That can only come from experience and living in the real world. At 18 years of age, how can you possibly map a path for the rest of your life without essential guidance?

In sixth year they don't tell you that the CAO is really not a big deal. Instead there is encouragement to take a direct leap to college.

For one in two, this is the wrong move. Instead, students should be made aware of the options, but not guided to education.

Let the 17- 18- and 19-year-old live a little because when you turn 23 or have been away from education for five years, you can return to college as a mature student without the worry of points and CAO offers.

Colleges allocate places in courses to mature students, who often apply directly to the institutes and earn a place after attending an interview.

I bet you weren't told that in sixth year either.

Sunday Independent

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