Tuesday 23 May 2017

Diary of a schoolteacher: If only we could teach kids something that they want to learn

E grade

I always thought that I was a lone madman, working on my own to expose the foibles of the Irish education behemoth but, no, just reading the education pages over the last week or two has brought it home that it's just not me who believes the current Leaving Certificate format is a steaming pile.

One expert describes the exam as a "blight on education" and then another claims that around a quarter of students become disengaged and disenchanted as early as their second year in secondary school. As if this wasn't enough, a few other authoritative voices added to the chorus, claiming that when Irish kids reach college their tutors have to reprogram them to get them to think for themselves instead of regurgitating received knowledge, and that it's all just a "stultifying points race".

This is all good stuff because it means that there is now a cohort of Irish education experts who have actually been in a classroom recently and seen for themselves the kind of learning apartheid that we operate.

One of them mentions the students with money and motivation who are ideally placed to take on the Leaving Cert and get on to a decent course in a good college.

I don't teach anyone like that these days. The reality for a lot of us teachers consists of kids who get suspended for some stupid act, because they are disengaged and disenchanted, not in the second year, not even some time during the first year but on the very first day of school, the day they turn up in brand new uniforms for their new school.

They're already peed off with being told to read this and write that and sit quietly and don't speak out of turn. From their very first hour with us they're honing their skills to raise a laugh from the rest of the class and make us teachers into the ultimate joke. If anyone wants to learn, then they're going to have to wait.

All my experience tells me that it is a pointless waste of time trying to pass on to these kids what is mainly a curriculum consisting of traditional values and culture, especially those with ADHD who can't sit still and just can't learn.

There are enough kids losing out in education in Ireland to warrant a separate curriculum that will offer them something that they might benefit from and even enjoy. I say get them in to school at 7.30 in the morning, and doing sport.

Give them film courses, singing lessons, dancing; get them out and about meeting business people, show them the rocks on the hills, get them repairing engines and then if they have to do some reading and writing it could be to improve their knowledge of these activities and help them evaluate it all.

There's nothing new here and these are not my ideas. Can we stop wasting everybody's time now and actually start teaching kids things they might want to learn?

Irish Independent

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