School-leavers 'don't feel prepared for realities of life'
IRISH school-leavers are generally satisfied with the personal and social development they receive in second-level education, but not sufficiently prepared for the transition to third level or work, a major education conference heard.
They feel they have not learned enough for the move to adult life, where they have to become independent and make financial and life decisions, said Professor Emer Smyth of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
Lack of work experience opportunities – with the exception of those doing programmes such as Transition Year – is one of the gaps identified by students, because, some feel, it would help them in their career choices, she said.
Prof Smyth has a unique insight into the thoughts and experiences of second-level students arising from research she has conducted on behalf of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) for over a decade.
The most recent focus of the study, which has tracked the progress of a group of 900 students from first year at second-level to Leaving Certificate and beyond, is their experiences on leaving school.
It is this ESRI research that prompted the reform of the Junior Cycle and moves to take the heat out of the Leaving Certificate points race.
Prof Smyth, who was addressing the NUI Maynooth annual education forum on the topic of transforming curricula and empowering learners, said there was an increasing focus internationally on the value of taking account of the perspective of children and young people in policy development.
Meanwhile, an internationally renowned educationalist warned that the growing focus on exam results and league tables for comparing the performance of pupils, schools, colleges and education systems was wrong. Prof Bob Lingard, of Queensland University, Australia, told the conference it was bad for education to rely on a narrow set of data as a basis for policy, although it could help to inform policy.
He referred to studies such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which compares the performance of 15-year-olds internationally.
Prof Lingard spoke of the drive within countries for a "world class education system", but said what Ireland needed was an "Irish world-class system" that reflected its context.
"A vision for Irish education is required, framed by what citizens see as a desirable future for the nation – socially, culturally and economically," he said.
Prof Lingard also said that in times of austerity we must focus our restricted budgets on socially disadvantaged schools and pupils.