Letters: Focus on 'intelligence' is hampering students' creativity
Recent comments on the stress generated by the demands to succeed at the Leaving Certificate raise significant questions about the point and purpose of schooling.
Our education system is fuelled by the unchallenged assertion that at the heart of human thinking is a single faculty called 'intelligence', which is variably distributed across the population; the function of education is to identify those who have it and discard those who don't. Thus, failure is manufactured in order to highlight success.
An extensive industry has been built around the myth of intelligence as an inherited faculty. It has been deemed to make good economic sense to direct education resources to the detection, selection and nurturing at an early age of those revealed to be in possession of this competence.
It is still assumed that the presence of intelligence could be detected through conducting certain kinds of test. The notorious 11+ examination in England purports to identify those who would profit from a thoroughly academic education provided by grammar schools.
Despite the discrediting of intelligence tests that test only the ability to do the test, the education system still rests on test-based selection.
For instance, the international comparison of schools' performance is mainly based on so-called Higher Order Thinking Skills, known as HOTS.
On a recent visit to Malaysia, I found anxiety expressed that the school examinations were not embracing HOTS, with the result that the country was falling behind in the international league tables.
The provision of a liberal education is undermined by schools being burdened by the latest government wheeze, bypassing the professional judgment of teachers, overloading the curriculum and getting in the way of releasing the creativity of the students.
Sadly, success in the Leaving Certificate examination amounts to the capacity to go through certain, more or less arbitrary hoops under stress.
EDITH ROAD, OXFORD, OX1 4QB
STILL WAITING FOR REFORM
According to the report on civil service accountability and performance, a position of Head of the Civil Service is to be created by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to act as guardian of the ethos and values of the system.
The Head would report to a board of experts, including the now obligatory member recruited from outside the State, who would be expected to provide the civil service with 'an outside perspective'.
Yes minister, but is this a tacit admission that the existing regimes within the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform do not have the credibility and legitimacy to lead and deliver fundamental change?
This report does not describe a single concrete example of reform successfully accomplished by either the civil service or a major semi-state agency in the history of the State, yet root-and-branch modernising change has been on the programme of every government since 1994.
The last major reform initiative, the decentralisation of the public sector outside Dublin, conjured alongside the now abandoned national spatial strategy, cost well over €300m, not the €20m promised.
The civil service operates on the basis of constructive ambiguity. How could it be otherwise if a cabinet minister never issues a letter of direction to the secretary-general of a government department and both are surrounded by political advisers and ministers-of-state who have ambiguous roles, who behave like the rarified potentates of a utopian mythical realm and are not subject to any real scrutiny?
To an outsider, government departments are well-fortified, impregnable baronies that brook no interference in their internal affairs, or entertain suggestions to modernise or change that are imposed externally.
GLENAGEARY, CO DUBLIN
SECOND JOBBING AT RTE
Where have I been that I didn't hear that unemployment has finally reached zero? Why am I missing out on all this second-job stuff?
If the employment situation is such that someone who is (a) already on a damned good screw (and fair play to him) and certainly not in need of an extra income; (b) not a current affairs expert – as I am sure even he would admit; (c) not at all the best choice as replacement for the admittedly hard to replace Marian Finucane, isn't putting Brendan O'Carroll in her chair giving out a pretty pathetic message on the part of RTE?
There is surely a wide enough choice of very able broadcasters and journalists who can be called upon to present a show of this kind with humour, insight, perceptive vision (and not quite the mega income) in the absence of Marian.
GWYNETH UI GHAORA
ADDRESS WITH EDITOR
FACTS OF GUILDFORD FOUR CASE
Gerry Conlon was one of four people arrested, tortured and falsely imprisoned for carrying out bomb attacks in Guildford and Woolwich in England in 1974. His father Giuseppe was also arrested while visiting his son in prison and wrongly convicted of involvement in bomb making. He died in prison.
The Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Six and others were all victims of miscarriages of justice, which saw the British police service, judiciary and political establishment conniving in imprisoning citizens they knew to be innocent of any wrongdoing.
Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Carole Richardson and Paddy Armstrong spent 15 years in English prisons under horrendous conditions.
A public campaign in support of their release eventually succeeded in achieving that in 1989.
Contrary to Eamon Delaney's claim (Irish Independent, June 24) that the IRA members known as the Balcombe Street unit "half claimed that they were also responsible for the Guildford bombings", the facts are as follows.
In December 1975, four IRA volunteers who became known as the Balcombe Street unit were arrested. Within 24 hours they had told senior British police officers that they, not the four people recently convicted – later known as the Guildford Four – were involved in the bombings.
At the Guildford Four's appeal hearing in October 1977, IRA volunteers Eddie Butler, Harry Duggan, Joe O'Connell – members of the Balcombe Street unit – and Brendan Dowd, who had been arrested separately, testified in court.
Butler, Duggan, O'Connell and Dowd testified that they were responsible for the Woolwich bombing. Dowd also accepted responsibility for the Guildford bomb attack. All said that the four persons convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings had played no part in the attacks.
Respected British Labour MP Chris Mullen, who campaigned for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, said of the men's testimony: "All said that the four persons convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings had played no part. So detailed was the Balcombe Street unit's account that it was not possible to pretend that they had not been involved."
Despite this, the Appeal Court upheld the convictions of the Guildford Four.
Mr Delaney ignores these facts in his efforts to use the tragic death of Mr Conlon to try and score cheap political points against Sinn Fein.
GERRY ADAMS TD
SINN FEIN PRESIDENT
KILDARE STREET, DUBLIN 2