Monday 19 February 2018

Employers are telling us that it's time for change

Katherine Donnelly

LEARNING off by heart might seem like a good idea to Leaving Certificate students but it doesn't serve them or the country well.

Word perfect, they end up squeezing through the narrow gate that is the points system and into college.

But if they wonder why their lecturers are not entirely impressed subsequently, it's because many students lack the ability to learn for themselves.

Rote learning is not what education should be about, and it's certainly not what is required for our much-talked about smart economy or its workforce.

As it stands, every debate about the points system either begins or ends with one issue: it may be blunt, but it has the huge advantages of being fair and transparent.

What's the alternative? It's not simple.

That is why the Higher Education Authority and the National Council for Curriculum is calling on international experts to share their experiences.

An interview system is fraught with risk. What cannot happen is a return to cronyism, where a well-placed word might get a son or daughter into medical school. Could greater use of portfolios in addition to exam results -- as already used by some colleges -- be the answer? Possibly, in some cases.

Pressure is eased on school-leavers in the UK when colleges make a conditional offer in the spring before the exams, based on predicted grades.

In the US, rote learning is of little help in exams where questions are broader.

Failings

In Ireland, the last time there was a serious look at the points system was in 1999. That gave us the 'blunt but fair' answer.

But the question has changed.

Multinational employers are expressing dissatisfaction with the failings of the second-level education system in encouraging individual or creative thinking.

The third-level colleges are themselves asking questions about the entry process.

Fair and transparent the points system might well be, but it is time for new answers.

Irish Independent

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