Tuesday 18 June 2019

Deirdre Conroy: It's time to re-examine the tired old Leaving Certificate

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

Such is the intensity and competitiveness of the Leaving Cert that it has spawned a huge industry in grinds. While some may argue this points to a lack of teaching competence others may just as easily argue that the curriculum is simply too broad for the majority of students to cover.

One way 0or another, now that Easter is over, the oral exams start and households around the country go into lock-down.

If your child is in their last term of school, it is possibly 30 years or more since you sat your Leaving Cert.

The horror of those memories will inevitably impact on how you handle your child's preparation. The exam has become less of a straightforward step to third level education and more of an extended family nightmare. The trauma of CAO applications, course picking and points prediction throws this 'special time' into months of anguish. Our State examination requires a minimum of six subjects to be passed for certification.

Many students take seven just to be on the safe side. If, like me, you think that is not safe enough, you will cajole them to do eight.

I suggested Construction Studies for both my sons, thinking at least it would be handy in the home. Unfortunately, the workshop periods take up so much time it decreased their study for other subjects. However, their results in Construction Studies got them over the line for the points they needed. And they made lovely tables.

During this term, students will go from school to study to bed, with meals on demand.

Many would argue that this is an essential part of life - the deprivation, intensity and sacrifice is only for six months and is the making of them. There will be many things to follow that will be the making of them - the pressure at 17 or 18, may also be the breaking of them.

Over the last decade at least, the changing of points has been dictated by economic shifts. The Government has introduced incentives for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) programmes at third level.

This will of course assist in attracting even more IT companies to Ireland. But the incentives are prejudicial to other subjects and students.

The 25 extra points awarded for a C1 or higher in honours maths is wonderful for students who are maths-orientated and attracted to STEM courses anyway.

Predictably, by providing this opportunity for some students, the knock-on effect is that the points requirements will rise for other courses, making for a very unfair playing field. It effectively penalises students who didn't take higher-level maths and means many miss the course they would otherwise have secured before the introduction of the extra points. The maths points must be part of the top six grades, which means the student could have better grades in the top six but get less points.

For example, if a student sits seven honours subjects and gets six B3s and a C1 in maths, the result is 450 points. If the student gets five B3s and a C1 in maths and another subject, the result is 470. According to one of my classmates, (I am still a suffering student) this can lead to students deliberately 'throwing' an exam in order to maximise their points.

Transition year was introduced in 1994 and is supposed to be an introduction to life after school. Some schools run it rather well but parents have mixed attitudes to it. Personally, I think it is a waste.

My sons had a 'doss' year for which their fees still had to be paid, and more besides. Not everything can be taught in school. A lot of the preparation for leaving school can come from the home. You can get your children involved in voluntary work, or part-time work. You can teach them how to cook (something). It's quite a long break and interrupts the routine they have established.

The alternative is a 'gap year', which makes more sense as they are older, more confident and you are not paying school fees while they doss. A new Minister for Education should take a look at the Leaving Cert, whether it is to change to an A-Level type system or spread the exams out over the year, there are options available.

We need a fresh alternative to the Leaving Cert . . . it was introduced in 1924 after all.

Irish Independent

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