Friday 6 December 2019

'Dumb' rationale

Sir -- As a student representative, I often get complaints from lecturers that students know less on arrival at college, especially in mathematics, because of the rote-learning methods required to compete as a student in second level. It seems to be that first-year college courses in particular have to be "dumbed down" because of students' inability to solve problems or think critically.

It is hard to blame students who are in competition for third-level places and learn in a way that maximises performance at the Leaving Certificate exam but the increase in students getting high grades in college cannot be attributed entirely to this. Trinity College's academic secretary Patricia Callaghan reported that part of the reason for Trinity's grade inflation was due to "improved teaching and learning, and more transparent assessment regulations".

However, three very important factors not explored by the Trinity report are: the push to increase student numbers; the desire to rise on the international ranking scales; and the prominence of research over teaching. All are linked to funding. To rise in the rankings means attracting more international students, bringing revenue in the form of expensive fees. An increase in the size of the student body means a proportionate increase in the college core grant from the Higher Education Authority (HEA). Research is an obvious alternative source of income. It's not a good idea, financially, to fail students. You cannot claim fees from the Government for them if they're gone.

Many opinion pieces have criticised the universities for "dumbing down" courses. But they can hardly be blamed. They're part of a chronically underfunded education sector, where to survive one must place the mass production of graduates to fuel the so-called "knowledge economy" above the quality of teaching and education. Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe and the HEA should note that this problem, which has been known for years, is part of a much bigger issue.

Ashley Cooke

Education Officer,

TCD Students' Union

Sunday Independent

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