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John O'Keeffe: With the results out, the debate about the points system is raging again. Mary Coughlan thinks the system doesn't need an overhaul. Is the Minister right?

Detractors would have you believe that the points system is a failure because it puts pressure on 18 year olds. This is not its failing -- this is its success. The real world is, after all, a very different place to the one presented by the liberal educationalists whom imagine that education is a world of "experiences" where there are no winners or losers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The world of work is not one where your boss asks you to take your time and consider a matter and then come back to him with your own personal cosy interpretation which can then be further discussed at length amongst colleagues.

Unfortunately it is a busy, time-sensitive environment where pressure is king and those who cannot meet these demands will fail.

The Leaving Certificate points system puts exactly the same pressures on our young people as future work or further study will do -- no more, no less. Your boss will not want a flowery project done in your own time -- he will want work completed and on his desk at lunch with no excuses.

Compared to other systems within these islands, the Leaving Certificate compares most favourably. The English and Welsh A-Level fiasco is just that -- a now-ridiculed system that imagines specialisation begins at 16 to the detriment of the much wider breath of knowledge that, for instance, the Leaving Cert brings.

The Scottish Highers come closest but they too fall short in terms of subject choices and range.

Our system ensures that no one leaves school without having been exposed to Maths, English and Irish and a good deal more thrown in for good measure.

It is the fairness and equality of the Leaving Certificate and points system, however, that will ensure that it will remain for another 40 years. In the bad old days 'interviews' were commonplace to determine College places, yet were simply a method of upholding the old boys' network.

Now whether you are from Kiltimagh or Kimmage, Dundalk or Donnybrook, if you work hard for your Leaving Certificate you too can become a pilot, doctor, lawyer or carpenter and no one can stop you other than yourself.

So let us once and for all park our annual whining about the Leaving Certificate. It has survived this long because it is based on meritocracy and fairness. And in the Ireland of 2010, fairness and equality are most certainly two friends we need more than ever.


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