The Leaving Cert, Arcaic?

So what am I suggesting here? Well, the Leaving Cert might imply by its name that it is a final step in a student’s formal education. But in reality it is a gateway to a higher education programme. And this being so, it needs to have a curriculum and learning methods that allow students to make the transition from school to college. But it does not do this. The curriculum is horribly old-fashioned, and it neglects the areas of knowledge most critical to our needs. Furthermore, the methods used to maximise high grades in the Leaving Cert are inappropriate for higher education. So, for example, grind schools preparing students for the Leaving Cert emphasise the efficiency of their courses and the utility of their course notes; they suggest that what is most likely to succeed is memorising the details of syllabus. And they are right, as that is the formula for success.

But once the student is at university, all of this is useless. All too often lecturers encounter students who have put aside all active learning and who need to be coaxed back into a state of curiosity. And then there is the disaster of the CAO points system, which pushes students into career choices unrelated to aptitude, but rather based on the relationship between their points and the points requirements of programmes: you’ve got 550 points, so you must be a doctor, lawyer or pharmacist. What total and destructive nonsense.

We have known for a generation or two that our education system is not what it should be. This is not the fault of the teachers: it is the fault of a society that knows something is wrong and cannot bring itself to correct it, because so many people have a stake (and worst of all, sometimes a social stake) in the status quo. But now we are at a crossroads. We need to persuade the world that Ireland is worthy of investment, or that it is a place where knowledge is valued and developed, and where learning is producing intelligent, creative and enterprising individuals. We are...