TESTING TIMES

10 June 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The trek up the arduous Everest of educational attainment formed by the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations has begun over recent days for hundreds of students in our circulation area.
They deservedly carry with them the prayers and good wishes not alone of their family, loved ones and teachers, but also of all in the community cognisant of the particular pressures on this emerging generation.
The exam students are destined to emerge out of the current crucible of pressurised performance into a world that, because of widespread economic travails, offers an uncertain future for even those among them who achieve conspicuously.
Limitations on employment opportunity or further educational advancement might not be as injurious to the application that the class of 2011 bring to the task in hand as some might fear.
For the academically gifted, it may even act as a spur towards the maximisation of performance.
And we can be confident, given the high standards prevailing in our county’s second-level establishments, that our education professionals will have done all that they can to ensure that student of all ability levels have not fallen prey to demotivation or despair because of the dark clouds of downturn hovering upon the horizon without immediate prospect of being dispelled.
Our legislators, of course, could do more to help. Each State examination time that has come and gone over the recent years of economic paralysis has added urgency to the necessity to see evidence that the severe policies being undertaken to remediate the country’s fortunes is starting to work.
Such evidence remains in short supply. The enormous transfusion of money into the stabilisation of the banking sector has not been reciprocated by the release of capital to stimulate growth and enterprise, or in many cases by a lessening of the strangling grip being exerted by financial institutions upon households and businesses who are struggling with indebtedness.
Although they are as yet insulated to a degree from the direct bite of the economy’s pressures and problems, the young people sitting examinations do not reside in some purdah, oblivious to political reality.
They are in the great majority of cases acutely acquainted with the causes and effects of the national fiscal crisis, and will judge and behave accordingly if their reasonable expectation of effective national leadership towards its remedy goes disappointed.
Choosing the option of emigration might be the harsh judgment our students pronounce on prolonged political inability to prompt the economy back towards growth.
Although not the easy option it was to previous generations belayed by national decline, emigration will certainly loom large in the range of options that will fall to students to consider in a few months time when they weigh their work or further study choices.
Even in times of prosperity the option of pursuing an immediate future away from home has been increasingly exercised by recent generations, and had come to be considered less a calamity for local communities than a form of investment that may accrue long-term benefits as native sons and daughters return home with valuable life experience and enhanced skills they wish to capitalise upon in their own place.
In the current context, however, emigration is often not something embraced willingly by the young, but a Hobson’s Choice forced upon them by lack of local prospects.
This was evidenced by the eloquent appeal made by the captain of the Monaghan Town junior football club, Paul Gilsenan, when he asked Monaghan Town Council this week to prioritise the preservation and stimulation of local job opportunities to prevent emigration taking a severe toll on the playing resources of his team.
Mr Gilsenan, speaking at a reception to honour his club’s success in the Ulster Junior Cup, was articulating a concern that will be shared by sporting organisations of all codes, more so perhaps in the rural rather than the urban areas of our county.
Such pleas should be carefully heeded, for they are not merely in the interests of the sports bodies that make them.
The health of a community’s recreational groupings are a sound barometer of wider well-being – as their membership is depleted by emigration, so is the lifeblood of their area sapped, its economic prosperity and prospects for future growth weakened.
Monaghan Town FC and other sporting clubs might draw some comfort from evidence presented at this week’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council, and which will be detailed in full in our next issue, that economic activity at local level is far from moribund.
Work is underway to implement the strategic objectives of the four-year economic strategy for the county evolved by the Co Development Board and being led by local businesspeople of proven acumen. And there are quite a number of significant capital projects in train in various parts of the county that will generate local employment in the short-term and on the longer view render the areas that will benefit from them considerably more attractive as venues for investment and future commercial development.
All is not entirely negative for those of the current exam crop who wish to make a future in their native county, either immediately or in the years to come.
We hear much around this time of the year of the need for curricular reform, of making the courses and processes of study our young people are asked to undergo at second level more relevant to the world they are to inhabit and the challenges of future learning they will be presented with.
Specific subject reform, in areas such as the Irish language and mathematics in particular, seems long overdue.
However, surely a much more fundamental overhaul of the methodology of secondary education is demanded to lessen the culture shock that impacts upon many students who go on to university level study.
Fostering the attributes of independent learning and the close and critical examination of texts that are so essential to third-level study are not entirely absent from the preparation students are required to undertake for the Junior and Leaving Certificate examination.
But they are not yet as privileged as they should be above bland rote learning and the uncritical, non-analytical absorption of course material that are seen as sure-fire quick fixes to the maximisation of exam performance.
Students who gain the CAO points they are after by reliance on these methods often find themselves in an academic environment for which they have been woefully ill-prepared.
It would do their future learning experience no end of good, and improve the calibre of graduate produced by our universities considerably, if consultation and reform were conducted in this area as a matter of priority.
These are literally testing times for Irish examination students. But equally demanding tests have to be undertaken – and passed – by other sectors of society if the future of the class of 2011 is to be made more certain, and more secure.

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