DECISION TIME

16 August 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The days that precede and immediately follow the announcement of the Leaving Certificate examination results are among the most emotionally turbulent that young people and their parents experience.

Around 57,000 candidates sat the examination this year, and in none of their households will the outcome of their efforts be greeted with ambivalence.

There will be jubilation at the meeting of points goals that facilitate progress along the preferred academic and career pathways; despair at results that fell short of the aimed-for targets, or, perhaps predominantly, anxiety about borderline performances that might or might not be enough to get the right course offer.

Our exam system is a bit like our political system – imperfect and often complained of, but the one we have to get on with until a better means of coming close to the ideals it aspires to is devised.

Changes being made to both the Junior and Leaving Certificate syllabus, and the greater emphasis being given to the merits of continuous assessment, may in time produce a method of evaluating second-level school performance that is more balanced and holistic.

But it is unlikely that we will ever be entirely divested of the need for students to undergo the pressures attendant to performing conspicuously and consistently well in a final examination, and then going through the emotional mill when the assessment of their performance becomes known and the competition for college places gets into full swing.

Given the impact that the results can have, particularly if they are not as good as expected, it is important that a sense of balance and proportion is exercised by students and parents alike.

Because the Leaving Certificate outcome arrives at a traditionally fallow time in the calendar of news, the media makes a great deal of fuss over it – trends are analysed ad nauseam and the glut of statistical information is picked apart by commentators and controversialists.

Contrary to the impression that can be reinforced in the minds of young people by all this hype, how they have done in the exam isn’t going to impart an indelible definition on their future lives.

It marks a significant crossover point in their existence, of course, a transition into a world of greater responsibilities and personal reliance, and confronts them with decisions that will have significant bearing for their immediate futures.

But the academic world into which those who have completed their Leaving Certificate may chose to enter is a very different one to that which they have experienced at school.

It requires a fundamentally different approach to learning that students will find more challenging, but potentially very richly rewarding, than the educative approaches they have experienced to date will have fully prepared them for.

And whether students continue to learn or enter immediately into the world of work, they will encounter life experiences and interactions with others there that will have a much more profound influence upon their growth and development than the results that they have achieved in a school examination.

The defining experiences of life, good and bad, all lie ahead of those who have received their Leaving Certificate results this week – the results themselves are only a brief preface to their biographies.

Nonetheless, this week heralds in a time of significant decisions for students and their parents, and it is important that the immediate emotional outfall from the results themselves is allowed to dissipate before those decisions are taken.

There are many useful resources at hand to assist in the negotiation of the CAO maze, and these should be carefully consulted – while points are expected to remain largely unchanged for the majority of courses this year, there will inevitably be marked shifts in requirements in particular instances and these can impact significantly on a student’s plans.

At a time when economic constraints are eroding parents’ ability to sustain the costs of a child studying away from home, the Leaving Certificate results will bring financial challenges in their wake for many households.

This gives accentuated importance to the excellent further education opportunities now available in our own county and that of neighbouring Cavan through the institutes that operate under the aegis of the new Education and Training Board that has replaced the VEC structures.

The range of courses available at the Monaghan and Cavan Institutes should be given prominence of consideration in the decisions families will be making in the coming weeks.

It is to be hoped that the disastrous malfunctioning that marked the introduction of the new Student Universal Support Ireland or SUSI system of college grant administration is not replicated this year.

Close monitoring of the system must take place to see if the promised improvements are delivered – if they are not, it is difficult to see how persistence with this clumsy reform can be sustained when the structures it replaced were of proven efficacy and accountability.

We wish all those who have completed their Leaving Certificate in Co Monaghan this year the very best for the future, urging them to remember that while this is a time of important decisions, it is not by any means the decisive time in their lives.

COMPLACENCY?
The tragedy of fatal road accidents continues to be visited upon families in our own and other areas of the country – at a rate, we are told this week, somewhat higher than in previous years.
Road fatalities have reduced successively in this country for the past seven years, reaching a record low of 162 in 2012, but the trend for 2013 thus far is slightly upward.
We can attribute the decline to more responsible driving practices inculcated in part by some very effective road safety campaigns, and by the actions taken by the Gardaí in both education and enforcement.
But is the worrying slight upturn in fatalities a sign that we are growing complacent?
Figures released by the Gardaí this week show that speed is the most common denominator in fatal crashes, more so than alcohol.
Drinking and driving now carries with it a much stronger social stigma than it did in previous times – but we seem to retain a dangerous ambivalence towards the practice of driving at reckless speeds: this has retained a dubious glamour in elements of popular culture to which the young driver in particular remains susceptible.
Perhaps more shockingly, the Gardaí have pointed out that 13% of the people who died in road accidents in this country last year were not wearing a seat belt.
That such a basic safety precaution should continue to be ignored by drivers and passengers is evidence of dangerous complacency indeed.
More stringent penalties for speeding and the neglect of the seat-belt laws might help cut the death toll in time – but should tougher enforcement really be necessary?
The majority of motorists are scrupulous in the observation of their requirements in these regards – those that aren’t should feel the full force of condemnation from their peers when they perpetrate their potentially lethal complacency.

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