MAKING THE GRADE

19 August 2016 No Comments by The Northern Standard

 The first thing that the Co Monaghan students who received their Leaving Certificate results yesterday merit is, of course, congratulations.

  They have reached a significant staging post in the maturation journey and will look back upon the day or two past and the hectic weeks ahead of decision-making and preparation for their next life steps as seminal ones in their lives – not life-defining perhaps, but significantly life-altering.

  Equally as important as commendation is support, whether students have attained their examination goals or whether they have fallen short of them.  Achieving the sought-after points tally is one thing, utilising it to the best advantage in terms of further study and career path is another – even young people whose goals and ambitions were clearly defined in the run-up to sitting the Leaving Cert should give themselves the thinking time and space necessary to re-evaluate their first instincts and make doubly certain that the direction they are heading in is not one that could lead to a distracting and delaying change of course in mid-stream.

  And for those who have fallen short of the desired target, or who may have emerged from the experience of second-level education with no firm forward trajectory in their lives, now is the time for them to have reassurance and guidance close at hand.

  The amount of focus the announcement of the Leaving Certificate results receive in the media, with statistical trends and patterns subjected to analysis to rival that of General Elections, tends to fuel the notion that they really are the be all and end all for the young people who sit the examination.  But they are far from that – the media neglect to mention that the exam results are extremely important to them as they emerge at one of the fallow periods for the annual current affairs crop, and are devoured voraciously for want of alternative fodder to feed the grist-greedy mills of the unsleeping and argus-eyed ogre of modern news.

 Examinations are important as indicators of ability and potential, but they cannot ever be anything other than approximate assessments of capabilities that are still as much in ferment as the other traits of character and personality possessed by the young people required to undergo them.  Our second-level education system has undergone significant alterations over the past decade and more to become a much more holistic nurturer of those who pass into its charge, and plans for further curriculum change are in progress which should contribute to the more rounded development of the future generations of Irish young people.

  But our secondary schools are still left deprived of the important ancillary resources that enable them to assist in the fostering of the attributes of young people that are not so easily gauged by examination grades, and therefore often get only lip service when education policy is being discussed and formulated.

  And, although we have become somewhat better since the advent of the new century in preparing young people for the different scholastic requirements that third level study makes of them, the progression to degree courses still delivers far too large and avoidable a shock to the system of the undergraduate.  Shorthand learning-by-rote techniques have limited application to the more independent learning sought at university level, and far too many students still progress to this stage of study insufficiently learned in the techniques of how to learn.  A good many never complete their studies as a consequence.

  When considering the best use of the resources available to his Dept in the looming 2017 Budget, Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton might find it an opportune time to evaluate whether this country’s well-merited reputation for the quality of its graduates needs some fiscal fortification.  How higher education in this country is funded has needed to be looked at for some time now – with 60% of those who have sat the Leaving Certificate in 2016 about to enter its ranks, it might well be a case of “now or never” for the Minister if he is to ensure through more funding, and funding reform, that the system these young people are relying upon to fulfil their academic and future career objectives is one that remains fit for purpose.

  Although it often goes unsaid, the quality of higher education provided in this country has probably been in a slow but ever-increasing decline in the past decade as the pressures on the system have mounted and the numbers and experience of its academic cohort have fallen.

  It is time we started talking about this decline – and arresting it.  The young people who annually undergo the academic trial by combat that is the Leaving Certificate go to sometimes exceptional lengths to make the grade – the least they deserve is to progress to a system that is capable of bringing their talents and ambitions to full flower.

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