Getting results from the Leaving Cert
I found it strange to hear this week’s positive news regarding students’ proficiency in mathematics, given that many of the students receiving their results may even have been participants in Pisa 2009. Could Pisa really have got it so wrong? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The annual media fest around participation and achievement levels in particular Leaving Certificate established subjects is with us again, with Project Maths stealing the limelight at the expense even of science subjects.
Like the discussion document recently submitted to the National Competitiveness Council by Seán McDonagh and Tony Quinlan, the emphasis is on the success of the individual, her/his contribution to the labour market, national competitiveness and GDP.
While such instrumentalism is understandable, it reflects a narrow, flawed philosophy of education based on piecemeal rather than holistic thinking, on short-termism and knee-jerk policy- making, on being “bound by” rather than “bowing to” market forces.
The overriding emphasis on mathematics and science challenges the well-established Irish curriculum principle that students are best served by a broad and balanced curriculum. Language, particularly mother tongue, is arguably a more significant avenue to learning as it pervades all other subjects, including mathematics. Equally strong cases can be made for other forms of knowledge. For example, we frequently assert that “music is a universal language” with consequent potential, while economists such as Richard Florida have documented the synergistic relationship between “the arts” and the economy.
Given the obvious importance of civic republicanism in Ireland today, there is a strong case for positive discrimination in favour of moral and citizenship education.
Understandable concerns about the state of the country should not be allowed to eclipse the bigger picture. Was it mathematical or scientific underachievement on the part of bankers, developers and regulators that created national insolvency?
The awarding of bonus points for maths has certainly increased participation rates. This consolidates a utilitarian attitude to education in the minds of students. Given the predictive value of Leaving Certificate math grades it will also have a “compound interest” effect as students progress through higher education.
If, as Howard Gardner suggests, there are multiple intelligences, is it not a gross injustice to privilege the cognitive abilities measured in mathematics examinations over the talents and capabilities nurtured by other disciplines? A “back to basics” approach will impact negatively on the holistic development of the individual and, inevitably, on the quality of our social, civic and intellectual life.
Before it’s too late, let’s reconsider our obsession with appeasing the markets and foster a culture of debate, dissent and discovery in our young people (Ruairí McKiernan, Opinion, August 13th) at a time when the rarity of the “Irish thinker” reveals a society that is “bereft of depth” (Opinion, Desmond Fennell, July 2nd).
The exclusive focus on homo economicus is deeply worrying. While all are in favour of economic progress and prosperity, the education of the next generation for citizenship, for life, love, living and giving, should not be sacrificed on the altar of economic recovery.
Have we learned nothing from the demise of the Celtic Tiger? – Yours, etc,