Leaving Cert exam on cusp of change – for past 40 years
"The annual sitting of the Leaving Cert is a spectator sport for the rest of the country. It is an outlet for mainly adult hysteria"
It’s good that the Dáil bar is doing well – profits up to €145,623 in 2012, which is such a relief – because the Leaving Cert doesn’t look so good. At the weekend they were stumbling out of pubs, restaurants and bars, bleary eyed with relief and alcohol. The boys were wearing their best shirts and the girls had put on eyeliner for the first time in weeks. These poor intoxicated souls were the parents of the people who’d done their Leaving, celebrating the end of their suffering.They were drawing their first free breath since the June bank holiday. “Thank God it’s all over,” they said.
When asked, on Friday and Saturday night, where their exam-taking offspring were, the parents replied that they had no idea, and several fathers said they didn’t care. The mothers shushed them, but you could tell that all the parents were getting giddy and had to let off steam. Who would begrudge them that much? Without over-dramatising what is already the most histrionic of exams, it has surely been a tough time in most candidates’ households.
Because, despite changes to the way some of the subjects are examined – Project Maths, anyone? – the culture of the Leaving Cert remains much the same. In a country of gamblers this make-or-break exam suits us very well. At the weekend the ending of it was reminiscent of the aftermath of a big football match. Is this a good thing? Discuss.
This is a society that likes dividing its citizens into winners and losers; the health system, the transport system, every State system in Ireland reinforces this divide in order to reassure the winners at every turn. If the Leaving Cert allows us to bring down the portcullis (look it up) when those citizens are hardly 18, so much the better.
The tension, the stress, the families on tiptoe, this year’s significant mistakes in the setting of at least two papers, the sheer grinding uselessness of it all... If we could lift our eyes from the abortion debate for a couple of minutes perhaps we could discuss what we want for our real children.
Because like the Dáil, the Leaving Cert has been on the cusp of change for 40 years. It’s just that nobody has got round to changing it. The discussion, on the rare occasions it is heard, is the same. The phrase “continuous assessment” has been wafting through the ether since I was at school, just like the phrase “Dáil reform”.
In an unprecedented development, and as one glacier overtakes another, it may turn out that the Dáil actually does reform well ahead of our exam system. Taking as your starting point the year 1975, please calculate the chances of that outcome.