Points race makes for mé féiners


TO BE HONEST: A retired teacher writes:Student protest marches were a familiar sight in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. Students marched to protest about a whole range of issues that affected society, not just themselves.

Today students rarely protest and when they do, it relates directly to their own financial issues, not social or political causes. Why not?

The answer may be found in the points system. This is an excellent queuing system for all our third-level institutions. Students are admitted on ability in an absolutely fair manner. Never mind that a major portion of the ability that’s tested is memory-based.

This system has been with us for decades. The points required have soared especially since 1992. This marked the introduction of free undergraduate education.

Total dedication is required not only by the student but also by his or her family and teachers to achieve 600 points. This is the target the student aims for in fifth year because they have not yet selected a career. They aim for maximum points using a “just in case” strategy.

All extracurricular activities are put on hold; sports, debates, community involvement in or out of school, socialising with friends.

Parents encourage this dedication: Leaving Cert students are excused from helping with housework and routine chores: they are allowed to put their lives on hold for the exam period .

If some aspect of the course interests the student, further exploration of this topic has to be ignored if it is not on the Leaving Cert curriculum.

Students are given the message that, for a fixed period at least, anything that lies beyond the realms of the Leaving Cert has no value.

As a result of this isolation and narrow focus at such a vulnerable stage of adolescent development, the student becomes a “mé féiner”.

All their peers are behaving in a similar manner. It’s the norm.

If you place straps around a sapling for two years during its development and then remove the straps, the young tree will no longer spread its branches.

Our high achievers enter third level but no longer have curiosity about anything that does not impinge on their own immediate interests.

Social problems and politics do not concern “mé féiners”.

We need to take a bigger perspective on the points race and what it does to our teenagers at such a critical point in their developing social consciousness.

We often hear it said that “there is more to life than the Leaving Cert”, but we are sending our young people the opposite message, with depressing consequences.

This column is designed to give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously. Contributions are welcome; email sflynn@irishtimes.com

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