The Leaving Certificate
‘For education has not to do with the manufacture of things, but with fostering the growth of things. And the conditions we should strive to bring about in our education system . . . are the conditions available to the growth of living organisms – the liberty and the light and the gladness of a ploughed field under the spring sunshine.” Pádraig Pearse’s grim description of the education of his day – he called it the “murder machine” – would still be an apt description of the dehumanising, soul-destroying process of the Leaving Certificate today.
Yesterday’s celebrations of the wonderful achievements of thousands of our young people were as much about how they had triumphed over that murder machine, and how they thrived despite it, as with any sense that it gave proper expression or recognition to their talents, their genius.
Rote-learning, cramming, the regurgitation of dead facts can wring the life out the best literature, smother the spark of genuine scientific curiosity, crush imagination and creative thought. The “growth of things”? Hardly. But they are the measure of us now, the only test upon which our children’s futures hinge, the keys to the gates of Third Level.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Reform of the Leaving Cert has become a draining of the Shannon-like project, but Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has begun with the junior cycle and some minor reforms of the Leaving. He should press ahead with more radical change as soon as possible, not least because of the years of lead time curriculum and structural changes necessitate.
There are also attempts under way to mitigate the impact of the pernicious points system – its effect is not only to force many thousands through a mind-numbing two years, but to enshrine class privilege in college access. Trinity College’s trialling of an admissions model from the 2014 academic years which will not rely only on academic results is a welcome first step.