Libyan pupils' success buck national Leaving Cert trends


Pupils at a school in Libya who sat the Leaving Certificate bucked the Irish trend with excellent marks in maths and science, it was revealed today.

Half the maths class at the Ism International School in Tripoli - the only school outside Ireland to offer the Leaving Certificate - scored A1s.

A third of the biology class scored the top grades, with both sets of results significantly better than the national trends at home.

Waterford man Brendan Coffey, the retired principal of the school who introduced the Irish state exams there, said he was delighted.

“It’s a great achievement for the pupils and the teachers,” he said.

Mr Coffey fought to introduce the Leaving Certificate in Tripoli over a decade ago as a more affordable education after the influx of Bosnian refugees.

At the time, the school offered the International Baccalaureate (IB) which was well out of the reach of most students.

“We started to push and shove to get the Leaving Cert in and we had great help from Noel Davern, minister for education at the time, and Mary O’Rourke helped behind the scenes,” he said.

“There is absolutely no extra charge for students in Libya to sit the exams - they pay the exact same fees as Irish pupils.”

The only major differences in the curriculum are the substitution of Irish for Libya’s national language, Arabic, and Irish history for Libyan history.

But students there are as familiar with the Burren, semi-state companies like Bord Bia and the works of Jack B. Yeats as Irish students, said Mr Coffey.

“I once had a student ask me what bus arse was!” he said. “I had to laugh - we were doing something about Bus Aras.”

Six students scored an A1 on the higher level maths paper out of a total of 14, almost 50 per cent compared to the national trend of just over 7 per cent.

Some 13 of the 39 pupils who sat the biology higher level exam scored an A grade, around 33 per cent and well ahead of the Irish average, at just over 8 per cent .

The Irish exams are considered by many in Tripoli to be one of the best post-primary qualifications in the world, according to Mr Coffey.

“It has not only served the students well, it has served the country well,” he said.

“It has brought a lot of prestige to the Irish educational system because diplomats and ex-pats are choosing to send their children there to do it.”

Each year, two Irish teachers travel to Libya to supervise exams, one of whom must be a French language teacher to conduct the oral test.

Irish teacher Josephine Ni Fhatharta, who had never taught in English before working at the school, had massive success with four A1s in chemistry out of 22 students.

The school has a large proportion of Asian and Libyan students who tend to choose more scientific subjects rather than the humanities.

The co-educational school of 550 students was established in 1958 to provide an education to children of American oil engineers and diplomats working in Libya.