Secondary education not reflecting role of technology, claims Minister


WE HAVE been “codding” ourselves in believing we have one of the best education systems in the world, Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn has said.

Our modern technology-driven existence is not reflected in the secondary school education received by students.

The Minister was speaking at the announcement in Dublin yesterday that BT will continue as main sponsor for the annual BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition for the next three years with an investment of more than €2 million.

New technology was creating change as monumental as that produced by Gutenberg’s printing press, Mr Quinn said. Yet the existing secondary curriculum does not prepare students for the coming changes.

“We have been codding ourselves in Ireland in saying to ourselves that we have one of the best education systems in the world. The reality is we don’t,” the Minister said.

Parts of the school curriculum worked “very, very well, particularly the primary school section”, he said. The same unfortunately could not be said of the secondary curriculum in the Junior and Leaving Cert.

“They go through this chicane, a kind of shrinking thing where you have to do, for three years, your Junior Certificate, very tightly controlled, not so imaginative curriculum where you are really relying on what you can remember rather than what you think,” he said. Many students found that transition year represented a “liberation” from this.

Young people have unprecedented access to information via modern technology, “a very different experience from what was there 15 or 20 years ago”, Mr Quinn said.

“We are at a cusp of a transfer of knowledge on a scale and on a level which in my view happened the last time 500 years ago with the Gutenberg printing press,” he said. People realised they didn’t have to try and remember everything – knowledge could be stored and accessed from a book.

Something “very similar” was happening today. “Where it is going and where it is going to take us I haven’t a clue, but we can be certain this is a change-making set of decades and we are at the forefront of it. Our education system at the Junior Cert level and the Leaving Cert level does not reflect that,” he declared.

It was “one of the priorities for Government to transform the curriculum”, change that would allow creative thinking, yet provide “measurable results”.

Parents wanted to see objective assessment, but also teachers so they could “benchmark their inputs against the outcomes of their students”, Mr Quinn said.