The Irish Times view on the Leaving Cert: a signpost, not a final destination
Students have more pathways and options than ever to follow the career of their dreams
“We are heading into an era of unparalleled change, which means education will increasingly be a lifelong pursuit. Technological disruption is set to fundamentally alter the way we live and work.” File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
Today is a moment of truth for tens of thousands of students across the State who are due to receive their Leaving Cert results. For those waiting anxiously for their results it should be a consolation that now, more than ever, the exam is a signpost and not a final destination. Students have more pathways than ever to follow and the further education and training sector offers a wide variety of options, including routes into higher education. Apprenticeships offer an ever-expanding range of disciplines to earn and learn, while traineeships provide an opportunity to develop cutting-edge skills and knowledge on the job.
Just a quarter said the exams taught them how to think critically and evaluate new ideas or information
We are also heading into an era of unparalleled change which means education will increasingly be a lifelong pursuit. Technological disruption is set to fundamentally alter the way we live and work. Research indicates that many of us will need to re-skill for new careers and roles. Among the attributes most likely to be in most demand over the coming years according to research include complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and empathy.
Against this backdrop, there are real doubts about whether the Leaving Cert remains fit for purpose. A new study by Dr Denise Burns of DCU indicates that rote learning continues to dominate over critical thinking. It also found skills such as remembering were prioritised above evaluation and creativity, which were found to be largely absent from many exam papers. Yet, students interviewed as part of the study said they enjoyed the opportunities for creativity presented by subjects such as English, music and art. A byproduct of this system is that it favours wealthier students with access to grind schools that use a rote learning approach, perpetuating socioeconomic divisions in access to third-level education.
For those who end up disappointed with their results, there are a wealth of routes to pursue the career of their dreams
Many of these findings are backed up in a separate DCU survey of students who recently sat the exam. Just a quarter said the exams taught them how to think critically and evaluate new ideas or information. These findings point to an independent-thinking skills gap between secondary school and third level, which may be linked to high dropout rates in the first year of some university courses. A review of the senior cycle, being carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, provides an opportunity for policymakers to introduce much-needed changes to better fulfil the potential of all students and foster the kind of skills we will need in the future.
As for the class of 2018, they deserve congratulations for the grit and dedication they have shown in getting this far. They have learned the importance of confronting challenges and overcoming them. For those who end up disappointed with their results, there are a wealth of routes to pursue the career of their dreams. Failure is not the end – and success is just the beginning.