Leaving Cert: reform is long overdue

Too many school-leavers are being ‘taught to the test’ and not learning to think for themselves

A major review of the Leaving Cert which got underway this week is a welcome, and long overdue, development. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

A major review of the Leaving Cert which got underway this week is a welcome, and long overdue, development. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A major review of the Leaving Cert which got under way this week is a welcome, and long overdue, development. A growing body of evidence points to the rising importance of career attributes such as creativity, problem-solving, communication and critical thinking among today’s school-leavers in the face of rapid advances in automation and artificial intelligence. However, in a senior cycle system dominated by high-stakes exams and a highly competitive points race, there is little scope for creativity. Small wonder, then, that so many academics and employers grumble about students being “taught to the test”.

Some schools are struggling to provide basic elements like access to computers, high-speed broadband or other resources to support students’ learning

Irish society has tended to place a high value on a traditional, academic model of education. While this has helped produce a better-educated population, it is not serving all young people well. Pupils with more vocational or practical skills tend to fall through the cracks of a system which undervalues their real talents.

People learn in different ways and at different stages of their life. Therefore, we need a system that provides a range of pathways to meet the needs of all students. Reforms should place a much greater emphasis on classroom-based assessments and project work, as well as embracing the kind of modern teaching, learning and assessment methods which engage young people and are overwhelmingly supported by educationalists.

It’s the future: Hundreds of fifth-year students across 40 schools will be the first to take on computer science from next September. File photograph: Getty Images
"It is the responsibility of everyone with an interest in preparing children for their future lives to work together to introduce an education system which is better suited for the demands of the 21st century." File photograph: Getty Images

In the meantime, there are real challenges to be overcome. Access to quality education is being threatened by teacher shortages in key subjects. Some schools are struggling to provide basic elements like access to computers, high-speed broadband or other resources to support students’ learning. It is the responsibility of everyone with an interest in preparing children for their future lives – government, parents, teachers and schools – to work together to introduce an education system which is better suited for the demands of the 21st century. We are currently falling short. It is time to tackle these issues with the urgency that they demand.