Sir, – Will Breen’s interesting letter suggesting that Leaving Cert students should be able to opt for fewer subjects, similar to the British model (February 6th), raises a tricky topic. It is true that A-levels theoretically allow students to study in a little more depth, but the system definitely has its downsides. Since taking my lower-level examinations in the UK I have managed to study nothing but history and English (my A levels were English, history, and ancient history).
This suited me academically but I rather regret it now as I have no foreign language, unless you count Franglais; very little sensible understanding of science; and no mathematics at all (simple arithmetic is my limit). Friends of mine, some of whom have stellar third-level qualifications, are in the same bracket of ignorance about anything outside their area of expertise. I might add that when I lived in Ireland and witnessed the commitment to learning of many Leaving Cert students I just looked at the system and thought: this is much better than the UK. The number of subjects studied up to 18 was partly what impressed me. Any differences in the depth to which individual subjects are studied are soon caught up at university, but the breadth of education that can be lost by early specialisation seems far harder to remedy. – Yours, etc,