More to education than chasing points

 

Sir, – With the “grind-school culture” now prevalent in Ireland, the rich and holistic education experienced by young people of the last two decades is now under threat. Education in Ireland is no longer viewed as an end in itself, an enlarging of horizons, and an opportunity to develop as a person, but as something that has shrunk to a narrow portal through which to access third-level education.

If you were an alien landing on Earth this month, accessing print and other media, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Leaving Certificate is the single opportunity for success open to our sixth years.

The Leaving Certificate has come to be viewed as an entrance exam for third-level institutions, and it seems that second-level school life has been subjugated to the pursuit of the perfect point score and only then, on acceptance into the university course of choice, have you become a success of the secondary school system.

Whether a student gets their first or third or eighth choice when those CAO offers come out, most will have career paths that will twist and turn and change direction many times. Many will be in their thirties or older before they discover what it is that they love to do. By the time that their careers are established, students will have had lots of obstacles to face; further exams and courses of study to negotiate, they will have had to develop new skills and talents, and they will have had to develop a large degree of self-knowledge.

The Leaving Certificate may have given them a very small start on this road, but it is a very flimsy framework on which to build a gateway to future success. Academic success alone is not a golden ticket to the perfect career, the perfect future. If they haven’t also learned to be a resilient, industrious, optimistic and well-rounded individuals they will fall at the first fence.

At interviews for head girls last month I asked the applicants what was their highlight of their time in our school to date. The answers I got included sports trips abroad, the camaraderie that developed in transition year, an international debating forum in Florida, being a part of the student council, volunteering with community groups, participating in the President’s awards. No one said it was the weekend they spent preparing for their history exam.

So while our schools have supported the class of 2018 at every turn in their academic pursuits this year, I hope we have also given them the skills to be a livelong learner, to take advantage of the learning that comes from being involved in sports, in debating, in promoting healthy eating practices among students, in caring for our planet, in science projects, in mentoring younger students, in how to be mindful and most of all how to be resilient. Without this rich tapestry as a backdrop to their academic education, their school experience and life experience would be one dimensional.

My wish for this year’s graduates is that our school will evoke memories of the all those rich extra curricular experiences, the relationships developed with friends and teachers, the fun and life-long memories generated over six years. And having had these experiences, I hope that they have learned that happiness and fulfilment comes from living the best life you can in the fullest way you can. That you can experience academic success in tandem with a fuller educational richness. That you can have it all, without sacrificing some of the most fulfilling years of your life on the bonfire that is the points race. – Yours, etc,

EILEEN O’DONNELL,

Principal,

St Raphaela’s

Secondary School,

Stillorgan,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.