herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

Will I get a grind for my daughter? Bloody right I will

THERE'S one thing savvy Leaving Cert students have learned over their years in our education system -- and that's how to beat it.

Despite us adults constitutionally promising to deliver them a holistic, rounded education, they have decided instead to embrace a far narrower focus: passing the exam.

This is entirely our fault. The Leaving Certificate -- so often derided in the past -- has been slammed once again in an influential report by the ESRI which found it ill equipped to give today's teenagers any broad knowledge which may help them in the world of work, or life, and instead forces them into the high-octane pressure cooker than is the points system.



illiterate

Their results are echoed by countless chief executives of multi-national firms, on which Ireland is so dependent, who say our school leavers are just not ready to enter the world of work, and it's not just the maths results.

The whole exam system is skewed against preparing our kids for anything in the real world.

It seems Oscar Wilde is still correct in his assertion that: "Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught".

Third level educators cry in despair at seeing virtually illiterate CVs ending up on their desks.

They find themselves having to carry out basic education on spelling, grammar and sums from scratch before students can engage on college courses.

This isn't because teenagers don't care about this stuff -- it's because they know that getting enough points is all that counts and how they get them, or which ones they get, is irrelevant.

I know a headmaster who regularly tells parents of first years: Don't worry about what subjects your kids take -- don't try and get them to do subjects you consider 'better' or 'worthwhile' -- this is a points race and every single subject, bar honours Maths, carries the same points at the end of the day. They should study what they like best because they'll do better.

He's dead right. Unfortunately. It seems that "good" subjects don't matter. Points count. And we know from game show days, points make prizes.

The prize is a college place and students are demanding teachers focus ever more relentlessly on going over past exam papers and preparation rather than equipping them with the passion for learning.

Girls are averaging 4 hours study a night and they are still consistently outperforming boys, or at least they are playing the exam game better.

The grind culture is becoming even more important, despite calls from various Ministers of Education that they're unnecessary. The ridiculous skewing of subjects for university frequently means that students end up having to take extra subjects just to cover their points-bases.

I have one child who is poor at Irish. A low D at best. She absolutely cannot hope to go to any university she wants to without it because it's mandatory.

So, she takes on an extra honours subject she will struggle to fit in her timetable so that her "points" are maintained.



change

The course she will eventually study has absolutely not a scintilla of basis in Irish.

Will I get her a grind to jog her along? Bloody right I will, even if we do without something else to pay for it.

Unless the Minister can show me a better way or change the rules, that's what parents everywhere will continue to do.

A conference on changing the Leaving Cert takes place this week in UCD. There will be the usual blather about aptitude testing, continuous assessment, weighting points or applying quotas.

It's all stuff and nonsense. Nobody can seem to come up with a fair college entry system which does something apparently at odds with it: educating our children.

As us parents who studied French will know: "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".

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