Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Leaving Certificate Curriculum Reform: Discussion

4:00 pm

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I wish to make a few comments about the presentations and then I will put some questions to the Department. I read through Mr. Doran's statement before the meeting. His vision is exactly what we need in terms of our education system, particularly with regard to self belief and resilience. If students are not in the right frame of mind or are not feeling confident in themselves, they will never learn. In such circumstances, it does not matter how many grinds they can access. There is so much anxiety, low self esteem and mental health difficulties among pupils at both primary and secondary level. Difficulties can start at a very young age and the main problem is the one size fits all approach. I hated every day of secondary school. I literally counted down the days and could not wait to get out. We need to move away from that. I am somewhat fearful, however, that some of the changes being proposed or made are just tokenistic. The introduction of an examination for PE or the idea that we might change one or two things is not enough. We need to completely reform the system. We need to have a lot more continuous assessment. We also need to do exactly what Ms Ní Chéilleachair suggested in terms of life skills. We need to be teaching basic things like nutrition, cooking, how to change a tyre on a car and so forth. People should be able to do those kinds of things and I really liked the way the witness phrased it - #adulting. So many people, even in here, could do with learning some of those life skills. That is what we need to do. We need to be far more open minded and far less academic. Extra curricular activities need to count too.

That is the approach we need to be taking at both primary and secondary levels. The focus should be on confidence and building up self-belief because these are key to everything. We often talk about mental health and childhood obesity but if one teaches skills on how to mind one's mental health and have good nutrition, for example, one will have them for life, no matter what one does.

This is linked to the debate on the leaving certificate applied. It is nearly tokenistic in that it is kind of a gesture, on the basis that it might suit some students. A considerable number of schools will not offer it, however. There is a stigma; that is the reality. There has always been a stigma, as far as I can see, in regard to the leaving certificate applied. If we were to reform our education system so it would become much more broad and inclusive, we would not necessarily need to have a leaving certificate applied programme. The same system should apply to everybody. I hope this is the approach we are taking and that many of the points made, particularly by Dr. Katriona O'Sullivan, Mr. John Doran and Ms Sorcha Ní Chonghaile, are taken on board by the Department. This is key. If we are reforming now, we have a chance to achieve what I describe.

It is 18 years since I did my leaving certificate examination. I do not believe it has changed very much since then. To this day, I believe it was the worst experience I have had. Going through election campaigns and losing elections were far easier than doing the leaving certificate examination. We have to move away from that. The system is completely inequitable. If one can afford to pay for grinds, one might be able to get a pass in mathematics to get into college. If, however, one cannot afford to pay for grinds, one will not be able to do that. That is just one example of how unfair the system currently is. When talking about reform, we really need to consider radical reform, not just make minor changes here and there. We need to look far more at continuous assessment. This relates to the point Ms Sorcha Ní Chonghaile made on illness. People could be extremely sick on the day of an exam or completely panic about it. With continuous assessment, there is some backup. It is not just based on one exam. What I propose would reflect not just two years of work but a whole six years, in addition to one's work in primary school before that. I hope the Department is taking on board some of the points that have been made because they are really good.


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