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 Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank all the delegates for their presentations. There was a lot in them. I heard many speakers today. This is one of the debates in which I wished I was on the delegates' side making a submission because it is an area about which I am very passionate. Many years ago, I heard the statement that the leaving certificate examination treats all pupils equally. I believe that was the most ridiculous statement I heard in my life. There is nothing just, equal or fair about the leaving certificate. One has only to consider the resources available to the pupils who have to sit the examination to note that the moment they go through the school gate, inequality already exists. It has a bearing on how well they will do in the examinations, on access to grinds, on access to adequate teaching, on access to classrooms in which teachers are not teaching foundation students and higher-level students at the same time. I refer also to teachers who teach honours-level subjects to students and who are gearing subjects in this direction because they do not know how to teach at the required ordinary standard. These are just a few examples. It is not a fair system. If I had my way, I would scrap the leaving certificate examination completely and have full, continuous assessment throughout the year.

I am reminded of doing my degree in Trinity College Dublin. One of the delegates reminded me of a philosophy of time module I once took. There was 60% continuous assessment. When students enter third level, there is much more room for continuous assessment but they are not examined in that way anywhere else.

There is much more room for continuous assessment and we are not examined in that way anywhere else.

There was a lot of information here today but I was not persuaded to thinking there were any solid suggestions on what we need to do and what reforms are required. There have been general statements but what are the key points on what we need to do? Dr. O'Sullivan spoke about the impact of the leaving certificate applied, LCA, on students. It is wrong to say that has been a success simply because students have enjoyed the course given that they are jobless. They are not considered for access to higher education. The witnesses can please correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is that they cannot even get into access programmes. Does that not reinforce inequality when one cannot even get into the programme designed to address inequality? That is a real failure in terms of many groups of children in this country. Perhaps Dr. O'Sullivan would speak a little more about the impact of the LCA on poorer children.

I have a question for all the witnesses. If one forgets the bureaucracy and the people who will block change in this area, and apart from the resources and support we know is needed, if there was a magic wand what would be the one thing they would change and how can we push forward to address that and change it? It is not good enough for people to have to wait a quarter of a century for change. We expect students to squeeze in two years of learning in two weeks and it takes us a quarter of a century to implement any reform. That does not match up. I would like the witnesses to indicate what is the one thing we can act on and change. The leaving certificate was changed years ago in terms of the history project, which was very welcome. I know children have benefitted greatly by being able to do the history project as part of their leaving certificate so if that is already in place for history what are the obstacles to rolling that out in the other exams, such as English and maths? Why has that element only been introduced for history?

I have one more question for all the witnesses. Given the proliferation of fake news, highly partisan media commentary and the increased fragmentation of politics around the world, how can we best incorporate the training of a highly informed and critical thinking Irish citizens within the reformed leaving certificate? The introduction of philosophy would help in the creation of critical thinkers and citizens who can actively engage with the level of information out there and to be able to work through fake news and to be able to find their way in the world. Do the witnesses agree that philosophy would provide that for students? Some school subjects do not really provide anything in terms of long-term achievements and progressing goals.


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