Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Leaving Certificate Reform: Discussion with School Management Bodies

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh ár n-aíonna. I thank them very much for being here and for their presentations. I will just ask a few general questions. I am glad to let people answer as they see fit. I will also play devil's advocate to some degree because, while a great deal of good work is being done, people do have questions about the quality of our education system. I will jump right in and address the phrase "grade inflation". For years now, we have been told we have a wonderful education system and that it has given us our competitive edge economically. Can we, with hand on heart, still say that is true? I am not sayng it is not, but is it? Do we still have a competitive edge over other countries in the EU, over Britain or over other countries? Have we lost the competitive edge in any area? What do employers say when we ask them? When the witnesses, as educational experts, speak to us, do they feel they have to tiptoe around the teachers' unions? Can we get honest answers to these questions? Can we talk about leaving certificate reform in a manner that takes these questions into account? People are asking them. I am not making statements. I have the easy job of asking questions and throwing them out there, as I said I would. That is the chéad cheist I wanted to put to the witnesses.

The second question I want to ask is, how valid is the student perspective when we come to talk about the way things should or should not be done? Clearly, there was a time when students were to be seen and not heard and nobody agrees with that any more. However, everywhere I look now I hear education experts like the witnesses telling us what students say. When the ACCS states that students say the oral examination process was much less stressful when the oral examination was facilitated by their own teachers and that they believe "language competency is best assessed by the class teacher across the two years of senior cycle rather than in stand-alone oral examinations", is it not a case of, as the woman famously said, "they would say that, would they not?" Nobody wants students to be overstressed but are we getting overly therapeutic to the point where we only talk about what the students are telling us? Does there come a point at which we have to say, sorry, the oral examination is more stressful but it is part of what the students will have to deal with because it is not going to be their friendly teacher facing them in a job interview? I want to put that question to the witnesses, with great respect to the students and to everybody involved.

I know I am getting into the minutiae of one particular issue but we, quite rightly, spend most of our time here talking about the Irish experience. However, I read earlier this year that the Chinese Government appears to have interfered with the Department of Education with regard to how Chinese is assessed at leaving certificate level. I am talking about the use of the simplified script, which is mainstream in China. Students who use the more traditional heritage script used in places such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, in which China has a certain interest, would be marked down for doing so. The worrying thing was that this appears to have come from external interference in our assessment system. Does that concern the witnesses? Do they ask themselves what other interests may be seeking to influence our assessment system in a way we do not hear about? Is iad sin mo cheisteanna.


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