Yesterday brought news of a drop in the standards of Irish education. There is concern in industry – as expressed by John Herlihy of Google that Irish graduates are showing up with impressive qualifications – and spelling and grammatical errors in their CVs.
There has been a huge rise in the number of firsts being awarded at third level and also an upsurge in the amount of people achieving ‘perfect’ leaving certificate results.
While it is not amusing that the Irish educational qualifications are slipping in terms of their perceived worth, I could not help but be amused at the horror expressed by Batt O’Keeffe, the Irish Minister for Education.
I grew up hearing that the Irish education system was the best in the world and I was privileged to be able to benefit from it. Then, I just believed what I was told by my parents and my teachers and the nuns. Later, I questioned this assertion. I was fortunate enough to live and work abroad and had the opportunity to examine other educational systems. It didn’t take me long to realise that ours is sorely lacking.
For example, Irish people leave school having studied the Irish language for a minimum of 14 years – yet most would be hard pressed to hold a conversation in that tongue. Irish people also leave school having studied other European languages – French, German, Spanish and Italian – without being in any way fluent in those languages either. At best, they can tell you about their family backgrounds, their favourite foods and hobbies and where they went on holiday last summer. They could probably also book a hotel, ask directions and tell the time in those languages. After that – they would be more than a bit stuck. Certainly, Irish school-leavers do not have the competence in languages their European counter-parts have. This is nothing short of disgraceful.
With regard to science and technology, Irish school leavers lag far behind school leavers in Asian countries. Part of the reason for this is the ridiculous notion, much held in Ireland, that people can’t be good at both languages and sciences. This nonsense is trotted out by parents and teachers alike and subject choices are split along lines which reinforce this myth in many schools. This crazy myth is not promulgated in any Asian school I have visited.
If you empty your wallet into your head, no man can rob you, yet our government chose to shave millions off the budget of the Department of Education and Science this year and class sizes increased. Bigger class sizes mean that each child in those classes does not get the help and attention they need. I know – I’ve taught classes of every size from 15 children (in a private school in Bangkok) up to 44 children (in a government school in Singapore) – and believe me, when the numbers go over 22, all you’re doing is crowd control.
Instead of the Irish Leaving Certificate, I would dearly love my children to complete the International Baccalaureate (IB). It’s a far more rounded approach to education and I love the continuous assessment element. In order to have my children sit the IB, however, I’m going to have to move. Either to an area on the other side of the city I couldn’t afford to live in, or to another country. We’ll probably take the latter option – but will avoid Lybia because that’s the only other country on the planet that also uses the Irish Leaving Certificate as the final school examination.
A poor educational system does not mean that Irish people are thick, however. Quite the opposite. They are very clever. Clever enough to figure out the system and how to, if not quite beat it, then to work it. This means learning how to write exams and learning how to write them well enough to score highly on their leaving certificate examinations. No critical thinking or problem solving skills required.
That, in itself, is a critical problem that needs solving.