A couple of years back I looked up one of those tables that appear the day after the Leaving Cert results are announced and checked how many leaving cert points I would get for my efforts back in 1982. It was somewhere around 200.
Today, 200 points means you have the intellectual capacity of a single cell amoeba. In my day an A+ was something you found on the side of a battery. Now you can’t leave school without a row of them on your school report.
The thing is, I was sort of average in my class. Am I getting thicker as the years go by or are the young ones getting smarter?
The answer it seems is that the young ones are getting smarter – at doing exams.
Recently it was revealed that many of Dublin’s most famous schools couldn’t get enough students to fill their places. Meanwhile, a private school in Foxrock had parents queuing outside all night in order to book in their children for the 2006-7 year.
Grinds schools are jammed and many teachers are earning a nice few bob working weekends. Students have never been so well prepared for their Leaving Certs and it shows in the results.
Which is fine if that’s what you’re into. But somehow I don’t believe that Irish people are any more zealous about learning than our parents were. It’s just that the competition for college places has reached insane levels.
You don’t have to be a trendy tree-hugging leftie to see that this state of affairs is not what education is supposed to be about. It has turned into a production line for the universities. In turn, the colleges churn out young people with a specialised award.
And then, a few years later, many of them change tack and go off in a completely different career path. That’s great, but makes a nonsense of trying to pigeon-hole kids in the first place.
Still parents want the best for their children. They can’t, I suppose, be expected to look after other kids as well. Therefore the pressure is on to produce league tables and performance measures for schools. These in turn increase the pressure for good exam results.
Schools not in that business, schools catering for the average Seamus and Mary, are left behind.
What we must ensure is that Seamus and Mary are not left behind too. It is an opportunity to enhance state schools, to take advantage of lower class sizes, for example.
But we also have to try and tame the monster that the points race has become. It is making a mockery out of the idea of education.
Publish the tables
I don’t like school league tables. They measure school output without measuring school input. They don’t take into account the problems some schools face over others.
Nevertheless, censorship is intolerable. If the information is there then it should be published. Let those who don’t like the tables attack them after they have been published and push for the all the factors in education (like money) be taken into consideration.
The truth will out.