So, the 2011 Leaving Cert results are out and congratulations to all the students who have come through it in one piece! We should also congratulate all the teachers and parents whose support was crucial throughout a stressful 12 months for our latest school-leavers.
It was disappointing yesterday to see the media commentators mainly focussing on negative aspects of the results, so we’d like to add a little balance to the issue.
Firstly, it is encouraging that the higher achieving students have done better than ever before, albeit there is a growing gap between the students at the top and those who are struggling. This is not helped by what is perceived as being a very wide gap between higher level and ordinary level subjects, particularly in maths, as borne out by the fact that only 8,237 pupils out of 57,500 pupils sat the higher maths paper. Perhaps next year will see an increase in that number as Minister Quinn re-introduces bonus points for taking higher maths.
It is also encouraging to see a slight increase in the numbers doing biology and a wider range of languages being taken than ever before. However, everyone agrees that we need greater numbers studying all the science subjects as well as maths if we want a workforce suitably equipped to take up jobs in the high tech sectors, such as R&D, ICT, Biotech and Pharmaceuticals. Maybe bonus points could also be considered for the sciences?
Results wise most commentators have highlighted the downward trend in maths and science, and indeed this is a worrying statistic. Also it remains to be seen whether the roll-out of Project Maths will improve our student’s mathematical education. Some of the pilot schools have expressed dissatisfaction with the curriculum and while making maths more relevant to daily life is good in principle, we also need to consider how Project Maths will play out in terms of recognition from international universities, and the general maths fluency required for a thriving economy/society.
However, Project Maths is still broadly supported by the education community, including the current Minister – despite it being an initiative of the previous government, so perhaps we should sit back and see where it takes us given that it may be an indication of the proposed broader reform of the Leaving Cert. With regard to the proposed overhaul surely most would agree that there is too much learning by rote in the current system and that our schools need to produce independent-thinking and rounded individuals, eager to pursue not just school and university learning, but life-long learning. Such an outcome is crucial to the recovery of Ireland’s economy and also to our damaged reputation and self-confidence.
Next we would like to reflect on ICT as there was little emphasis in the news yesterday on the quality of ICT skills produced by the secondary school system. Are we successfully training our students for the modern business environment? Arguably they will gain as much of the required knowledge from their personal world of social networking, gaming and independent computer learning. The schools themselves have made significant leaps forward in terms of online-teaching and ICT facilities, so let us hope the government and the broader education community continues to support ICT in schools and to further develop the role of ICT in the curriculum.
Finally, more than ever the country needs to invest in and reform secondary education. Apart from anomalies like the strangely high numbers of unqualified maths teachers, our problems are definitely not the fault of our teachers and principals, who do excellent work often in difficult circumstances. We have recognised the literacy/numeracy issues at primary level and are now perhaps set to look at the maths/science deficiencies at secondary level, as well as the aforementioned overhaul of the exam system (including the Junior Cert). This is positive, but we will be starting off on the wrong foot if the worst of the proposed cutbacks take place, so we would like to conclude by adding our voice to the calls to the Minister to tread carefully, particularly with regard to pupil-teacher ratios. Education is crucial to our recovery, so we should take heart in the hard work of our school leavers and continue to invest in our country’s future.
SAMI has been working with Irish schools for eight years now, and will continue to offer the best value ICT solutions in these days of reduced budgets.
Talk to us now on 01 8973101.