Friday, April 28, 2006

Leaving Cert messing up our schools

the failing standard of Honours MathsEducation in Ireland is becoming Machiavellian activity. In a piece in today’s Irish Independent about the falling standards in Honours Maths this line jumped out at me.

There is also a decline in the capacity of candidates to engage with problems that are not of a well-rehearsed type.

Now I will admit I am a bit of a Maths nerd and to me this

the time independent Schrödinger equation is quiet beautiful. However this rant is not merely about how maths is so vitally important. But about how the education system and in particular grind schools are messing up the system.

The leaving cert is not a test of skill it is a test of memory. Also the points system is not a measure of intelligence but popularity. This is a concept that not many people get. Indeed Physics is one of the lowest points courses in the CAO system. But the reason is not that it is easy but because it is perceived to be very hard.

Due to the fact that the Leaving Cert is a system of recurring questions and patterns people predict the papers, people prepare for the system. This has been championed by the Grind Schools preparing model answers that the students regurgitate on the day. And who is to blame the kids doing this, they are trying to get the best possible outcome and by learning and not understanding they will achieve the best results. But this should not be the job of the schools the aim of the schools is to educate children not teach them. You can teach the method of how do a sum but you have to educate them why the method is. Due to the high pressure on students to produce high points they don't care to understand. The schools are relenting to the pressure and teaching the kids not educating them.

This is leading to the above quote. The Exam papers nowadays ask questions that do not challenge anyone. They learn off the question and plant it down on the paper without thinking. While this might seem harmless to some it is disastrous to the country. If people coming out of the schools do not understand what they have learnt them this countries prospects are pretty dim.

My solution change the format of the papers that removes the predictability to the paper. The papers are far too formulaic and leaves its self open to predication and prepared answers. Changed the format so kids have to understand the material not learn it off. It will be better off for them in the long run.


Kevin Breathnach said...

Changing the format, away from that of the forumliac style in existance, would be brilliant; not only because that students would understand rather than regurgitate, but because it would, I think, relieve students unnecessary pressure and many hours of, often pointless, study. Which is exactly what I'd like most.

However, I suppose that by forcing students to learn a lot of things off, CAO and the respective college get a fair idea as to how serious a prospective student will take their studies come September.

Kevin Breathnach said...

However, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong about Grinds schools. At least, not much in this sense. I attended a few week long grinds over the Easter periods, and while I received a few Past Paper solutions, the best thing I took from it was a understanding of Photosynthesis and Biochemistry - which, with my normal teacher, I couldn't get my head around.

Of course, that is not to say that others gained an understanding, rather than a few solutions!

Anonymous said...

And yet, despite that, standards in higher level maths are falling? Even with the syllabus having been "streamlined" or "simplified" on at least one occasion in the past 10 or 15 years?

The overwhelming impression I have been getting regards education in this country is not that it is not challenging (that's an excuse) or that it leads to rote mentality (that's an excuse as well) but that it's being perceived as a consumer item. That's why you have sixteen year olds believing that they should drive what is being taught to them, and not them learning what is given to them.

It's also seen as a currency - with which you buy your way into university. It's not the education system itself which is doing this though - it is those going through the system.

Personally - I'm going to come across all old here - I think the Leaving Cert has dumbed down a little bit. I'm not in tune with the idea of projects, because there are serious issues in the UK regarding who is actually doing the project and how much input responsible adults are having into continuous assessment projects there.

Possibly one way to get people to refocus on what an education system is all about is to limit the number of third level places - there seems to be a thousand different colleges in the country now. The issues with education in this country are not, to my mind, limited to the Leaving Certificate - but to the mentality that you don't do what interests you, you do what will earn you loads of money. This is where the problem lies with physics, medicine and law.

This attitude is killing young minds, I think. But then, possibly, so too are games consoles. I think I'll go back to pre-aging and wittering on about the youth of today.

Kevin Breathnach said...


From what I can gather, it certainly has been dumbed down. The one case I know of is English. Ten or twenty years ago, apparently, poetry or drama questions would zone in very specifically on one aspect of a poet. Today, most questions on studied material will be vague - like, "Give a speech to 5th year students on the poetry of Thomas Hardy" or some such. Clearly, it encourages students to learn off one generic essay, which - with little effort - they can twist to suit the question. My English teacher spins this adaptation, saying that it rewards not only the bright students, but the hard working students. Take what you will from that.

Concerning languages, I'm not sure what level of fluency was needed in times gone by. Nowadays though, I could learn off three different letters and five 90 word essays and still be fairly certain of a high B in the written examine. Equally, most people treat the oral exam as little more than a recital.

I'll sign-off here, for I must ponder the merits of limiting third-level places - which currently stands at 40,000 per year.

Simon said...

Limiting the places will do little for the education system neither will it do anything for the country. I know people who came into collage with high points and barely passed the course. I also know people who came in with little points and came out with top marks. Limiting places is going to leave the high points low degree person in and low points high degree person out. That is simply not going to work.

I think the points system should be weighted. i.e. if you get an A in physics and an A in English and apply for physics you should get 200 points for Physics and 50 for English.

The people with high points often get high points by picking the easier subjects like ag science and geography. That needs to be changed.

By the way hope the study is going well Kevin

Anonymous said...

Okay, if there are just 60000 people taking the Leaving Certificate and there are 40,000 third level places...I'd like to know what the 40,000 consists of. Does it include apprenticeships, for example? If it doesn't, I have got to say that that seems to be excessive.

I agree about the weighting - I don't think it's a bad idea per se. I'd also like to see interviews required for medicine, nursing and law. I think it's already required for teaching (certainly at postgrad level I think anyway).

But that's just me.

Simon said...

I would not agree with interviews. The greatest thing of our points system is its annoyminity. Interviews open the situation up to much "pull". Ireland is a small place it would never be fair.

I have no problem with the number going in. As long as the exam standard is kept the same year on year it makes no difference. If there is 60,000 people on one year that are deserving of a year they should get there degrees

Anonymous said...

The weighting is a great idea alright. Splitting the LC into 2 parts seems sensible as well and that's going to happen very soon. Also, I think there are actually going to be interviews for medicine (and lower points requirements) brought in soon.

Anonymous said...


I'm just not sure at the moment that the country's interests are served by people with high points doing medicine who are not really interested in it, likewise law. At least if you interview, you stand some chance of identifying the ones who are actually interested in the subject, rather than just the potential financial returns.

The problem with the points system is that it's not so much that it's anonymous any more. It is, however, weighted in such a way as the amount of money you fling at your secondary education - for example via grinds schools - may place certain elements of society at an advantage. That isn't, strictly speaking, fair either.

Simon said...

In fairness winds there is little you can do about that. Would you suggest giving extra points for being poor.?

Changing the papers away from a formulaic pattern to a truly chalanging paper might help

Anonymous said...


How you feel about mathematical equations is similar to how I feel about nicely drafted statutes - beautiful constructions.