Yesterday I attended RTE's studio 4 for the filming of Claire Byrne Live. The show aimed to discuss Ibrahim Halawa's return, greyhound racing, alcohol advertising, cross-border healthcare - and the "classroom divide". Joe Duffy's documentary alluded to the class divide and alternated between poignant pictures of two different kinds of horse riding.
There were a number of girls from a school in Dublin 8 along with their teachers and school leadership. I got to know Dublin 8 quite well when I was a medical student in St. James' Hospital. I can honestly say that it was an eye opening experience. I went to a non-fee paying school myself, in Dublin 15. My afternoons weren't exactly filled with sailing and horse riding, but it literally took going to St. James' A&E to understand the overwhelming extent of social problems that exist in this country. I can only assume that the vast majority of people have no idea about them, just like I didn't - because, unlike me, they never have a reason to spend time James' Emergency Department.
The girls and their teachers eagerly stood their ground. One of the students accused the Minister for Education, who was in the room, of "throwing around the word disadvantage without knowing what it actually means". She went on to speak about various access programmes in third level institutions and called for their expansion. Another student said: "We're not gonna let the word 'disadvantage' define us... It's just a label. It's not us. So we are going to come over these barriers - and we're going to make it to college..."
The Classroom divide: students respond pic.twitter.com/cRWBC6B4go
— RTÉ ClaireByrneLive (@ClaireByrneLive) September 18, 2017
What fascinated me about both of those girls' comments is that college is being sold to them as some kind of panacea. With Trinity in the backdrop of Joe Duffy's documentary, the idea that everyone who goes to college is sorted for life is perpetuated.
In my experience, college is just another step until you face the abyss-like uncertainty of real life. Our friends across the Atlantic have long made fun of the questionable value of third level education when talking about the state of millennials. Being a very academically-minded person, I enjoyed college. I enjoyed the hardcore theoretical stuff that won't help anyone in their employment - and that is the bread and butter of college courses. However, I saw so many people who persevered through college even though it was killing them. Why? Because they were indoctrinated with this idea that college is a must. They would have been far better off doing a more practical course, in my opinion, in a more vocationally-minded third-level institution. Obviously, these are colleges too, but I don't think that is how the word was being used on the night of the show.
The key here is to know yourself and not give into the implicit advertising. I firmly believe that you are much better off being an excellent hair stylist or self-taught game developer than you are being a middling accountant who isn't sure they even want to be one at all. With a complex global economic situation, we all have to make very well thought out choices about our education. Still, college is not for everyone. And by the way, rich doctors are a dying breed.
I think what emerges from this debate is that how you fare in life has a lot to do with the people you are surrounded with. I feel that the outcomes of private schools are to a huge extent driven by self-selection, not by the value they add through teaching. It's more about who you get to know than how much money you have thrown at the problem. Even if one of the girls who attended Claire's show goes to Trinity and studies Law, her chances of building a successful career may not be the same as that of a girl whose old classmates' fathers have their own law firms.
I didn't always go to school in Ireland. The year I moved here from Moscow I kept the paper that featured the story of a Russian girl who went to an ordinary school, got 600 points, as it was at the time, and was off to study Architecture. Later, when my classmates were throwing wet paper and singing about the ring of fire over the teacher's hoarse voice, I felt like I was alone in my battle for a place in Medicine. What kept me going was my belief in personal responsibility and knowing that other people like me have done this and succeeded. I was committed to doing everything I can to reach my goals - and it paid off.
About the author:
Martina got 8 A1s in her Leaving Cert and wants to make the Leaving Cert easier for everyone. She is the founder of 625points.com. The website is created by students who got 625 points using their notes and tips, so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. It has served hundreds of thousands of students to date.