Imagine you are sitting in a restaurant. Your elbows are resting on the soft, thick cotton tablecloth; the neatly laid cutlery catches reflections of the flitting candle, flickering at the table's centre. A waiter approaches, and with a flourish removes a cloche from before laying the dish under your nose. You stare down at a flan. A sad, greying, listless and sickly-slick looking flan. "Your dessert sir," the waiter intimates, before, with a slight bow, turning to excuse himself.
"Umm, excuse me," you call back. The waiter stops, an eyebrow inquisitively raised, "Sir?"
"I don't mean to be rude, it's just, well, what is this?" You ask, gesturing to the flaccid puddle of sadness on the plate in front of you. "It's a flan sir," comes the waiter's reply.
"Right, and again bearing in mind what I've said about not wanting to come across as rude, but it looks absolutely awful." A look of pride flashes across his face, "Yes sir, 96% of people who try it say that they hate it."
"Oh," you stutter, "Well, could I not just have something else?" The waiter smirks, "I'm afraid that's not possible sir. You see, the government has mandated that you, and everyone else, have to eat this flan, awful though it may be. They have also decreed that, the levels of proficiency and competence you exhibit while eating this awful, awful flan will directly impact the opportunities that will be afforded to you in later life. I hope you enjoy."
"Right... could I just not have the flan?" You barter. The waiter lunges at you and drives your face into the flan, forcing fistfuls of the deplorable goop into your churning maw until you are reduced to tears.
The flan is the Leaving Cert. This is, at present, the best analogy that I could come up with for the Leaving Cert - though it must also be noted that I had very little sleep last night.
There are precious few people on this island whose relationship with the memory of their own Leaving Cert is anything other than complicated at best. The resultant stress it engendered in each successive generation is no doubt responsible for the national average life expectancy being at least a few years lower than it should be - I imagine.
While discontent about the Leaving Cert is thus nothing new, over the past few years calls for reform have been gathering momentum. With the grading scheme being drastically altered several years ago and with changes to mandatory modules being recently implemented in the Junior Cycle, it is evident that the Department of Education is not shying away from making emendations which it feels are necessary.
Well, a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), entitled Senior Cycle Reform - What Do You Want? has revealed the extent of the desire for reform. The study was conducted with teachers, parents and students who'd completed the Leaving Cert within the last five years.
Perhaps the most striking result was that just 4% of students thought that the Leaving Cert was a fair and accurate assessment of of their knowledge and skills. While this figure climbs somewhat with the parents surveyed, to 15%, and with teachers, to 28%, these satisfaction rates are still damningly low. The simple fact that 96% of students surveyed who'd completed their Leaving Certs within the last 5 years, felt that the Leaving Cert wasn't a fit means of assessing their academic proficiency shows that the Leaving Cert, in its current form, is not adequate.
One of the most prominent suggestions for reform is to implement aspects of continuous assessment into subjects. The survey indicated that 76% of students would be in favour of moves towards continuous assessment. Given the confluence of two years of intensive education across seven to eight subjects coming within a month long window, creating a singularity of stress and anxiety so profound, it is a wonder more Leaving Cert students don't spontaneously implode, it seems self-evident that grade assessment should be dispersed more evenly throughout the academic year.
The survey also revealed an equally damning assessment among students' perceptions of the Leaving Cert's suitability at preparing them for third-level education and the world of work. 78% of students surveyed said the Leaving Cert failed to prepare them for third-level education while 93% said their Leaving Cert education failed to be applicable within the working world.
The NAPD director, Clive Byrne, described it as being worrying to see little faith in the current Leaving Cert there was among student and teachers, stating more optimistically that at least indicates a 'huge appetite for change'.
In response to the survey's findings, the NAPD, have released several recommendations for change in the curriculum. They suggest the creation of an assembly involving students, parents and teachers in order to clarify and help fast-track reforms. They also recommend the inclusion of greater practical elements in Leaving Cert subjects.
H/T: The Irish Times