A Saturday in June

We’re now well into June, so it goes without saying that the weather in Ireland (after a really hot and sunny interlude) has turned really nasty. Saturday was the coldest, wettest and windiest day since – well, since last summer I guess. It was seriously unpleasant. The first really major downpour came very suddenly, just as I was walking some 300 yards from my car to the studios of Newstalk radio. I was a guest on their early morning news show, in which I participated while totally drenched. One of the topics that excited most interest was the mistake made by an examinations superintendent in a school if Drogheda, who handed out the wrong Leaving Certificate paper to students and thereby pushed the entire national examination system into turmoil. I confess that I really feel for the man. We also got to talk to a British MP on the subject of the survival (or not) of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and with the new Lord Mayor of Belfast, who is actually a woman – which in Belfast is a significant development.

Drenched all over again on the way back to the car, and so I made my way back to my office to work on two papers I am delivering at two conferences next week, one in Bath in the UK and one in Galway. Although the topics are different, what I am trying to communicate in both of them is that we must entertain the idea that our inherited understanding of education and scholarship will need to change dramatically as society’s needs are also changing.

My other major commitment on Saturday was the handing out of awards at DCU’s Intergenerational Learning Project. This involves DCU staff and students working with older and retired people  in two learning modules, Introduction to Computers, and Introduction to Science. It is part of our commitment to the idea of DCU as an inclusive place that serves the needs of the whole community, and we have been fortunate to receive funding for this from the Government through the Department of  Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The older learners had all the enthusiasm and energy of young students and had clearly enjoyed and benefited from the programme. They will support the growing realisation (or what I hope is the growing realisation) that older and retired people are not passive recipients of care and welfare, but active contributors to national development and prosperity. It is hard not to feel optimistic in such company.

The rain continued all day, and is still pouring down as I write in the early hours. But it was a good day.

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8 Comments on “A Saturday in June”

  1. Vincent Says:

    That Leaving Cert’ paper was a whole lot of fuss over nothing. Talk about the kids teaching the teachers. They managed to tweet the bloody exam into each and every mobile-phone in the state. And for some reason the full force of An Post was needed to carry a few sheets of A3 paper, and more than that, the Army, ForGodSake, the army was being talked about as the emergency postal service for Exams Papers.
    Now, I may well have missed something, it is not unheard of that I miss the odd thing now and then. But why not Email. What was the point of putting fast net into the schools. And even I have a printer. So, why the fuss.

    As to the rain, what do we expect. What we are not ready for is the bitterness of the cold that went with it.

    • Good points, Vincent. In fact, we have a relationship with our final school exams that is unique in the world, as far as I can see. Where else would you find national newspapers devoting whole pages to it at this time of year? The Leaving Certificate is a kind of national happening. What is less clear is whether this relationship is positive or whether it inhibits us from addressing reform. A topic for another post.

  2. Vincent Says:

    The Australians have the clock spring a bit too tight on this issue as well. But nothing like here.

  3. Jilly Says:

    Yes, I was also rather horrified by the exam story. Not only because an unfortunate error was blown way out of proportion (I may have misheard, but I’m sure I saw a piece on the news about one school having brought in counsellors for the students. Words fail me), but also because of how starkly it revealed the underlying problems of the Leaving Cert as it’s currently taught and studied for.

    The students seemed very focussed on the fact that the repeat paper would be less likely to cover the poems/stories etc which they had studied for. So, a clear demonstration of the way in which the entire school system engages in a giant gamble of guessing the contents of the paper, learning material for those contents by heart, and regurgitating it in the exam.

    No wonder so many students with high Leaving Cert points struggle in the early years of the university system. They haven’t been trained to learn a subject thoroughly and be prepared to think on their feet in an exam, or adapt their knowledge to lateral thinking.

    It’s appauling. At this point I’m not sure that ‘reform’ would undo these problems. I wonder if perhaps the entire Leaving Cert should be formally scrapped, and we could start again with a new curriculum and exam structure, one which focusses on actual knowledge, and the idea of learning a subject, instead of the ‘will this be on the exam?’ culture we have now.

    • I agree with much of that, Jilly. One key aspect we need to address is that the Leaving Cert is treated as a kind of career development mechanism rather than an educational tool. As a society we are going at this all wrong; and it is compounded by the really unhelpful CAO points system.

  4. Aoife Citizen Says:

    I am pleased to hear about your intergenerational awards and I wonder if DCU, or any local university, has considered building nearby an old persons home or supported accommodation. One of the benefits of academic life is that academics seem to stay sharp and intellectually active well into old age and one positive thing about the Cambridge and Oxford Colleges is that old people, retired faculty continue to play an important role in College life.

    Providing offices and ultimately supported accommodation for retired faculty would facilitate continued participation by older people in the academic and social life of the university while supporting what is called the university of the third age.

  5. Sarah Says:

    That rain killed the baby blue tits who featured in Nestwatch on Mooney on RTe Radio 1. Sob.

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