Secondary concerns

Yesterday I had the opportunity to join a group of second level students from around Ireland who were at an event in TCD’s Science Gallery to discuss the future of secondary education. What struck me in talking to them was that they were articulate, enthusiastic, intelligent, perceptive. and actually also extraordinarily courteous. But what they were saying was that their educational experience was too often undermined by a system that did not encourage initiative, participation, analysis and evaluation; and that teachers too often were worn down by this system and had become slaves to predictable routine and cynicism. It was, in short, a description of an education system that was in no position to deliver the recruits for a knowledge economy.

We have of course heard a number of recent warnings about the quality of our education, some from industry and some from educationalists. But so far these warnings have not produced a real debate about how we could do it better. We need to accept that we are going the wrong way, and that if Ireland is to be the success story of the new decade as we were in the 1990s, this will need to be fixed. Fixing it is not a matter of tweaking the Leaving Certificate, it is about understanding that right now we have system that was designed for a long gone era and for a different society, and that it has not adapted. We don’t have much time for this, and yet there isn’t a real sense of urgency in the national debate. It’s time to take this problem seriously.

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2 Comments on “Secondary concerns”

  1. John Says:

    I think that we first need to be clear on how society has changed. The ‘knowledge economy’ existed three years ago and we were still in the boom. Teachers being ‘worn down’ is probably not unrelated to their worsening workload, pay and conditions brought about by factors outside their control – the boom and bust of the market economy.

  2. Neal Says:

    Too many arguments both positive and negative here! As a new ICT secondary teacher (after several years in ICT), I’m interested to see impressions regarding this from pupils/adults.

    The whole knowledge economy (i.e. Internet, easy access to information) has turned a lot of perceived notions of how to gather information on it’s head – I went through the secondary system in Ireland in the late 90’s even since then, I ask pupils a question in class and there’ll be a response with information within 30 seconds – after they’ve pulled it from some online resource. Wish I could have done that!

    Interestingly, in comparison to my own school days, ICT classes in UK schools are all revolved around a full project (system design, policy development, etc.) – the pupils are leaving with an understanding of producing work. Much of my own secondary output was memory work.

    Just like many ICT policies are struggling to stay up to date in industry, it sounds like the curriculums are struggling with the exact same issues.


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