Students: The Leaving Cert is an awful, excruciating unfit-for-purpose exam. For many of you, the three digit number you get from it will have little to no bearing on your life or prospects. The knowledge you need to get those numbers, even less so. For those who seek college places, the vast majority of the knowledge you have acquired in school will be similarly useless, both in 3rd level and real life. I have nothing but sympathy for you, being put into the position you are in, tricked into thinking the next FEW weeks will define you. They won’t. Your life and job experiences in the first year after the Leaving Cert will provide a sterner test of your future prospects than that exam.
As for the Junior Cert, it’s a pointless relic that will both mean and get you next to nothing in the real world. The JC is 0.1 ahead of your exams at the end of 2nd year in terms of importance, and was treated with laughable disdain by the faculty at my school, but of course, only after we had completed it.
I write all that after reading a lot of “Don’t stress” and the like. I disagree with that sentiment. Do stress. Until it’s over, and you have gotten the requisite three digit number to continue studying if that is your desire, at an institution where independent thinking is encouraged, not stifled. Then you can start to forget the useless nonsense so much of the curriculum contains.
Allow me to go through each of the seven subjects I took in the Leaving Cert seven years ago and expand upon what I learned, and what I retained. In no particular order:
English – I can say that the English class I was mandated to take encouraged a love of good literature and of Shakespeare, so I’m grateful for that. It did not, through its emphasis on rote learning and beating the system, encourage a love of poetry. For creative writing, the instruction I received was minimal, and the emphasis was on simply learning off various themes and ideas to regurgitate onto the page when discussing King Lear or The True History of the Kelly Gang.
Most of the best books you will ever read are the kind that school authorities wouldn’t allow within a hundred miles of an actual curriculum, so English class suffers from a certain amount of conformity – teachers and then students are encouraged to focus on only a very select amount of textbooks. When mine tried to get out of this pattern with the aforementioned Kelly Gang, a very entertaining and unique book, the class suffered due to a lack of analysis being readily available. When I took grinds in English, the tutors had nothing to offer on that book.
Irish – I was always terrible at Irish, and have a relationship with the language that skirts the bounds of adversarial. Roughly five minutes after I had completed the exam, for which I received the lowest passing mark and was happy with it, I had ceased any attempt to retain information on it. Unless you are one of the staggeringly low number of people who will speak Irish on a daily basis, so will you, no matter what you might think.
Maths – Most of the maths I actually use day to day, I have known since finishing primary school. Obviously, some will go on to use Maths to a greater extent than others depending on college choices and employment prospects. The vast majority of us will make do with the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, ignoring various other theorems and more complex algebraic equations as something that has no relevance in the real world, when calculators and other options exist to do the work for us.
History – This was always my great skill, and I can say without any degree of hyperbole that I would have aced the LC in my second year if given the opportunity to take it. This subject simply came far easier to me than any other. Since I went on to study history in 3rd level, this was by far the most useful subject I took in school, but I was struck, after a completing only a few weeks in my alma mater, the rank difference in the approach between secondary and third level. In secondary level, history is something to be learned off. In third, it’s something you are required to think about, or struggle. I imagine that’s the same for most subjects.
Geography – I wasn’t too bad at this either, but lack of use for what I learned has resulted in most of it slipping out of my head. Population statistics and the formation of oxbow lakes is the kind of stuff that will be useful for some, but for most will be relegated for use as a table quiz outlet.
Business Studies – I have never owned a business and don’t know if I ever will, but I can at least acknowledge the usefulness of this subject and some of the things it contains, especially in regards consumer rights, basic accountancy and looking into how money works. This is the kind of subject that gives practical knowledge and is useful in many ways in the real world.
French – I was never good at it, but I recognise the obvious practicality of having to learn a major European language in school, even to a basic extent.
That’s it. Out of those seven, there are none, bar some elements of French and Business Studies, which I could describe as critical for moving past education and into the actual world, not for everyone. Individuals will take more from some subjects, but the vast majority of the curriculum is poorly designed.
What would I change? I would put in more electives. In fact, I’d make everything an elective. Split English into a study of the language ala French and English Literature. Remove the special emphasis on Irish, especially the ridiculous necessity of passing it in order to study at most 3rd level institutions, regardless of what you’re hoping to study there. More emphasis on Spanish, as the language of much of the world. The scrapping of transition year, in favour of a more constant program that focuses on fundamental skills and tasks for life – cooking, budgeting, maintenance, job seeking, house hunting, sexual health, that must be taken but requires no exam. A PE assessment process. A revamp and greater importance for CSPE as a class to become involved in the political process of the nation. Trashing religion class, an outdated use of the curriculums space. Have at least 25% of every subjects mark come down to independent project work. A requirement to take part in some form of extra-curricular activity, be it sports or academically based. Scrapping the Junior Cert completely, and implementing at least two series of “mocks” for the LC instead.
Unfortunately, our schools and education department are stuck in a hopelessly inefficient system, making only the bare minimum of changes and bad ones when they do, like the extra 25 points for Math, the kind of band-aid that does nothing to fix underlying problems in the system.
So, students, do your best to regurgitate the required knowledge onto your answer booklets to an extent that society deems acceptable, and pray you do it well enough to make it to a promised land of greater opportunity for intellectual advancement, or to wherever you feel best suits you and your desires. Unless you’re doing the Junior Cert, in which case nothing you do matters that much.