Food For Thought

The hugely positive response that Educate Together has received to its plans for second-level education is not surprising, given the increasing frequency with which business leaders, academics and others raise concerns about the relevance of the current second-level system. Below is a small sample of quotes on relevant issues which the Educate Together blueprint for second-level education aims to address and on the blueprint itself.

Irish Times, 13 June 2009

“University academics are increasingly concerned about the performance of some Leaving Cert students who are ‘spoon-fed’ in school and expect the same in college, the chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, Tom Boland said yesterday… Mr Boland said he was hearing ‘increasing unease’ among academics about the dominance of rote learning in the Leaving Cert exams and the lack of independent learning. Greater coherence was required, he said, between the second- and third-level systems. ‘Increasingly, I am hearing alarm at the extent to which our second-level system is producing students who learn to the test; who in ever greater numbers are not learning to think for themselves; who receive spoon-feeding at second level and expect the same at third.’”

RTÉ News, 26 Sept 2011

“OECD figures published last year saw a dramatic decline in the literacy and numeracy levels of Irish 15-year-olds. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment warns that unless steps are taken, this slide will continue. It says the exam focus of the current junior cycle is stifling student engagement and learning. [The NCCA’s proposals for reform of the Junior Cert imply that] the way students learn and are taught would be radically transformed.”

John Hegarty (former provost of TCD), May 2011

“Educate Together have done a lot of work on what it would mean to be an Educate Together secondary school. [The Blueprint for Educate Together Second-level Schools] explores this question and there is so much that is worth reflecting on for all second level schools in the light of possible changes in the junior cycle.”  (prior to proposed changes to the Junior Cert tabled by Ruairi Quinn’s advisory group, the NCCA).

Tony Donohoe, Head of Education Policy, IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation).

“Business and higher education have a shared objective of developing adaptable, well-rounded, creative and ethically minded citizens who have an appetite for learning. This requires addressing how subjects are taught and not solely focussing on the course curriculum.” “IBEC strongly supports the Minister of Education and Skills’ commitment to reform in this area. Change is urgently required… An overhaul of the current over-crowded, rigid and subject-based curriculum is long overdue. The current system does not encourage the types of creativity, flexibility, independent thinking and appetite for learning that are so critical in later stages of education and work.”

Professor Áine Hyland, Former Professor of Education, University College Cork.

“This comprehensive blueprint [for Educate Together Second-level Schools] is both visionary and realistic. It is an excellent document which will provide an invaluable guide and support for founders, parents and teachers in future Educate Together second-level schools.” “Many students weaned on rote learning in the Leaving Cert are entering higher education without adequate skills, including numeracy and literacy, to cope with the very different demands of college. Overall, there is a serious deficit when it comes to critical thinking, problem solving or self-directed learning.”

Derek West, Arts Administrator for Creative Engagement, National Association for Principals and Deputy Principals, and former Principal of Newpark Comprehensive School

“I find this visionary approach to second-level education most exciting.  We have to break the mould of cloze-thinking, the pre-eminence of the high stake test, and start a process of genuine learning.  As we see our society undergoing seismic changes – socially, ethically and economically we need to re-examine and re-focus our value system.  This blueprint [for Educate Together Second-level Schools] offers that prospect.”

Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD)

“The key to a successful education system is to deliver happy, fulfilled and challenged students who can think for themselves. When our children graduate from second-level, aged 17 or 18, are they imbued with a passion for, and a love of, learning? Can they think for themselves and be autonomous and self-directed learners? Increasingly the universities and employers are saying no.”

Dr Emer Smyth, Research Professor at the ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute)

“The research raises serious issues about the current Leaving Certificate model and points to ways of enhancing senior cycle education, by, for example, providing access to a broader range of teaching methods and using a broader range of assessment modes. Regardless of any such changes, the research points to ways in which schools can fully engage pupils by adopting a more positive school climate, using flexible forms of ability grouping, and providing early guidance regarding educational choices.” Dr Emer Smyth, Research Professor at the ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute).

Niall Crowley, former CEO of the Equality Authority

“This [the Blueprint for Educate Together Second-level Schools] is, in effect, a blueprint for a new standard in second level education – a standard that places equality at the heart of school practice and policy. In this school, diversity is a resource, stereotypes are eliminated and young people are empowered to participate constructively in our diverse society. Educate Together will serve us all well in bringing this blueprint into fruition.”

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