Many smart students fail to excel in school due to a “rigid” education system


Many smart students fail to excel in school due to our education system’s rigid focus on “dogmatic rote learning”, said the head of the association of secondary school principals.

Paul Crone of the National Association of Principals and Vice-Principals was speaking at the organization’s annual symposium which focused on graduate school reform.

He said there was a broad consensus in the school community that reform is needed in the years leading up to Leaving Cert.

Mr Crone said the pandemic has highlighted the need for a more sustainable method of assessment that focuses on content and not just results.

“After more than a century of dogmatic rote learning, it is time to introduce 21st century education. Foundational skills such as resilience and communication are not catered for by the current architecture of post-primary learning, despite their high value and demand in our modern world,” he said.

“Many clearly intelligent students are unable to excel in our rigid education system. Introducing competency-based learning as an add-on rather than a complete alternative will allow for a more flexible system that can respond to student demands and abilities.

“It will focus on their skills, not their shortcomings, and will enhance their strengths while improving their weaknesses.”

Emotional intelligence

He said communication skills, resilience and emotional intelligence are in high demand in modern businesses.

Mr Crone said there was a “clean slate moment” to implement further reforms to strengthen the system.

“This requires a new vision of education in Ireland, one based on the individual, their abilities and what they can contribute to society. When we value each individual, we create an environment for them to discover their abilities and skills and thrive. This will encourage students to conduct their own education and encourage independent learning.

He said many countries are already doing this well, including the Netherlands, whose hybrid education system has begun to integrate competence-based learning into the curriculum.

“Let’s give value to the voice of students and value to their individual abilities,” he said.

“This requires more than a small reform of the leaving certificate or the assessment model – it means a complete reinvention of the value we place on education and skills within this education system. “

Professor Anne Looney of the DCU Institute of Education said the Leaving Cert and CAD system was ’embedded in the culture’ and the exams were artefacts of culture rather than assessment.

Dr. Selina McCoy, meanwhile, pointed to upcoming research that indicates that about half of students access the Leaving Cert grind. It is, she says, an “accepted and expected cultural aspect of education”.

Dr Niall Muldoon told the symposium that the reality is that most schools focus from the Leaving Cert perspective on “teaching until the exam”, with an emphasis on rote learning and milling.

Too often, he said, there is a sense that “anything less than 500 points is not considered good” and there can be a reluctance to offer less academic programs such as Leaving. Cert Applied.

He called for student-led reform rather than trying to “modernize” our students into a system built by adults a century ago.


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