Leaving Cert reform train must not be delayed

Congratulations to the 61,000 Leaving Certificate students and their support networks – teachers, family and friends. It has been a difficult year and a half for all of them because of Covid-19.

Now is the time for students to take stock as they reflect on their future, and many are expecting the first round of OAC offerings next week. It should also be a time to start thinking about the Leaving Cert. and how best to measure what students have learned and achieved.

For the past two years, we have relied heavily on the evaluation of their students by teachers. We cannot abandon everything we have learned from this experience and go back to our unique and extensively written exam format.

If the new normal involves a hybrid form of work – remote and on-the-job – why can’t we have a hybrid form of learning and assessment involving continuous testing, practice, oral, project, etc. coursework, written exams and teachers’ own evaluations of their students?

There is an appetite for radical change among employers, students and some, but not all of those directly involved in education. Reform is needed to prepare our young people for a tech-driven world. The new generation could live to age 90, faced with radically different types of jobs than today, as well as periods of unemployment or underemployment. Learning to learn continuously will be a requirement for everyone.

We should reinvent the school leaving certificate, as the employers’ organization IBEC said yesterday. This is hard to argue with with employers’ call for a learning program that encourages students to develop strong interpersonal skills such as self-awareness and self-motivation and provides a teaching and learning experience that extends beyond a traditional academic exam.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment recently presented to Education Minister Norma Foley its final proposals for rethinking the Leaving Cert cycle for prospective students. There will be a lot more discussion on this topic when the report is released and the Minister will set out her initial thinking on her proposals. It is also likely to be discussed at the Citizens’ Assembly for Education, promised by the government and expected to be held late next year.

While there are lessons to be learned from the use of calculated / accredited scores over the past two years, there are also lessons to be learned from attempts in some years. there is to revamp the junior cycle. The original grand design was thwarted by recalcitrant teachers who refused to become directly involved in assessing their own students for state exams, even for a low-stakes test like Junior Cert.

They cannot be allowed to delay the reform train at the Leaving Cert level.

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