Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Frustrations With The Irish Secondary School Education System

This topic is one of my most rage worthy topics. The moment I entered the Irish education system I wanted a quick exit. Going to secondary school in Ireland after having been to Steiner School in England was such a let down, I can't express how much I hated it, but I'll give you some of the reasons why.

Teachers

I always try to be kind and courteous to teachers. I understand that they have to deal with a bunch of hormonal teenagers all day and I let a lot of crap slide. Most teachers get on well with me, I remember one teacher telling me that I was one of the students whom teachers sung their praises of in the staffroom. However, some teachers could not teach my butt to poop.

The Condescending Teacher: 

I hate when people condescend to me. Especially if they're shorter than me. In the words of George Carlin; 'I don't have pet peeves-I have major psychotic fucking hatreds' and that is most definitely one of them. I hate it because I'm quite smart and when I have to ask a question I usually start it with an apology. Throughout my secondary school education I was surrounded by condescending teachers, most of which had no right to be condescending at all after demonstrating how ill educated they were.
A condescending attitude distances the student-teacher relationship and leads to a lack of respect in retaliation. By being condescending you are putting your head on the chopping block because students now have no reason to respect you.

The Dead Fish Teacher:

This type of teacher is cold, quiet and really stopped being a teacher a long time ago. The only reason they are here is because they have become part of the furniture of the school, the same way the crew in Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest become part of the ship. They just sit there with work written on the board and expect silent reading. They'll even let you correct eachother's tests.

The Lazy-And-They-Know-It Teacher:

This type of teacher is another teacher who doesn't want to do any work, but unlike the dead fish teacher they aren't even going to pretend. They'll sit there with a coffee and look up porn on their laptop while chaos ensues in the classroom. Everything is fair until somebody dies or something breaks. I had a severe case of this in transition year, I saved up and paid an extra 140EUR for what I thought would be all the driver theory classes I would ever need. The reality was that we watched one DVD (a freebie from the Irish times to add insult to injury) at the start of the year and for the rest of the year... NOTHING. The teacher was a car collector and let everyone do what they liked, most people did their homework in this class while the boys looked up cars on the school computer. I complained numerous times, but I think my notes were fed to the schools invisible billy goat.

The Teach Yourself Teacher

This teacher again doesn't want to do anything, but they're damn self righteous about it! Some key phrases you'll here frequently from this teacher are:
  • It's not my fault you're a slow learner!
  • You don't work hard enough in class.
  • You need to try harder!
  • If you don't understand it means you weren't listening.
  • Just read the chapter again and you'll get it.
And so much more. This type of teacher usually means you have to buy grinds to learn what they were too busy making excuses for not teaching you. The worst part are these are the ones who get really indignified if you pull them up.

The Not-Quite-There Teacher

This is the one who clearly does not understand the ways of the world. Whether it be their unrealistic expectations or their extreme naivety or sometimes just plain stupidity, these guys are some of the worst of the worst. These are the most frequently seen types of a bad teacher. For two years running I had a biology teacher who gave us extreme amounts of homework, in fact the homework we got from her was twice the amount of the total homework we would get in a day! She then would give us a test every week and if anyone failed hold them in for lunch. I tried to subtly hint to her (before I downright told her) by doing a science project on the 'negative effects of excessive homework' a well written (of course) piece with hours of research... Which she refused to even read. She said I was biased because I was a student and would not let me enter it in the science contest. She simply wasn't intelligent enough to realise that 5 sets of exam paper questions on a chapter we hadn't done was too much. The naivety thing is also a big problem with teachers. I was hatefully bullied for being English in school, my bags would be slashed, my books thrown in the toilet or sink, chewing gum projectiles fired at me during class and heinous things. Ignorant and naive teachers did not make it easy! Casual racist comments added to the curse for me and everyone would take it on board. Sometimes it was just downright stupidity. I remember my health teacher once asked the class if they had ever seen anything they thought to be inappropriate on the internet.

The Content Of The Course

On the rare occasions that the teachers were fully functional we then had to deal with the severe lacking of the course itself.

The Rote-Learning System: For Good Little Parrots

The junior cert and the leaving cert have so little to do with learning it is scary. As an A-B student I am very confident when I say as long as you can memorize everything word for word you needn't learn a thing beyond how to write and add up. In fact, actual learning is pretty much discouraged in class because...

If It's Not On The Exam It's Not Important

That includes knowing what basic vocabulary like 'pyroclastic cloud' when referring to volcanoes or why shrews have to eat continuously. So many times I have asked questions in class but rather than receiving an answer all I have gotten is 'It won't be on the exam so don't worry about it'. I'm sorry but what does that have to do with anything? If a student asks something out of genuine interest then please answer the child THEY WANT TO LEARN.

Let's Not Forget Those Book Rentals You Paid 300 Euro To Use A Few Pages Of

The huge prices associated with the tattered, handed down and out of date books that don't have all the right content in anyway is awful. Money spent on exam papers that can easily be photocopied or looked up online at home is extortionate. Also, if they change one chapter in these books the old ones are thrown out and replaced with the same book with a few words different. If you don't believe me look at the different editions of 'New Geo' I think you'll find they are mostly the same. The same 30Eur book you are forced to buy again and again. 

Marking Schemes

Now the actual exam has so many faults that I can't even get into but here is the big three.

It's All About Points; Doesn't Matter Where

The main goal of the leaving certificate is, like a game of tetris, to get as many points as possible. There are various subjects, but they'll be marked the same unless you are doing Higher Level Maths. Now the reason I hate this is I did physics among other things. I didn't really realize when picking my subjects that they were irrelevant and if I had picked easy subjects like Art, Home economics and Woodwork I could have walked in and out of the exam laughing! Students should be told honestly that they might as well pick the easiest subjects possible because it doesn't really matter unless you need one for a particular course. Then you have subjects like LCVP which require no thought for free points!

Casual Tampering With Results

If too few people get A's in a subject than everyone is marked up so they appear to have done better. Need I say more about how wrong this practice is? My biology teacher confided in the class when she told us that, when correcting last year's exams she had to give an A to a student who thought the correct way to collect animal cells was to use a scalpel on the inside of his mouth. This practice waters down the significance of the Leaving Certificate and should be discontinued. It is this practice that allows for a build up of useless teachers like plaque  on unbrushed teeth!

One Test To Rule Them All

Think about it. The leaving cert is one big exam you've trained for your entire secondary school life... The anxiety that keeps you up the night before hurts your performance. The stress, the expectations freezing up with fear. The best students don't always get the grade they deserve. We need continuous assessment in schools, we need written assignments that get sent off and corrected and added to you're overall percentage.

Compulsory Irish

The biggest mistake Ireland ever made was making Irish a requirement for jobs in teaching. This, above all else has crippled this countries education system... possibly beyond repair. Why? Irish is a dead language. I am very sorry that us English folk killed it, but it. is. dead. DEAD. D. E. A. D! By making this dead language, which is only spoken on one small island and isn't as useful as Latin or Greek, compulsory you have discouraged so many from becoming teachers. Imagine, without this ridiculous requirement we could have real French Teachers, or real German or Japanese or Spanish teachers. We could have people from places with a good education system like Switzerland! But no, we can't have all these fabulous things, and why? Because no sane person is going to learn a dead language to teach teenagers their abc's in a country famous for being green and drunk.

Maybe there is still hope...

A new system is being put into practice where junior certificate students will have continuous assessment to contribute to their overall grade. I urge you to support this and help improve it and don't let this opportunity slip through your fingers. We can transform education from the ugly creature of malicious intent it has become, back into a way to help children learn. I gingerly encourage you to read the article I wrote in transition year on junior certificate reform here I got to meet the Taoiseach because of it so I guess it was pretty good.