The Leaving Certificate Is Subject to Debate

The Leaving Certificate Is Subject to DebateNothing stands still, and that includes educational theory. Last month (June 2016), an educational forum at Maynooth University heard several views on the Junior and Leaving Certificates (both taken by Coláiste Ráithín students) and the listening was not always comfortable.

Val Klenowski, Professor of Education in the School of Learning and Professional Studies at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology said that what she described as a “system of mass assessment and testing” was not conducive to the accurate rating of skills like critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to work well in groups which she said were essential to success in the modern world. Grades and test results were not more important than practical skills, but the system as at present instituted treats them as though they were.

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) is actively opposing attempts to move the Junior Certificate towards school-based assessment because it says it is unfair to ask teachers to assess their own students’ work. Professor Klenowski, on the other hand, says that involving teachers in the design of assessment models takes into account the fact the different needs of different schools. The range of assessments can be widened to include in-class essays, projects and presentations in such a way as to allow students to show what they know but also to encourage what she called, “a practical skill set” of value later.

Prof David Carless from the University of Hong Kong spoke of distrust of teachers as damaging and said that societies that trusted teachers had less need of standardized testing. He did not say whether they also had better educational outcomes.

A question that has occupied similar bodies in similar discussions elsewhere in the English-speaking world – that in-school assessment instead of exams favors girl students and penalizes boys – was not discussed.