April 12, 2004
Grinding Away at our Education SystemPosted in · 3 comments ·
Last Thursday night, mullets, frilly blouses, baggy pants, pointy suede Chelsea boots, blue mascara and shoulder pads were all the rage at the Point. Duran Duran packed out the place in homage to the 1980s. Thousands made the pilgrimage. Delving deep into their oeuvre,
As the nights get brighter, spare a thought for the thousands of Irish teenagers who are now beginning the terrifying slog, trying to cram as much stuff as they can into their heads only to spew it out over a manic three hours on a morning in early June. Take a walk down Lesson Street this weekend and you will see hundreds of well-heeled teenagers streaming out of the
According to a survey done in 2003 by the Student Enrichment Services, 64% of Irish sixth year students today are doing grinds. This is a shockingly high figure, implying that two thirds of Irish students believe that their normal teachers are unable to equip them sufficiently to excel in the big exam. (And likely to be higher as these are th eones who can afford to pay for grinds.) 45% of fifth years are also getting grinds and just over half of third years are being sent to these cramming hothouses to prepare for the Junior Cert. The courses take place mainly over weekends or during school holidays.
The battery hen approach to education is upon us.
The survey also found that girls in single-sex schools were the greatest users of grind services in the State with almost 66 per cent of them attending extra classes regularly. It might not come as a surprise therefore that girls outperform boys in the Leaving Cert. In fact, there is irrefutable evidence that girls not only do better than boys in exams but by an increasing margin every year.
Grinds are expensive. For example, the costs for the
Forget the cost, what does the industrialisation of the education system tell us about the state of the teaching profession? This weekend , as the
It is clear that the grind school exists at the precise point where the parents’ and students’ realism about jobs, university and the points race deviates from the school’s Corinthian view that education is about more than exam results. Most people’s sympathy is probably with the more holistic view of the educator. But if the system gauges success by points, it is difficult not to conclude that the education system is letting many of our battery hen teenagers down. Similarly, no one can blame parents for trying to get the best for their children. The existence of grind schools, with their far superior teachers, beg the question whether the teachers’ unions are penalising their best teachers while protecting their worst. Anyone who has been to school knows that there are good teachers and bad ones. If you are lucky to get one of the better ones, the chances are you will do well while bad teachers create bad pupils with disastrous results. If teachers and their unions do not weed out bad teachers, the market will.
Speaking of the market, basic Junior Cert economics tells us that if there is such a huge demand for grinds there is a monumental failure in the system. There are three ways of looking at this failure.
The first one we can call the “no one is to blame school” which might understandably be argued over the weekend at the
The second way of looking at this is that our schools have plenty of bad teachers who are protected by the unions and ultimately it is they who drag the whole system down. Staff room gossip lends credence to this allegation, as does school children’s experience. The extreme interpretation of this is that the education system has been run to the benefit of the employees (the teachers) rather than the consumers (the children). The best arbiters of teachers are their student not their colleagues. Only they tell the truth. (In a similar vein, if a boss wants to know how good a manager is there is no point asking the manager’s golf club managerial peers – ask the workers who work for him or her.) If the conclusion is that bad teachers are being protected by bogus notions of professional solidarity, then the growth in grind schools is telling us that it is time to overhaul the teaching profession.
The third interpretation is that grind schools are a reflection of teenage peer pressure and the deluded expectations of both parents and pupils. If you need expensive extra classes to keep up with others, then maybe you are not that smart. It is a bit like the Dad who hates to see his son dropped from the team; he will do anything to get the son on the first eleven. But possibly the only long-term solution is to accept that being brainy, like footballing ability, is largely a genetic gift and no amount of training will turn Finn into either Keano or Einstein. This interpretation suggests that maybe the normal teachers are doing a reasonably good job and the grind school is playing a duplicitous game, preying on the untenable ambitions of parents and teenagers.
There are many who believe that it is more about compromised good teachers protecting free-riding bad ones but, whatever the reason, the rise of the grind school demonstrates that the school system does not work for well over half our students. How can we fix it? Well the grind schools are screaming “privatisation, league tables and accountability”. Yet there are many parents and pupils who would find it difficult to choose between the prospect of a “Japanese-style battery hen” system and a more holistic “Corinthian, academics-is-not everything” school. For the time being, spare a thought for the poor Leaving Cert students for it is the hardest exam they will ever do. Even if this year’s bunch are spared the droning of Simon Le Bon, it is still six weeks of hell between now and early June.