InIreland the education system operates on a ‘one fits all’ model. Every child is expected to learn in the sameway.
The curriculum is text driven which is of little help to children withlearning difficulties such as dyslexia. The ability to memorise and regurgitatevast quantities of information is the criteria for success and everything leadsto a set of standardised tests known as the Leaving Certificate. This exam relieson how well you do on the day and is one of the most important influences onhow well you do in the future. Accordingto Donal Mulcahy (cited in Trant 2007 P190) ‘the results of such an examination led curriculum are predictable, whattends to be taught is what is examinable and what is most examinable is oftenof least importance’.
In primary school there is a focus on learning throughexpression and the senses. We see a lot more interactive games andthe classrooms are decorated and colourful to help engage the students in theirlearning. The first toys we get seem simple and basic yet have such a strongpart to play in our education; a pop-up book, books that make noises, texturedbooks with different feels to them, interactive books, all help engage ourbrain into learning and developing. Throughout playschool, Montessori andcrèche, children are learning through play and interaction with otherchildren. This is carried through intoprimary school with the use of circle-time, library time and playtime.
Tables are grouped to maximise interaction,there is a strong focus on art, colour and drama which all helps develop bothsides of the brain simultaneously. AsEdwards states (2001 p 37/38) as each ofour hemispheres gathers in the same sensory information, each half of ourbrains may handle the information in different ways. The key idea is that there are two parallel’ways of knowing’.Howeveronce the student reaches secondary school this method of education is replacedby more formal learning with a huge emphasis on the passing of exams andtraining for the job market. Classroomsare stripped down, students are seated in rows or individual desks and allroads lead to the passing of the Leaving Cert and obtaining points.
It is similar to going from colour to blackand white and can have an unsettling effect on the young adolescent who is at acrucial stage of his/her development.Atthis stage of development an adolescent is struggling to find his or her ownidentity, while negotiating and struggling with social interactions and’fitting in’. In Gardner (2004) Erikson (1963 p245) states The adolescent mind is essentially a mind ormoratorium a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood and between themorality learned by the child; and the ethics to be developed by the adult’ He states that personalitydevelopment occurs mainly in adolescence. His stage 5 model ofdevelopment is described as ego identity versus role confusion. (Simple Psychology2017) Identity achievement is the goal and at this stage it is easy forthe adolescence to become confused.
Given this andtopped with changing hormones, exam pressure and the scrutiny of social media,it is no wonder that there is an increase in teenager anxiety and depression. The contrast from primary school tosecondary is huge and the assault on the senses for the adolescent does notalways leave room for successful development. Everystudent has a different learning profile and a number of strengths. Howard Gardneridentifies seven different types of intelligences; spatial – the ability tovisualise with the mind’s eye, this intelligent provides the ability to solveproblems or create products that are valued in a particular culture.
Linguistic– Deals with an individual’s ability to deal with both spoken and writtenlanguage, as well as their ability to speak and write themselves. Mathematical– an individual is skilled at deductive reading, detecting patterns and logicalthinking; people with this type of intelligence are good at scientificinvestigations and identifying relationships between different things. Musical– a person with this type of intelligence is skilful at performing, composingand appreciating music and musical patterns. Kinaesthetic – people with thisintelligence are skilful at using their body to convey feelings and ideas. Theyhave good hand eye coordination and are very aware of their bodies, their fineand gross motor skills are more advance than the average person. Interpersonal – is the ability to understandand interact effectively with others, it evolves effective verbal and nonverbalcommunication and sensitivity to the moods and temperaments of others.
Intrapersonal – is the ability to understandthemselves, appreciate their own feelings, fears and motivations. People withthis intelligence are skilled with self-reflection. (Gardiner 1991)Howeverin our secondary schools, huge emphasis is placed on linguistic andmathematical skills to the disadvantage of anybody who possess the other formsof intelligences. Gardner (1991 p12) states that “These differences challenge an education system that assumes thateveryone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform,universal measure suffices to test student learning”. If astudent is not good linguistically and struggles mathematically he/she is boundto fall behind in the race for points. Thereforeit is no wonder that so many of our second level students disengage with thecurriculum and the learning process. Accordingto the ERSI report 2009 those who leave school before the Leaving Certificateare more likely to be unemployed or lone parents, earn less if they have a joband have poorer health and higher crime levels.
Trant (2007 p218) describeswhat happened to those whose type of intelligence is not nurtured within theeducational system ‘their defence was todrop out of school which was hardly surprising because nobody likes a threatthey cannot cope with, we all need status, security and a sense of achievement and,if we are in a place where these are denied we will either rebel or dropout. Accordingto the Irish Independent (Murphy 2017) Ireland hasthe fourth highest rate of suicide among teens in the EU. Agencies such as Spun Out note the increasinguse of drugs and alcohol amongst Ireland’s youth and see it as one of the mostimportant health issues today.
ClaireO’Sullivan the Irish Examiner (March 30, 2017) putthis Dr. Ailish Murtagh, psychiatrist who ‘saidyoung people have more stressors I their lives – many of them stemming fromsocial media and television. It didn’tsurprise her that exams and school are young people’s primary concern’.
Asstated earlier, early school leaving can be an indication of poor health so itstands to reason that poor performance in school can also be a contributoryfactor leading to depression in adolescence. As well as the negative experience of school, adolescent youth have tonegotiate all of the developmental stages of their lives under the scrutiny ofsocial media. As stated by JanisWhitlock in Time magazine (2016) ‘It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulusthey can’t get away from, or don’t want to get away from, or don’t know how toget away from.Given the stresses that face teenagers and the obvious waythe education system is failing them. Maybe it is time to look at a different approach.
Mulcahy (Trant 2007) states that what theLeaving Certificate examines us in is often of the least importance and he goeson to say:-‘Originalitywhich has been known to be associated with error may be seen as a loserstrategy in the race for marks…… there is little time for the non- book or non-vicarious. Most of all there is littletime for learning what real learning is, what it means and how to go about it.