Why should we continue to accept the imperfect? A recent article by John McAvoy in The Irish Times stated that in 1999, the Points Commission of the Irish government found the Leaving Certificate exam to be preferable to any alternative admissions method to third-level education. But the fact remains that the CAO system comes under constant criticism within Irish society. With regards to the recent feasibility study in alternative admissions undertaken by Trinity, McAvoy postulated the question: “Has Trinity discovered something that eluded the Points Commission?”. Our response would be that a lot of things have changed in fifteen years. The economy is entirely transformed – we have gone from bust to boom and back again, and the needs of our graduates from secondary school and third level alike are completely different.
As any third-level student will tell you, the Leaving Certificate in no way prepares you for the world of third level education. When the system allows you to gain a high mark by rote-learning an essay for a subject like English, in which creativity of thought and difference of opinion should unquestionably be encouraged, there is a very definite sense that you need to re-examine the structure of the state examinations system.
Similarly, it seems strange that an admissions process which takes into account none of the personal aptitudes of the applicant for study and learning can be considered the most preferable mission to third level, where self-directed study and innovation are keystones of the academic experience.
But, of course, Trinity can by no means guarantee that the feasibility study will be successful – there is simply no way to measure the quality of these graduates in comparison to those who have taken part in the Leaving Cert for years to come. But then this raises the question, how do you measure the success of a programme like this? What constitutes failure, when it is essentially granting third level education to people who, before, may not have achieved access? Students who have partaken of this new form of admission will be system for entering their Junior Sophister year by the time the project comes under review in 2016/2017, and will surely be able to provide an insight into how it has affected their third level experience thus far, positive or negative.
Trinity must be commended for attempting to find an alternative to the accepted status quo of the Leaving Cert. We cannot shrink from change, but must instead always seek to evolve our systems in order to match the changing demands of students and the economy on what we expect from our graduates.
Also in Editorial this week: Universities Deserve Praise for Success in Spite of Climate
Written by the Editorial Board of The University Times