Why social media posts about how the Leaving Cert doesn't matter miss the mark
The drill is the same every single year.
As we leave the era of grannies lighting candles, we enter a new era of well-meaning aunties and uncles who post Facebook statuses about how the Leaving Cert doesn't really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes there'll be a Minion involved.
There's some cynicism too. Many will use the opportunity to talk about how, despite not having gotten the best Leaving Cert, they're doing pretty well now. Maybe they own a house, or two cars, or have found a job that they love. Bragging into the ether, fairly standard social media behaviour.
Unfortunately, reassuring a worried 18-year-old that everything's going to be okay because things worked out for you, a social media user in your late 30s, doesn't actually work very well.
After all, when you're an 18-year-old who is predisposed to stress, you certainly aren't going to believe that things will magically fall into place as time wears on, just because they did for somebody else. Especially if you've failed to meet the expectations set out for you by the last two years of the institution you've had to attend.
Sadly, the Leaving Cert does matter. In a way.
It's almost the sole means by which young Irish people go on to third-level education, which tends to have knock-on effects in terms of their future careers, their incomes and their lives. So that's not quite nothing.
Beyond that, some young people also have their hearts set on studying Maths, or History, or Philosophy, at a certain college in a certain city for the next four years. It is perfectly rational to be profoundly disappointed if a lower subgrade in an unrelated subject scuppers your plans.
Or maybe the Leaving Cert doesn't matter. But only in the same kind of sense that nothing really matters when you think about it, and what does it really mean for something to matter anyway?
Still, 18 is a bit young to be indoctrinating anyone into that particular strain of nihilism. Besides, they're young, let them have their drama. Getting less points than you'd have liked in the Leaving Cert is nowhere near the end of the world — but after being forced to build it up for two whole years, maybe these kids deserve to feel it is, for a little while, before they realise that everything is fine.
Others argue that we shouldn't say the Leaving Cert doesn't matter because it devalues the achievements of kids who have done well. I mean, not really. These are the kids who did well, you know what I mean? They're probably not altogether that worried about what some dude online thinks about whether or not they should have spent all that time studying.
But we should be talking about the Leaving Cert, and how much it matters. Or how much we allow it to matter.
In late 2015, Irish Times data revealed that the number of Leaving Cert students from Dublin 17 (Coolock, Darndale) who progress to "high-points courses" is just 7%. This refers to the courses offered at any Irish university, teacher training colleges, DIT or the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
No fewer than five wealthier Dublin postcodes had high-points course attendance at ten times the rate seen in Dublin 17. 76% of children from Dublin 14 (Dundrum, Rathfarnham) go on to study in a higher-points course. That's almost 11 times the rate of Dublin 17 — a half an hour drive away.
And it's not as if Dublin 17 stands alone.
Only 15% of students from Dublin 10 (Ballyfermot) go on to high-points courses. 21% from Dublin 24 (Tallaght, Firhouse, Clondalkin). Dublin 11 (Ballymun, Finglas, Glasnevin) and 12 (Crumlin, Drimnagh) have attendance rates of 25% and 26% respectively.
There are also huge gaps in attendance rates between counties. Just one county (Kildare) comes within 10% of the Dublin average. Every other county sees fewer than half of its children attend a high-points college course.
Your chances of attending a high points course can literally multiply times 10 based on the geographical lottery of where you were raised and where you were educated.
Even the HEAR scheme, which is designed to provide third-level access to students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, still uses the Leaving Cert as its baseline measure for eligibility.
So when we brush the Leaving Cert under the rug, who are we really letting off the hook? The Department of Education. The status quo. The system. All we're really doing is ignoring a problem and letting it persist for another year.
To tell students who haven't had the same advantages as others that "the Leaving Cert doesn't matter" is disingenuous, at best.
Between the ages of 16 and 18 — you're not actually necessarily best placed to make mature decisions about how hard you should study. You're also generally not living the kind of charmed, unencumbered life free from social pressures that would be most conducive to studying.
The responsibility to educate Ireland's children isn't on the children. It's on the state and it's on their parents and it's on society.
Rather than simply telling students that the Leaving Cert doesn't matter, we should put our money where our mouth is. As a society, we should be working hard to make sure that the Leaving Cert really does matter less. Tailoring our education and curriculums so that all students can thrive and make the most of their talents.
There is an infinitude of ways to succeed in this world, and there is no limit to possible forms of success. There is an inexhaustible atlas of paths and peaks and troughs that people traverse on their way to being happy and comfortable and contented. The Leaving Cert, whether you flunk it or get a bajillion points, is a part of that.
If the Leaving Cert really doesn't matter, then this should be impressed upon students throughout their education — not just at the very last minute, when all is said and done. If we are prepared to tell students that our current system is not worth getting upset over — we must be prepared to support them with more than one system.
As it stands, the Leaving Cert does matter. It matters too much. Only by acknowledging that can we come up with something better.