The Leaving Cert, signalling and third level non-completion rates

The fact that completion rates in university and IoT courses are closely correlated with CAO points has been known for some time. However, the fact that this is still newsworthy is interesting and probably has to do with the prevailing narrative, a narrative in which the Leaving Cert is deemed to be unfit for purpose and inadequate as a preparation for the rigours of 21st century higher education.

In his book, “The Case against Education”, Bryan Caplan argues that one of the main purposes of higher education is to “signal” to employers that a job applicant has a range of desirable attributes, including intelligence, work ethic and persistence. What they know is often not so important. It is hard to argue that there is not some truth in Caplan’s position.

For many years the HEA have been producing data that shows unequivocally that a good performance in the Leaving Cert sends out a strong signal that a student will have the intelligence, the work ethic and the resilience to succeed in higher education. Despite this, many third level academics and second level curriculum designers insist that the Leaving Cert does not prepare school-leavers for third level. Of course, the transition from second level to third level is difficult for all students but the idea that this is because of the nature of the Leaving Cert simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Talk to third level students and you will discover that rote learning is alive and well in higher education and the difficulties that students encounter have more to do with motivation and time management than the so-called critical thinking culture of university-level learning.

Unfortunately, education in Ireland is increasingly dominated by ideologues who are in thrall to so-called student-centred methods that have failed everywhere they have been tried.  These ideologues will, no doubt, redesign the Senior Cycle in the manner of the Junior Cycle and it will be very interesting to observe what kind of signal, if any, performance in the revamped Senior Cycle sends out.

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