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Giving Students a voice

Address by Craig McHugh, ISSU President at NPCpp conference

November 15th, 2014 | | Tags: , , ,

 

Extract from speech made by ISSU President at the National Parent’s Council Post-primary annual conference on Saturday November 15th 2014  in the Tullamore Court Hotel, Tullamore, Co. Offaly.

President, Chief Executive, Guests, Friends, and Parents,

It’s 3:35 on a Friday afternoon, it’s been a long week of studying, catching up on school work from the days I’ve missed , and the beauty of JCSA disputes from teachers. It’s been an interesting week. I take my phone out of my pocket and the first sight I’m welcomed with is the news of the ASTI’s decision to strike on December 2nd. The typical student in me thinks – brilliant! Day off! A day to study, it is after-all smack bang in the middle of my exams! I tell some of my friends around me and there delighted , and then it hits home. Teachers, have decided to block one of the greatest reforms in education in Europe in a very long time, because their not satisfied.

They’re not satisfied with the absence of rote-learning, the fact they’ll have to re-develop their methods of teaching, and assessment. I empathise on their fears of being pressured by people around them to swing marks in certain students favours but I must pose two points to this

1)    Act Professional, its your job as a teacher to teach, to educate, to inform. So remember this when your marking us too. Remember its our education. Be professional , ignore those around you, and separate your personal life from your work life. I’d personally favour anonymous examination numbers etc. but for the sake of progression I’m fine to put these to bed for now.

2)    And secondly, who marks our papers at university? A random lecturer who lives at the other side of the country? I didn’t think so…

But its not my job to talk about the teachers, and their views, its not my place and its quite frankly not what I want to take this opportunity in speaking to ye about today. Because quite frankly I see today, and this week In general as a great step in the right direction. Imagine it…students and parents working together…sounds beautiful doesn’t it? But it makes sense? We’ve common interests and common goals and so we should be working together to help each other achieve these matters.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Is mise Craig McHugh, Ta me seacht deag mbliana daois agus ta me ag freastail scoil I Colaiste RIs I nDún  Dalgan!

Im currently the President of the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union, the national umbrella body for student councils in Ireland, and really any secondary student in Ireland for that matter. We represent student voice on matters concerning students and were a relatively new, and small organization, having been founded in 2008 and taking off in 2012. We’re growing by the day and over the next 5 months will be campaigning on a number of topics such as vote at 16, Equality for LGBT Students, the pressures of the leaving cert and proudly supporting the JCSA – Junior Cycle Student Award.

 

So, today as a student, a son, a child, as a school student union activist, and as a fellow partner in education I want to talk to ye about JCSA . I want to tell you why I like it, why students like it, why its good for me and the incredible effect it will have on the future development of this country.

The JCSA has been bombarded with negativity ever since the word go. Up until now, the public image of this reform has been no more than ; “Teachers don’t like it, their striking, this isn’t good for the kids, and I don’t want my daughter’s exams to be graded by someone who lives down the road for me.”

But what if I challenged this generalised, media driven opinion? What if I laid out the facts? And what if, what if maybe a student who’s been through the current Junior Cert System had his say! Well then, it would go a little like this.

The JCSA is all about skills. It’s all about equipping students with the ability to work with people, work with situations and develop real life skills. It doesn’t abandon the entire curriculum but instead adds to it, what it adds is quite simple; real education.

 

Before I start off I wish to make a solid point; Teachers don’t have it easy. Teaching is difficult, complicated and unfortunately carries with it a confused appearance of wealth, and long summer holidays, I can assure you it’s not all as lovely as it sounds. ISSU and the NpcPP are Pro-JCSA but this does not and never will mean we will devalue the opinions of teachers and their unions. We merely ask they reflect on why they joined the teaching profession; was it to educate and foster the minds of young people or was it to play to the negative stereotypes of long summer holidays and public sector pay that so many harp on about?

 

I’ve sat 12 Junior Cert Papers. 3 Ordinary. 1 Common Level. And 8 Higher Levels. What I remember from those 3 years of school can be shortened in to a sentence; I learned what I was supposed to learn so I could pass my exam, not what I needed to learn and not what I should have learned. I left the Junior Cycle system in 2012 not knowing where Bosnia and Herczegovina or Kosovo was (a rather embarrassing situation to find yourself in at an international conference) I left English with little or no Public Speaking skills and turned entirely away from the Personal Writing section, because they didn’t appreciate my imagination; I left Maths knowing how to solve Quadratic Trinomials up until the final paper, but not knowing how to solve problems outside of them. I left Junior Cycle with a suppressed imagination, and generally disappointed that I wasn’t educated merely just part of an assembly line. I felt unjust and somehow angry.

 

But what made me angry most, was the pressure that was placed upon me to excel. My parents, fortunately are more “Do your Best” approach kind of people, so it wasn’t impressing my parents I was being bogged down by, but more the workload. The Junior Cert culminates three years of work performed by a student aged between 12 and 15 into 1 day of exam or exams. With no attention being placed on the vigorous effort put in by many students over the course of the cycle, a student aged 15 is expected to remember 3 years worth of information and material into one exam. Can someone please explain to me how this is meant to be a fair representation and marking of not just a students work but also their potential to excel in this subject in the future?

 

I want to briefly touch on this fear that teachers have, and I also wish to empathize with them too, I respect their opinions but I do hope they respect their students and fellow partners in education too; the entire idealogy around teachers marking their own students or local student’s exams does on the surface sound terrifying to some? But what if we looked at the future? What if we recognised the fact that teacher-student assessment isn’t as bad as it sounds? For example, who grades the papers in college? An anonymous examiner? If teachers, grade their students professionally as should be done all year around regardless of the education system we serve under; Junior Cert or JCSA , there should be no problem in this area whatsoever.

 

I wish to re-iterate the fact that real education is not present when rote-learning is too. Rote-Learning is all about learning answers off word for word, Irish Essays being testament to this. I can clearly remember friends of mine , performing better in their Irish Christmas exams because they learned a few essays off word for word, while I was blessed with an Irish teacher who thought me Irish and not just the ability to regurgitate information, it didn’t reflect like this when it came to assessment .

 

I recently attended a JCSA Science Consultation Event, another step I value highly, the NCCA’s willingness and want for student voice in this dramatic reform of education; I entered the event feeling like I was the wrong kind of student to be there; but soon realised I wasn’t. I realised I like many lost interest out of science because I wasn’t being engaged properly, I wasn’t being shown the relationship between curriculum and the real world.

The Junior Cert revolved around and became a slave to a set curriculum, the JCSA provides schools with the freedoms to introduce exciting new modules that will encourage creativity and spark greater interests in all aspects of education, including subjects never before assessed at this level such as Information Communications Technology (ICT). The JCSA allows and encourages students to challenge the ideologies of the real world and therefore think on their toes in situations relative to them as students and future key players in this society.

I, as a school student activist, second level student, son of 2 parents and brother of a JCSA English Student (of whom I share great jealousy of) realise the importance of education. Education is the key to a strong minded, better equipped lifestyle and livelihood. Education should not be focused on moving on from one stage to another, but more how and why your moving on, and allow you to challenge the aspects of life, so that in the future you can make decisions for yourself.

 

JCSA, I won’t lie isn’t flawless, I have my concerns, as we all do, but I’ve put them to bed for the sake of progression and the re-evaluation of the morale of education,  because I believe JCSA is exactly what this country needs, and what this country’s future deserves.

Ireland has a highly educated workforce, but I see in the future Ireland having a highly educated, creative and proactive workforce.

 

The opportunities of personal development JCSA offers to students is incredible and I’d like to once again call on individuals to look into the logistics of what this reform is all about, because I can assure you it’s not all as scary and negative as it seems.

Parents want change, students want change and I know teachers do too, it’s merely a matter of whether or not their willing to sacrifice those they worked so hard to serve just out of stubbornness to reform.

I am delighted to be supporting the JCSA alongside the NpcPP and would love to see all partners in education do the same.

Education should foster the minds of young people and provide them with the ability to function and work in the real world, the JCSA does just that.

 

The legendary Don Myers asked me if the JCSA inspires…and I answer to you now Don, yes it does! It Inspires students to think, it prepares them for the real world and gets them interested in whats to come in the future.

 

This education system has incredible potential, the reform for Junior cycle is only the beginning of what I believe to be an excellent era of reform and rejuvenation for educating the future of Ireland!

Students deserve better, parents deserve better bang for their buck when it comes to paying for the expenses of 13 years in school but overall this country deserves a much greater system of education so we’re ready for the future!

 

The world Is changing every day. Technology takes a greater role in our lives every day. But we mustn’t lose sight of the basis that education is built on, skills. As society evolves, education must evolve around it.

 

We as students and ye as the parents need unfortunately cant strike , but we can use our voices and our voices will be heard! JCSA is good for this country, its great for parents and its even greater for students, but it is society as a whole that will benefit the most from the re-delevopment and the attention that is now being paid to the moral of education. Its time education received the priority of which it deserves and is allowed progress into the future.

 

We , as a country, as a society, and us in particular as partners and influential individuals in the development of education have a role here ; we need to make sure JCSA becomes a reality for our sake as students for your sake as parents and for society’s sake to ensure this country moves on with the rest of the world! Its time Ireland started catching up in the education spectrum!

 

Thank you all so much for your time in allowing me to speak. Myself and Joanna Siewerska , the ISSU education officer will be here for the remainder of today and this evening, and would be happy to talk to ye about anything. We’re also on a big membership drive in an effort to become even more representative so if you’ve any suggestions for us on how we can represent students better, pop over to us, because we don’t bite!

 

Thank you all so much, thank you to the NPCpp for having us here today, and to Don Myers who’s been so kind to us and issu over the past few months with everything from support to advice, you really have helped us along the way and it’s a pleasure to be working with you.

 

I’ll leave ye all now with a quote from William Deresiewicz – “The purpose of education is to make minds…not careers!”

 

Thank you all , and enjoy the rest of the conference!


 

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