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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
memory games

Eamon Ryan says school exam system 'not serving our purposes'

Secondary school in Ireland is too exam-focused and needs to be broadened, the Green Party leader insisted.

STUDENTS SHOULD BE taught more practical skills in schools, according to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who said the current state exams system was too much about “rote learning”. 

“The secondary exam system is not serving our purposes,” he said in an interview with The Journal. 

His comments followed the decision to delay the introduction of teacher-based assessment for the Leaving Cert. The mooted change will now be assesssed by the State Exams Commission, with Education Minister Norma Foley citing fears about generative AI as the reason. 

Other reforms of the Leaving Cert are being accelerated – with students having access to nine new and revised subjects in 2025, two years earlier than planned. These include biology, physics, chemistry and business.

Speaking in an interview in New York, where he was taking part in events around the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the Transport Minister cited a number of examples he’d witnessed where students were taught practical skills. 

He said he recently visited a school in Tramore where students were being taught about nature and how to grow fruit and vegetables in a purpose-built greenhouse.

The minister said he recently spoke to workers at the Bike Hub in Dun Laoghaire who explained how they visit schools during transition year to teach kids how to take apart their bike and put it back together again.

“That’s what I call learning,” he said. 

“I think our secondary secondary school exam system is not serving our purposes, because it’s too much rote learning, the memory game.

“So learning how to use your hands, learning about nature, learning practical skills, I think it’s good for your mental health.”

There is a need to “broaden out” secondary education, he added, while stating that he believes Ireland’s primary school curriculum “is really good”.

“I think our secondary school curriculum is too exam focused and too… it’s all about learning and academic skills and I think it would benefit and serve everyone’s interest, if there was more of a mix, how you fix things, how you make things, and even just learning together, active learning, team learning.”

Ryan was in New York this week alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, who all travelled to attend the UN.

Ireland’s representatives took part in key debates on climate, conflict, global health and other issues throughout the week. 

The minister said he also had a chance to speak about climate action at a number of high-level events. In the interview he also took the opportunity to hit out at the UK for rolling back on some key climate commitments. 

However, in a cost-of-living crisis, does the minister feel that there is a risk of losing the room when it comes to encouraging people to make changes?

“I don’t think people are switched off,” said the minister, while also adding there is a balance to be struck

Ryan said there is a need to be careful because “people are full of anxiety” .

If we scare the living daylights out of people, that the world’s gone, it’s going to burn, we’re in real trouble, that could easily just freeze people in fear.

He said the issues would be further discussed at a global level at COP28 in Dubai. World leaders must, he said, acknowledge the challenge ahead and that the timelines are “really, really difficult”, but also say “here’s how we’re going to do it”. 

I think that has to be the response, to give people confidence that it is possible.

Ryan also addressed the UN Security Council, which was notable this year as it was Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy first in-person appearance before the United Nations Security Council, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also in attendance. 

The minister used his speech to highlight Ireland’s history in international relations, stating: 

“In our capital city Dublin, our main street is called O’Connell Street. At either ends of that street there are two statues dedicated to two of the men who worked for Ireland’s sovereignty and independence.

“On north end of the street there is a statue of Charles Stewart Parnell and on it is written the inscription: ‘No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation.’

“The United Nations is based on that first principle. Every country has a right to its own sovereignty. On the south end, there is a statue of Daniel O’Connell, which also has an inscription which reads: ‘Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong.’

“What President Putin has done and what this war has caused is morally and fundamentally wrong and it has to stop,” said Ryan. 

He reiterated Ireland’s support for Ukraine, stating that it is up Kyiv to determine the terms, conditions and timelines for any peace agreement.

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