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Column Dear student, the Leaving Cert is damaging your brain

Economics lecturer Stephen Kinsella on second-level education’s “wheel of regurgitation” – and why the next generation of decision-makers must get rid of it.


The Leaving Certificate is damaging your brain. You are an inventive, creative, and vital person, who is being rapidly turned into a list-learning missile for the purpose of standardised assessment.

Based on your ability to regurgitate these lists, you will be ranked, and select a course appropriate to that ranking. And life will go on. When you finish the Leaving Cert, I hope you still have within you the ability to have new ideas, to take those ideas and make them real, to create products from those ideas, businesses from those products, and jobs within those businesses. That is the only way Ireland will prosper between now and 2050.

There are a lot of you in the Senior Cycle at the moment. There will be more by 2030, when the 80,000 babies born this year take your place on the wheel of regurgitation that is the Leaving Certificate. You will be in your late thirties and early forties, a decision-maker, by 2030. Don’t start feel old, by 2050 I’ll be 72! You will have a career, maybe a family. By 2050, you’ll be in your fifties and sixties. You’ll most likely work until you are 75, and thanks to advances in technology, nutrition, health, and working practices, the jobs you do will be interesting, networked, and well paid.

List-learners won’t produce anything new

You’ll have to deal with climate change – more rainfall is expected by 2030, which means more flooding, and more flooding means higher taxes to pay for levees, flood plans, and emergency insurance and infrastructural repair. What you eat will change, because it will be more profitable for farmers to grow soy, wheat, and grapes than grass for livestock. Your children – yes, you too will have children – will be in high demand, because Ireland’s baby boom is fairly unique in developed countries. Other countries aren’t having as many kids.

When you become decision makers, try to change how the Leaving Certificate is run, because the more able young adults are to respond to the ideas they have and create from them, the more wealth they will generate. List-learners won’t produce anything new. So burn down the Leaving Cert, when you can, to avoid damaging your children’s brains, too.

You’ll have technology on your side. It will be personal, embedded, and natural to you. You are the first generation born with everything around you digitally-enabled. Your children won’t know a world without a ‘google’. If you want to prosper tomorrow, learn how to manage and harness information: informatics, machine learning theory, statistical analysis, design. Read Edward Tufte, read Bruce Sterling, read Hal Varian.

It will be great to be older… this too shall pass

Government won’t change much. You’ll still fight against interest groups in power and out of power, or you’ll be part of one. What will change is you. Irish society will age, because you won’t have as many kids as your parents. Older workers – you and I – will be wealthier and more numerous. Politics will change to court our vote, ensuring a more stable society. Marketing, culture, and religion will bend to accommodate the changing demographic tide, just as it did in the 1950s. It will be great to be older. Old people will rule the roost.

That is, if we’ve got any money. Fewer younger workers per older worker will produce a strain on the system. Having to use each year’s taxes to pay for increased health and pensions costs means fewer public services for the young, and reduced standards of living over time for those without private pensions. We need a savings system in place now to automatically enroll you from the day you get your first job in the pension plan you’ll draw from until you reach 100.

Which brings me back to the Leaving Certificate. It is likely you’ll live a long time, so don’t get too stressed out about your brain damaging experience right now: this too shall pass.

Stephen Kinsella is a lecturer in economics at the Kemmy Business School at University of Limerick. He is the author of Ireland in 2050: How we will be living; Understanding Ireland’s Economic Crisis: Prospects for Recovery; and QuickWin Economics. This opinion piece first appeared on his blog at in April last year.

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