ASK THE DOC: A better alternative to the Leaving Certificate system

Dr Eddie Murphy gives his expert opinion

Dr Eddie Murphy


Dr Eddie Murphy


ASK THE DOC: A better alternative to the Leaving Certificate system

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The Leaving Cert results came out last week and increasingly I am worried about the ‘all or nothing’ importance they receive.

It’s time to put this landmark event into perspective. I do question the effectiveness of the Leaving Cert in preparing our youth for what our society will demand in the next decades.

The Leaving Cert, rightly, will be celebrated by many families and will set many down roads of opportunity, excitement and futures of great adventure.

It will also set as much as 15-20% of students down pathways that their parents wanted, but not them; towards courses that were determined by “points prestige” as opposed to ability and aptitude.

Students that don’t have the necessary lifeskills to cope with the adjustment from the home environment to college environment will struggle.

Personally I think the media over-concentrates on the student with the top grades. There is too much hype about these students. The student whose natural ability in languages and not in maths who turns in a pass in maths is equally impressive, but, alas, not celebrated. We all hope that these students will get the points that they need — and thankfully, many will. However the real fact is that some won’t get the required points for their chosen courses.

Another Perspective

I was an average student who got a less-than-average Leaving Cert. Immaturity, too much messing, no real direction or goal and poor career advice all thrown into the mix didn’t help.

In fact that whole experience has given me a great interest in careers advice. When I am asked by schools and parent councils to talk to Leaving Cert students, it’s an experience that offers perspective and insight.

I am not a formal careers advisor, but as a psychologist who has sat through thousands of hours listening to people, from medics to plumbers, bankers, entrepreneurs, nurses, many teachers, counsellors and web designers etc talking about their working lives, I see careers from a different perspective.

I take a reverse view as it were, figuring out the person, their aptitudes, dreams and life goals and identifying suitable careers, rather than advising them that “this amount of points gets you this course”!

Emigration, followed by maturity and determination kicking in for me, meant I grasped second opportunities. It took me a lot longer to shake off negative beliefs about my ability, such was the impact of the Irish Leaving Cert.

Thankfully today that ghost is truly buried and I am happy to talk about it as it opens up an avenue of hope for many.

Essentially, you too can achieve your dream — it just means you might have to take the scenic route.

Could we be learning better skills?

I believe there is an overemphasis on exam results in the Irish Leaving Cert cycle. It’s a one-way street that supports ‘learn and churn’ and one that devalues other needed skills in our society.

No person is defined by their results. This exam does not test for integrity, respect, honesty, passion, humanity, caring, flexibility, critical thinking and problem solving, emotional intelligence or team working etc.

The academic path is not the path for all.

Around this time we need to reduce our over-emphasis on high point scores, and identify that there are many different paths for all.

Learn that Change is constant

Remember this society has changed. You will have more than five careers in your life! The biggest skill that a person can have is adaptability.

Most companies would trade all the most skilled people in the world for those that are the most adaptable.

Different Pathways

The panic of not having a place in college – when all your other friends have, can be very lonely, but it can also be very dangerous. Make sure you think wisely about all the courses you are considering.

You might want to consider Post Leaving Cert (PLC) courses, which courses offer a mixture of practical work, academics and work experience.

A wide range of disciplines are covered, including business, electronic engineering, computing, catering, sport and leisure, theatre and stage, performance art, art craft and design, equestrian studies, multi-media studies, journalism, tourism, marketing, childcare and community care, hairdressing and beauty care, applied science, and horticulture.

The key message again is that everybody's pathway in life is different.

The scenic route will take you to places and affords friendships that will last a lifetime.

Enjoy that journey as this Leaving Cert will only be a bit part in the story of your life.

Got questions?

The National Parents Council Post Primary, runs a helpline every year for students, parents and advisors. The helpline number is 1800 265 165.

Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychological and counselling service in Portarlington, Co Laois. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist