I’ve been putting together a new blog post where I hope to actually say something constructive about the challenges facing education in Ireland but it’s hard to avoid Paul Mooney’s article in the Irish Times. The depressing thing about the whole debate around this article – and it is creating a lot of comment – is that it’s so bloody trivial really. It’s just another example of some guy with a fixation about lecturers and how crap they are. Ed Walsh is another guy who likes to take this approach. Marc Coleman too – I could have throttled him after his ‘groping class’ article. It’s all a bit sad and not worth getting worked up over, to be honest. But I can’t help it!
The key problem that I see is that most of the commentators have feck all experience of actually working at the coal face in education and are talking from a position of absolute ignorance. I’m not talking about the occasional foray into teaching on a part time basis, but being fully embedded in a department with all the responsibilties that entails. Furthermore, most commentators have no experience of the sciences and engineering, being mostly from a humanities/business background. They thus have a very limited view of the third level sector, not understanding that running a research group is like running an SME . Or that in teaching a mathematical subject, the actual contact time is a small fraction of the teaching workload. (I’ve just spent the day writing out solutions to a Problem Set. I recently spent a whole weekend writing computer simulations that covered less than 15 minutes of a lecture.) Like many commentators in Ireland, they are obsessed with structures and procedures and are incapable of getting to the heart of the problem. The simplistic solution to all the ills of the education system is always presented as getting the lazy feckers who are doing the teaching.
The reality is that the challenges facing the education system are immense and are very much bound up with:
– the highly distracting cultural environment in which youngsters are growing up,
– the political and broader social culture which is constantly pushing for increased participation at third level as if it was self evident that this is a good and necessary thing (and that everyone is capable of learning at honours degree level)
– an education ‘industry’ that sees truly challenging assessment methods as unfair (hence highly predictable exams which can be passed by rote) ,
– a University culture in which failing students are treated in an overly-compassionate manner – therein lies a big can of worms!
– an obsession with the idea that education must be fun and seen as ‘relevant’ to the daily lives of students – pandering to students in effect.
There are probably other factors and it would be really nice if the media focused on some of these ideas rather than obsessing about lecturers, University structures and the like. I’ve worked for over 25 years in the third level sector and the commitment to education among the staff has never been higher. The despondency when students do badly is palpable. The vast majority of lecturers are not the problem and it would be really encouraging if people like a former University President of all people could actually raise the level of debate beyond the usual teacher-bashing.
Anyway, I’m off to watch Castle on Alibi. I shouldn’t be letting my work intrude on my personal life. Public servants. What wasters!