I’m about a third of the way through my continuous assessment marking and I feel the need to write this – for my sanity.
Back in 1985, Ireland were playing England at the old Lansdowne Road and with 10 minutes to go we were losing. The championship and the Triple Crown were ebbing away until Ireland’s captain, Ciaran Fitzgerald, was seen to use the now immortal words “where’s your f**king pride?”. The players responded and Ireland won the game.
I often think of these words when I’m marking continuous assessment work, especially laboratory reports. In a time when the world of education obsesses about creativity and problem-solving and all sorts of supposedly ‘higher order skills’, it would be nice if students were to show a bit more pride in their work. Many seemed to be trapped in the typically Irish “ah sure it’ll be grand” way of thinking.
It’s really very basic things that need to be fixed; like labelling axes on graphs, like writing sentences that actually make grammatical sense, like going to the trouble of formatting tables consistently, like using consistent notation, like giving units alonside numerical answers, like actually thinking rather than settling on old reliables like “these results were due to human error” or “these values showed that the experiment worked well”.
Third level education has a problem and it’s got nothing to do with the ‘21st century skills’ nonsense that has become part of the everyday vocabulary of the education establishment. No, it has to do with the fact that many students have expectations of themselves that are simply too low. Fundamentally it’s a lack of pride and I suspect it’s a cultural problem rather than a purely educational one. But it’s a problem we have to fix because the consequence is that many of our students are simply not developing as they should.
There are two solutions that I can see. The first is to continue the ongoing process of turning universities into secondary schools – but who wants that? The second is for us to be quite a bit less tolerant of shoddy work…