irish 15 year olds, you’ve let us down ;)

google exam

The latest OECD PISA study ranks Irish 15 year olds 17th (out of 39) when it comes to things like literacy and analytical skills. 10 years ago we were 5th. So who are the OECD? What’s PISA? More stupid acronyms we have to go and google to find out what they stand for…

OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
PISA = Programme for International Student Assessment

Honestly, why can’t we ban acronyms or define them all at the start of every document and article – all they do is confuse most people. Anyway, dumbing down this study further, it measures the reading, writing & maths skills of 15 year olds. In 2000, we were ranked 5th. In 2010, we’re 17th. So what it’s trying to say (for the 15 year olds today who can’t read between the lines) is that 15 year olds today aren’t as smart as 15 year olds 10 years ago 🙂

I’d imagine the people best equipped to answer that question would be teachers and lecturers who’ve been around for that length of time. And i’d imagine they’d agree with it too based on the stuff i’ve heard over the years.


Maths is a no brainer, i think Irish kids are smart when it comes to maths because they avoid it. Up until this year higher level maths involved much more time and effort than any other higher level subject for no extra reward. So people dropped to ordinary to lighten the workload. I did that myself. I wasn’t stupid. I knew i didn’t need higher level maths to go on to college, so i thought it made more sense to drop to ordinary and spend the time on other subjects which would result in a higher points total overall. I reckon i was right too. That’s not stupid, that’s smart.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Luke Dyer

Because i ended up doing an IT course, i did of course need a bit of maths and ended up failing a maths module back in 1st year. Lack of ability? No, again that was a strategic decision – avoid maths and do the bare minimum to pass. I didn’t pass, but i did second time around and i now find myself with a degree and doing a 4th year for an honours degree. So ability, in my mind, was never a problem and i said that at the time. However, if you were a stranger looking at my results you’d assume i have a problem in that area.

I’d imagine there are a lot like me today. Not stupid, and have plenty of ability when it comes to maths, but it’s just a case of balancing the workload to maximize points and marks across ALL subjects. I think we place far too much emphasis on maths. I still don’t think we can teach it properly either… it’s boring and irrelevant. It needs more real life examples, more practical elements… last year we found out 50% of 2nd level maths teachers aren’t qualified to teach the subject so is it any wonder we’re now suffering in this department?

Reading & Writing

I remember the days when texting was getting rid of vowels an shortening words as much as possible. I think the older generation didn’t really understand why we’d do that. Yes it was partly to invent a language they couldn’t read, but it was also a case of saving money.

A text would be 10c or something like that (before the ‘free’ texts and bundles came in). So if you composed a text with 150 characters, you would be charged 20c for 2 messages even though you’d only be 10 characters over the 140 character limit. So for me, i’d always cut back texts to 140 characters and get rid of spaces or vowels or anything that didn’t need to be in there.

Project 365 - Year 2 : Day 335 : 01/12/10
Creative Commons License photo credit: Peter Gerdes

Online, you could never get away with txt speak – it was always frowned up and still is. Just as well too, other wise twitter could be a very different place today 🙂 That txt speak is always blamed for poor literacy skills but i don’t buy that… as i said i would use it myself but it never effected my ability to read or write. It was just like another language.

I think the problem is that information and opinions are so easy to access now that it’s very tempting to ‘steal’ what’s already out there. Copy / paste. We might even do it mentally. Copy someones opinion and jot it all down in an exam. Reading has become ‘filtering’. I never read books, i never read full pages of newspapers. I looks for pictures, headings and read whatever interests me. I don’t even read full articles at times, i’ll speed read them and pick out keywords.

Reading requires an incredible amount of discipline i find and i’ll hold my hands up and say i just can’t do it. I can’t slow my mind down enough to focus on one piece of paper for any great length of time. I do read, and i do like reading, but only if i can choose what i read. For the leaving cert, Shakespeare was my enemy. I just read summaries of King Lear and reviews. Never would i crawl through the entire book and come up with my own quotes and opinions. Again, like maths, too much effort. And yet english was one of my strongest subjects but i hated a lot about it. Poetry, Shakespeare plays… that’s about half of an english leaving cert exam right there.

The real problem

I don’t think we have problems reading and writing (or with maths either), i think we have problems with keeping reading and writing ‘fun’ and entertaining. “Here, read a 40 page white paper and i’ll ask you questions on it” – that’s pretty much what we do for some subjects in college… we can all read, we can all write but can we all motivate ourselves to read it? Unlikely. That’s the problem in my opinion. No question about ability or intelligence, it’s just not being harnessed properly.

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