After it was announced that one in six students drop out of third level, Brendan Garrett looks at the institutional causes of this worrying trend.
WHEN it comes to education, the decisions we make regarding our subjects, courses and timetables tend to haunt us in both the years and Monday mornings that follow. Be it for our Leaving Cert subjects or our CAO choices, many of us will find ourselves groaning, and in some cases despairing, at the thought of continuing with our classes and courses.
To get a rough idea of just how many students are dropping-out one need only pop their head into a first year lecture in Theatre L after Christmas, or even look to your group of friends from home after first year. The odds are that the rates will be a surprise. However with many students across the country leaving college before they finish their course, it is not uncommon. Neither are the feelings of apathy, frustration and stress that come with the decision.
According to the Higher Education Authority roughly 6,500 students drop-out from third level education every year. That’s one in six, pretty steep and that is only an average figure. If we were to delve into specifics we would find that drop-out rates in level 6 and 7 courses spike to 30%. Similarly, one in three Computer Science students drop out from their courses in Institutes of Technology, while Mechanical-Engineering in Galway-Mayo IT saw a 66% non-progression rate in 2014-2015.
“If you are lacking the core information needed to understand what your course is actually about, how are you expected to be able to effectively continue?”
While it is clearly a sizable issue, it is not always clear what is the cause. President of Dublin City University, Professor Brian MacCraith, has stated that he attributes it to the low standard of Leaving Certificate Maths results, with many university students relying on learning supports for mathematics. When this is considered, it is apparent that a problem lies with many students progressing from secondary level without the knowledge required. A solid foundation is crucial to progress onto third level learning. If you are lacking the core information needed to understand what your course is actually about, how are you expected to be able to effectively continue?
Tracing this problem back to its root, fingers could be pointed at secondary schools. There’s a lack of information available to fifth and sixth year students regarding the reality of college. Open days exhibit just a sliver of university life, while online synopses of courses do not give enough insight into the content that is to be studied. Giving prospective students concepts and topics that were previously unheard of in their lives is not an effective way to let them know what they are getting themselves into. All the while, teachers are liberally applying the pressure, coercing a choice out of students while limited facilities in schools offer a more narrow scope of life after school.
Both secondary schools and third-level institutions have their work cut out for them if these issues are to be resolved. To address the declining standards of aptitude in courses that involve maths, requirements for entry could be increased which would give the student a greater understanding of the area they are entering. For example, needing two honours science passes rather than one for Engineering might be beneficial. This could deter those who are less scientifically-minded and ensure that those who achieve a place have the right skills to be able to keep up.
Another possible solution would be addressing the gaping hole in the knowledge of sixth year students regarding university life and learning. One-on-one chat sessions with students could become a staple of open days, turning these glorified ‘mitch-days’ into something more informative and memorable.
“It is crucial to emphasise to school kids that there is no one right option post leaving cert.”
A version of this has been around in the form of Slingshot Academy since mid-2014. Founded by Patrick Guiney, a UCD Arts graduate, the programme is open to students between 15 and 19 years old interested in following an education that will lead them to a career in the areas of STEM and entrepreneurship. While not all-encompassing in its selection of fields, Slingshot is still a start in the right direction.
Facilities that incorporate woodwork and metalwork could also be established in more schools throughout the country, thus offering students insight into the possibility of entering a trade rather than funnelling them into college. Academia is not for everyone and the world is better, more balanced as a result. It is crucial to emphasise to school kids that there is no one right option post-Leaving Cert.
It seems to be a case of “water, water everywhere” when it comes to education in Ireland. While there’s a plethora of options available to prospective students, these routes are not highlighted evenly. There needs to be a shift from both sides of the fence that is the Leaving Cert, otherwise students will remain in the dark. Until there is change, students will continue to drop out.