In sides of the brain simultaneously. As Edwards

In
Ireland the education system operates on a ‘one fits all’ model.  Every child is expected to learn in the same
way. The curriculum is text driven which is of little help to children with
learning difficulties such as dyslexia. The ability to memorise and regurgitate
vast quantities of information is the criteria for success and everything leads
to a set of standardised tests known as the Leaving Certificate. This exam relies
on how well you do on the day and is one of the most important influences on
how well you do in the future.  According
to Donal Mulcahy (cited in Trant 2007 P190) ‘the results of such an examination led curriculum are predictable, what
tends to be taught is what is examinable and what is most examinable is often
of least importance’.

In primary school there is a focus on learning through
expression and the senses. We see a lot more interactive games and
the classrooms are decorated and colourful to help engage the students in their
learning. The first toys we get seem simple and basic yet have such a strong
part to play in our education; a pop-up book, books that make noises, textured
books with different feels to them, interactive books, all help engage our
brain into learning and developing. Throughout playschool, Montessori and
crèche, children are learning through play and interaction with other
children.  This is carried through into
primary school with the use of circle-time, library time and playtime.  Tables are grouped to maximise interaction,
there is a strong focus on art, colour and drama which all helps develop both
sides of the brain simultaneously.  As
Edwards states (2001 p 37/38) as each of
our hemispheres gathers in the same sensory information, each half of our
brains may handle the information in different ways.   The key idea is that there are two parallel
‘ways of knowing’.

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However
once the student reaches secondary school this method of education is replaced
by more formal learning with a huge emphasis on the passing of exams and
training for the job market.  Classrooms
are stripped down, students are seated in rows or individual desks and all
roads lead to the passing of the Leaving Cert and obtaining points.    It is similar to going from colour to black
and white and can have an unsettling effect on the young adolescent who is at a
crucial stage of his/her development.

At
this stage of development an adolescent is struggling to find his or her own
identity, while negotiating and struggling with social interactions and
‘fitting in’.   In Gardner (2004) Erikson (1963 p245) states The adolescent mind is essentially a mind or
moratorium a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood and between the
morality learned by the child; and the ethics to be developed by the adult’  He states that personality
development occurs mainly in adolescence. 
   His stage 5 model of
development is described as ego identity versus role confusion.  (Simple Psychology
2017) Identity achievement is the goal and at this stage it is easy for
the adolescence to become confused.   Given this and
topped with changing hormones, exam pressure and the scrutiny of social media,
it is no wonder that there is an increase in teenager anxiety and depression.   The contrast from primary school to
secondary is huge and the assault on the senses for the adolescent does not
always leave room for successful development.

Every
student has a different learning profile and a number of strengths. Howard Gardner
identifies seven different types of intelligences; spatial – the ability to
visualise with the mind’s eye, this intelligent provides the ability to solve
problems or create products that are valued in a particular culture. Linguistic
– Deals with an individual’s ability to deal with both spoken and written
language, as well as their ability to speak and write themselves. Mathematical
– an individual is skilled at deductive reading, detecting patterns and logical
thinking; people with this type of intelligence are good at scientific
investigations and identifying relationships between different things. Musical
– a person with this type of intelligence is skilful at performing, composing
and appreciating music and musical patterns. Kinaesthetic – people with this
intelligence are skilful at using their body to convey feelings and ideas. They
have good hand eye coordination and are very aware of their bodies, their fine
and gross motor skills are more advance than the average person.  Interpersonal – is the ability to understand
and interact effectively with others, it evolves effective verbal and nonverbal
communication and sensitivity to the moods and temperaments of others.  Intrapersonal – is the ability to understand
themselves, appreciate their own feelings, fears and motivations. People with
this intelligence are skilled with self-reflection. (Gardiner 1991)

However
in our secondary schools, huge emphasis is placed on linguistic and
mathematical skills to the disadvantage of anybody who possess the other forms
of intelligences. Gardner (1991 p12) states that “These differences challenge an education system that assumes that
everyone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform,
universal measure suffices to test student learning”.   If a
student is not good linguistically and struggles mathematically he/she is bound
to fall behind in the race for points.  Therefore
it is no wonder that so many of our second level students disengage with the
curriculum and the learning process.

According
to the ERSI report 2009 those who leave school before the Leaving Certificate
are more likely to be unemployed or lone parents, earn less if they have a job
and have poorer health and higher crime levels. Trant (2007 p218) describes
what happened to those whose type of intelligence is not nurtured within the
educational system ‘their defence was to
drop out of school which was hardly surprising because nobody likes a threat
they cannot cope with, we all need status, security and a sense of achievement and,
if we are in a place where these are denied we will either rebel or dropout.

According
to the Irish Independent (Murphy 2017) Ireland has
the fourth highest rate of suicide among teens in the EU.  Agencies such as Spun Out note the increasing
use of drugs and alcohol amongst Ireland’s youth and see it as one of the most
important health issues today.    Claire
O’Sullivan the Irish Examiner (March 30, 2017) put
this Dr. Ailish Murtagh, psychiatrist who ‘said
young people have more stressors I their lives – many of them stemming from
social media and television.  It didn’t
surprise her that exams and school are young people’s primary concern’.   As
stated earlier, early school leaving can be an indication of poor health so it
stands to reason that poor performance in school can also be a contributory
factor leading to depression in adolescence. 
As well as the negative experience of school, adolescent youth have to
negotiate all of the developmental stages of their lives under the scrutiny of
social media.  As stated by Janis
Whitlock in Time magazine (2016) ‘It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulus
they can’t get away from, or don’t want to get away from, or don’t know how to
get away from.

Given the stresses that face teenagers and the obvious way
the education system is failing them. 
Maybe it is time to look at a different approach.   Mulcahy (Trant 2007) states that what the
Leaving Certificate examines us in is often of the least importance and he goes
on to say:-

‘Originality
which has been known to be associated with error may be seen as a loser
strategy in the race for marks…… there is little time for the non- book or non-
vicarious.  Most of all there is little
time for learning what real learning is, what it means and how to go about it.   

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