Young scientist wants overhaul of second-level exams system

Sophie Healy-Thow, right, with Emer Hickey, left, and Ciara Judge, middle, winners of the BT Young Scientist 2013 from Kinsale Community School, celebrating with fellow students at the RDS. Picture: James McSweeney

One of the Kinsale schoolgirls recently listed by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential teenagers has called for an overhaul of the examination system.

As schools and students prepare for next Tuesday’s strike action by second-level teachers over government plans to have teachers mark the work of their own students, Sophie Healy-Thow tweeted her frustration with the current system.

The fifth-year student at Kinsale Community School said: “Exams = A memory test and regurgitation [of] facts told to us by our teachers. Is this really the best way to educate us? Why can’t we have a more holistic approach? A good memory is not all we have to offer.

“Rant over, thank you for listening.”

Elaborating on her concerns yesterday, Sophie — who alongside friends Ciara Judge and Emer Hickey achieved the Time magazine ranking, as well as winning a string of awards for their scientific work — said she believed people who were involved in extra-curricular activities, such as sport and drama, should receive some credits that might help them secure a place in third level.

Of the current Leaving Certificate, she said: “It is just a bit frustrating, especially for people who cannot take a picture [mentally] of each page in the book.”

Sophie is planning on studying plant biology or marine biology in university, but admitted that she had missed some school recently due to attending conferences and events on the back of the success achieved by the trio from Kinsale.

Two years ago, they won the BT Young Scientist of the Year competition and also won the grand prize at the Google Science Fair for their discovery of diazotroph, a bacteria that speeds up the germination of cereal crops, increasing their yield.

Last month, they were listed among Time magazine’s 25 Most Influential Teens of the Year, alongside Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai.

The country’s 730 second-level schools will be closed next Tuesday as members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and Teachers’ Union of Ireland strike over elements of proposed changes to the junior cycle. While not opposed to changing the focus of the first three years of second-level, they are against the proposal that they would have to mark their own students for second-year and third-year work which would be worth 40% of marks in all subjects.

This represents a reduction from the expectation that they would also mark the final written exams in each subject — until changes made by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan earlier this month,

A survey of students who used the site found that 56% favoured more continuous assessment for the Junior Certificate, but 60% would have a problem with their own teacher marking their exams. The numbers surveyed are unknown but the site said it has almost 2,700 Junior Certificate students registered.


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