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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Leaving Certificate Irish Paper.

Wednesday, 15 June 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 223 No. 4

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32.

Mr. Cosgrave: Information on Liam Cosgrave Zoom on Liam Cosgrave asked the Minister for Education if he is aware of the widespread concern amongst students who sat for the pass Irish paper in the leaving certificate this year at the form in which the paper was set; if he has received representations on the matter; and, if so, what action he proposes to take so as to ensure that students who sat for this examination are not unfairly affected by the manner in which the paper was set.

33.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins asked the Minister for Education whether he is aware of the profound anxiety caused to parents and students by the nature and standard of the pass leaving certificate examination paper in Irish and, if so, whether he will consider arranging [544] for a further examination more in accordance with the standard required and expected.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 33 together.

I have received representations in regard to the leaving certificate pass paper in Irish. I might say that in relation to the number of schools presenting candidates and the total number of candidates the representations I received were very few indeed. Some of them expressed satisfaction with the paper. Of those where dissatisfaction was expressed the great majority were concerned with the form of the grammar section and the disturbance which it was felt was caused to candidates by the manner in which the questions in that section were set. If the answering of the candidates shows that this is so, allowance will be made for it in the marking.

I might explain in regard to the setting of the leaving certificate papers that there is collaboration with the National University authorities in arriving at a suitable standard. The fact that the standard of the papers in Irish this year did not differ from that of previous years has been accepted by the teachers of Irish in secondary schools as a body in the views which they have conveyed to me.

In these circumstances I am satisfied that the question of arranging for a further examination does not arise.

Mr. Jones: Information on Denis Francis Jones Zoom on Denis Francis Jones Will the Minister agree that the wording of these questions was ambiguous and therefore confusing to the candidates concerned? Secondly, will he agree that the different phrasing of questions Nos. 1 and 4 would lead to doubts in anybody's mind as to what the examiner was looking for? Will he agree that the use of “forainm coibhneast” in a pass paper was the type of thing more appropriate to an honours paper? Will he not also agree that the wording of question C(1) was most misleading and that even to anybody of mature mind, it posed a severe problem as to what they were to do with the word “leadránach” because of the fact that it was stated: “Biodh an focal ‘leadránach’ mar shampla agat”. [545] Finally, will he not agree that the form of the paper was changed and that no indication was given to the schools of this change, that no notice was given? Will he agree that the allocation of marks on the grammar section of the paper was different from what it was previously and that, having regard to the Minister's policy on the spoken word in Irish as opposed to written Irish, there was too much emphasis on the written grammar, particularly for a pass paper?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I could not agree, I fear, with most of the suggestions made by the Deputy. The evidence I have of any complaints about the papers shows overwhelmingly that these complaints relate to the grammar section and specifically not so much to the question itself as to the directions for doing the question. I feel that people who are not familiar with Irish may be somewhat misled by the suggestion that these questions were too difficult for a pass paper in the leaving certificate and I should like, if I may, to give the House briefly in English the first part of the question which was as follows:

Make one sentence of each of the respective pairs of statements given below through connecting each pair by the appropriate relative pronoun and making whatever other change is necessary:—

(i) I met the man yesterday: he was injured in an accident.

It would obviously be “who was injured...”

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon That is obvious to the Minister but it would not be obvious to me.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I want to make it clear that the remainder of the question goes on the same lines. It is misleading to suggest that the standard required here is too high for pass leaving certificate. Indeed, I dealt with that in my answer to the original question which showed that the teachers of Irish in the secondary schools as a body have conveyed their views to me in regard to this paper and have accepted that the standard does not differ from previous years.

[546] Deputy Jones has suggested that there was a change in the type of question. This is true—there was some change in it—but I am sure the Deputy is also aware that over the past few years there have been some slight changes each time, the object being to get away from purely formal grammar questions, for instance, asking what is the genitive case of so and so, and that kind of question, to get what is called functional grammar. It was on this basis that the changes have been made over a number of years since, I think, 1963.

I want to make it clear to the House that there is no evidence whatsoever that the standard of this paper differs from that of previous years but the complaints I have received have suggested that some students were upset by the wording of the directions in the grammar section and I want to repeat that if the answering shows that this is so, allowance will be made for this in marking the papers.

Mr. Jones: Information on Denis Francis Jones Zoom on Denis Francis Jones If the Minister takes the questions as set in Irish at this stage, question No. 1 says: “Freagair dhá cheann as A, B, nó C, anseo”, and then turns to question No. 4, he will see that the pupils are faced on the same occasion with the direction “Freagair do rogha de dhá cheann as A, B, nó C as seo”. It is immediately apparent to a pupil under stress of examination at this stage that here is the same examiner looking for the same type of information with two different types of question, which is immediately confusing and confounding to any child.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan Zoom on Seán Flanagan To leaving certificate students?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I want to remind the Deputy that we are dealing with leaving certificate students who have spent 12 years or longer learning Irish.

Mr. Barrett: Is the Minister aware that this paper reduced many students to tears and is he further aware that a large number of reputable teachers in all parts of the country condemned this paper roundly? Has the Minister any comment to make on that?

[547]Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I have already commented on that, that the teachers of Irish in secondary schools have an organised body who issued a public statement and conveyed their views to me and have said that they accept that the standard of the paper does not differ from that of previous years but that they felt the wording of the directions in the grammar section may have upset some children who were not used to it.

As this matter has been raised, I think it would be no harm if I referred to the fact that something is highlighted by what has happened in this case, which I feel is something in which anybody concerned with education in this country should find food for thought. It seems clear from a number of the objections that have been made that a very large number of children sitting for this examination have been so trained that they expected a certain kind of question and, when they did not get that kind of question, it was alleged they were so upset that they could not do the examination at all. We should consider this in the context of the remarks that are frequently made that our examination papers show no effort to do anything other than to be stereotyped, do not make any attempt to test intelligence. Here, when you have something not terribly different from what we had before, it now appears that it is being alleged that these children are so geared for these examinations that if the form changes slightly, they are completely upset. I would suggest to the House that we all ought to think seriously about this, that if that is so, we are not educating our children properly.

Mr. Cosgrave: Information on Liam Cosgrave Zoom on Liam Cosgrave Assuming that what the Minister says is correct, and possibly there is something in that line of argument, surely, if the children are taught in a particular way and expect to be questioned in a particular way, there is an onus on those who teach them to teach them on the lines on which they will ultimately be questioned in the examination paper? What the Minister suggests is that when the question is put in a slightly different way, the students should be able to deal with it. They have been [548] taught to expect questions in a particular way and subsequently when the paper is presented, it differs from the course they have done. That is the complaint I have got from some students.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Before the Minister replies——

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley This is the point I was trying to convey: it is because, apparently, some children have been taught in that way that it is alleged they were upset and it is because of that that I have said that allowance will be made if this is found to be so. In other words, I want to make it clear that I do not blame the children concerned.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins May I just ask this question? The Minister has mentioned the secondary teachers' body or association—I am not sure of the correct term——

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley The one I am referring to is Comhar na Meánmhúinteóirí.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Yes. The Minister says they agree that the standard did not differ. Is it not correct that they have complained that the nature and form of the questions was quite strange and unusual and, secondly, is it not a fact that in relation to a change in the mathematics paper some years ago, specimens of the proposed changes were given to the schools before the examination? If the form of the paper this year was changed, why was some warning not given to the teachers and to the boys and girls doing the examination? Would the Minister not agree that in relation to this pass leaving certificate examination, where the passing of the examination is essential to the entire certificate, the whole effect of the examination on the students has been disastrous? I would press on the Minister to give some assurance now, not to leave the matter over until the end, so that at least they will be able to finish the examination with some peace of mind?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I had, I thought, made it quite clear that if it is found in the [549] marking of the papers that children have been affected in the way that has been alleged, allowance will be made for this in marking the papers. Furthermore, the Deputy has referred to the fact that in the case of the mathematics paper, specimen papers were issued. This is quite true. The reason is that this is a practice which is followed by the Department where there is going to be any major change but there was, in fact, no major change in the Irish paper.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins That, surely, is not so.

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay Do I understand the Minister to say that he has received a report from that part of the Secondary Teachers Association who teach Irish?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley Yes.

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay They say that there was no change in the standard, that, in fact, apart from format or method of question, there was really not much wrong with the paper. Will the examiners examining these papers not be selected from this particular group and how, then, does the Minister think the examinee will get a fair crack of the whip from people who have already stated that there is little or nothing wrong with the paper?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I do not like doing what, in fact, I did, namely, attempting to paraphrase their statement. It was published in the paper. Therefore, I thought I could take the risk of doing so. I think Deputy Lindsay's understanding of it is not, in fact, a correct understanding of the statement they did make. Secondly, I want to make it clear that the method of marking the examination papers is a very strict one and very elaborate arrangements are made to ensure standardisation. It is not left to the individual examiner at all. There are meetings of the examiners beforehand. Then they are divided into groups and they have to send on papers that have been examined and they are checked by inspectors in the Department, and if there appears to be any great discrepancy between theirs and other marks, [550] the whole lot of their papers are checked again. Very elaborate steps are taken to ensure standardisation of marking. I can give the House an assurance that there is no danger whatsoever that any personal bias an examiner may have can have any effect on the marking of the papers.

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay I feel doubtful that the Minister can with any degree of certainty give such an assurance. If, as he says, this particular group of teachers and, obviously, his Department and inspectors feel that there was very little wrong with this paper, which will now be examined by people drawn from the group which has already expressed that view, whose scrutiny of the papers will be examined by inspectors who share the same view, and who are all subject to the overriding scrutiny of a Minister who obviously shares this view as well, what chance have the pass entrants for the leaving certificate on the Irish paper got?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I feel Deputy Lindsay, unintentionally no doubt, is not really helping the students and parents who may be worried about this.

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay Oh, I am. I am trying to save them from an already prejudiced source.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I would suggest—I do not wish to be insulting to the Deputy —that he did not read the public statement because, if he did——

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay The Minister is suggesting very wrongly.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley ——he would not be making the suggestions he is making here. He is under a misapprehension.

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay I am not under any misapprehension.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley Did the Deputy read the statement?

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay Yes, and anybody who disagrees with the Minister is always wrong.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan Obviously [551] this is becoming a debate and not a question time. This has gone on for a long time. I do not think I can allow it to go on much longer.

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay It is a matter of great national importance.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan That is so, but it has taken an unusually large amount of time. I will allow the two Deputies who are on their feet—Deputy Norton and Deputy T.F. O'Higgins— to ask questions.

Mr. Norton: Information on Patrick Norton Zoom on Patrick Norton Before we leave the question, the Minister says it is alleged the children are upset. I have received representations from many parents in the Minister's own constituency, although it is not mine, regarding this very matter and, if the Minister is not in touch with his constituents as individuals, I would suggest he should get in touch with the schools in his constituency and he will then find out that this is not just an allegation. In point of fact, there is considerable unrest in the Minister's constituency about this. I should like to know what percentage of children would have to be upset before the Minister feels called upon to do anything.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I have, in fact, contacted some of the schools in my constituency and, contrary to what Deputy Norton thinks, some of them have told me that even their weakest students were very happy with this paper. That is a fact.

Mr. Norton: Information on Patrick Norton Zoom on Patrick Norton I can give the Minister names and addresses.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I am not denying there are almost certainly some students in the constituency who may be unhappy about the paper. I am just giving the fact that I made inquiries and that is what I found.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan I am asking——

[552]Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins May I ask the Minister, for the purpose of finding a solution and settlement of this matter, and in order to give peace of mind to the boys and girls who are still sitting for examination, if he will give an assurance that at the conference—the marking conference, or whatever it is called—he will give an instruction that these particular papers will be marked leniently because of the undoubted confusion which has arisen? Will he give that undertaking now?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I have already said that.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Would the Minister state so now? Would he give an assurance now that if it appears later that there was some confusion that will be taken into consideration? Will the Minister give an undertaking now that these papers will, in fact, be marked leniently because of the confusion that has arisen?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley Which papers?

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins The pass leaving certificate Irish paper.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley We can only find out what has happened when the papers are being marked. The Deputy will agree with that.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Surely the Minister will accept that there has been widespread misunderstanding on the part of students in relation to what they were being asked?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley Zoom on George Colley I would suggest to the Deputy that it is very difficult to get an actual assessment of what really happened until one sees what actually went down on the examination papers.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Sir, I should like to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch We have beaten you to a frazzle so far.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay I did not hear what the Minister for Finance said.

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch We have beaten you to a frazzle.

(Interruptions.)

[553]Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay Surely if the Minister wants to make an interjection, he should make it in an audible manner.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Information on Anthony Charles Esmonde Zoom on Anthony Charles Esmonde I wonder could I have Question No. 4 on today's Order Paper repeated tomorrow as I have no idea what the answer was.

The Taoiseach: Information on Seán F. Lemass Zoom on Seán F. Lemass The Deputy will receive a written copy of the reply before tomorrow.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Information on Anthony Charles Esmonde Zoom on Anthony Charles Esmonde It is possible I might want to ask a supplementary question.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan Deputies asking questions are furnished with written copies of the Minister's replies immediately after Question Time.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Information on Anthony Charles Esmonde Zoom on Anthony Charles Esmonde I was asked to ask the question not only by my own constituents but by constituents elsewhere. It is a very important question and I have absolutely no idea what the answer was. May I raise it on the Adjournment?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds I should like to raise Question No. 5 on today's Order Paper for the very same reason.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne Hold on: I gave notice in clear and distinct terms that I wanted to raise the subject matter of Question No. 3.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan I will communicate with the Deputies.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds May I take it the Ceann Comhairle will communicate with me about Question No. 5?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan The Deputy asked to raise it on the Adjournment?

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds I did.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Information on Anthony Charles Esmonde Zoom on Anthony Charles Esmonde I asked for No. 4. Will you communicate with me?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan I will communicate with both Deputies.


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