Should the college year be extended?

 
 

With the country’s institutes of technology calling for a longer academic year, Matthew Jones and Evan O’Quigley debate whether UCD’s college year should be extended

NO – Evan O’Quigley

Extending the college year in order to improve educational standards, as has been proposed by the country’s institutions of technology, would be relatively pointless.

The summer break given to college students in Ireland may be quite long. You might even find yourself going out in the middle of the night to steal milk from your neighbour’s doorsteps just to rid yourself of the boredom, but all sorts of things can happen during the summer. It can be a great time for students to explore. It offers us the chance to work, go abroad or improve on a hobby such as music, art, sports etc.

If students made better use of the college year, literary standards could be improved significantly. If they took the time to study in between bouts of going out and getting wasted, sleeping it off and crying their eyes out the next morning while sitting in the shower hung-over, their grades would be bound to pick up. Perhaps they could have their hangover in the lecture theatres instead, while learning at the same time. Multi-tasking is vital.

The real issue in education is how second level education is taught, not third level. The Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn was absolutely right when he recently stated that the Junior and Leaving Cert programmes need to be reformed. It is rather ridiculous that students come out of secondary school, year after year, without knowing a single thing about the subjects they took for their Leaving Certificate. There seems to be a consensus that the best way to achieve high points and guarantee yourself a college place is to learn all the course work off by heart. This system needs to be changed immediately if literary standards, among other things, are to improve.

The culture of predicting what will come up on the Leaving Cert exams may allow for good results, but in reality, Leaving Cert points are not representative of one’s intelligence. I don’t mean to say that everyone who learned a lot off for their Leaving Cert is actually an idiot. Far from it, in order to receive quality third level education you have to play the game, and wrote learning is doing exactly that. The system of practising previous exam papers and simply covering the courses during secondary school education is far more harmful to students then having long summers during third level.

English language standards may very well be falling, as UCD academic Mary Daly has recently stated. It’s likely the case that if you asked most students to define an apostrophe, most would not be able to give a correct answer right off the cuff, but extending the college year is not the answer to this. With improvements in spell checking software on computers, spelling and grammar is becoming less of an issue.

Students are expected to already know how to read and write before they enter third level education. Poor spelling and grammar is not the fault of the universities, most of which base their courses on the notion that their students have prior knowledge of such concepts. Perhaps Ireland needs to examine how grammar, punctuation etc. are taught in the first place, instead of making arguments about whether the academic year should be lengthened.

The college year shouldn’t be extended, but maybe the college week could be. Most arts students for example, are expected to attend fifteen hours a week and end up missing half of those hours. There should be more done to encourage students to make better use of their time in order to succeed in their studies, so that afterwards they can enjoy the summer.

Rebuttal:

The arguments put forward by my fellow writer were simplistic in the extreme. The question was whether the college year should be extended to facilitate better standard of education yet he spent a long time bemoaning the current secondary school system.

It is a direct contradiction to state that students spend a lot of their time either drunk or hung over and then to claim that they would benefit from their weeks being filled with study hours. In fact, extending the college year would give them more time, and ensure that they lose out on less study hours.

The argument that cramming more classes into the current time-frame would make students work better is also weak. My colleague uses the Arts degree as a model for increasing work, but answer me this; how many medical science students can afford to add even more work to their already packed timetables?

YES – Mathew Jones

As we recover from the summer and settle into our fourth week of term I have to ask, how many of you remember last year’s lessons?

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that most of you reading this column studied French at Leaving Certificate level, and when you got your Leaving Cert, you were kind of able to sort of speak the language. Pop quiz: what does this sentence mean?

“Mon aéroglisseur est plein d’anguilles”

If it took you more than a few seconds to translate that sentence, then you are proof of the problems that surface when students do not study for long periods of time.

The fact of the matter is that when students are away from their studies for any period of time, they immediately start thinking of things to do other than study. Give a student three months off and you can be guaranteed that by the end of it their heads will be so alcohol-soaked and packed with celebrity gossip that they barely remember what course they’re in, never mind the inner workings of a particle accelerator, or complex verb structures in a foreign language.

So what’s the solution to this crisis? The answer is simple; extend the college year by a few weeks. This extra time needn’t be entirely focused on learning new information, but can incorporate more revision and re-enforcement.

Speaking at a recent conference with the Teacher’s Union of Ireland, the country’s institutes of technology said that it would be wrong to blame any shortcomings in students on their second level education, especially when the college year is so short. It’s not just foreign languages that suffer from lack of use though; UCD Academic Mary Daly criticised the standard of English language writing seen in third level students, she claimed that in recent years, “the apostrophe had gone the way of the dodo”.

How many of us have witnessed ‘text-talk’? In this method of communication, vowels seem to be optional and consonants can intermix like it’s a night out in XXI’s. There have been reports coming back from traumatised lecturers that some of this writing has even made its way into essays.

This can’t go on. The whole idea of taking a quarter of the year off is insane, especially when other holidays are taken into account, leaving the entire total term times amounting to only about six months. Letting the minds of students relax to the point where they forget basic grammar rules and the correct use of punctuation clearly points to a flaw in the system: too much free time.

A typical Arts student has about fifteen hours of lectures and seminars a week. Students are expected to do individual study for around two or three times that number of hours. While this seems good in theory, a great many students don’t follow the advice of their professors and just do the bare minimum to pass their course. If students aren’t working to their full capacity during the college term, how can we expect them to work on maintaining their education during the massive gap between end of term exams and the start of the new year?

As I have already made clear, the only really viable way of ensuring a standard of education that doesn’t diminish during the summer is to shorten the summer break and give students more time to absorb what they have learned before they are told: ‘well done on your exams, we’ll see you in a few months.”

Rebuttal:

It’s true that many students return from the summer a little fuzzy at first after four months of binging, sleeping and generally doing very little that’s productive. However, this is going to be the case whether there is a two, a three or a four month summer. The college year is structured so that people can ease into the year before getting tough assignments. Of course, there is also the fact that courses are split into modules, meaning students have less to remember from before the summer, and can restart more easily come September.

There are without a doubt many students whose literacy abilities are failing them, ultimately leading to embarrassing situations, such as submitting assignments filled with text talk and so forth. However, this has likely got little to do with the length of the summer, but more to do with distractions in general. They’re everywhere, just look around you – phones, Facebook, iPods and the rest. People need to find a way to separate their social life and their academic life in order to succeed, regardless of how long the college year is.

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