Third level is not the ultimate Holy Grail

We are in the last days of summer. It is safe to say that we have not had a great summer weather-wise, but we have had a wonderful few days last weekend and into this week. I hope you all will have had a chance to enjoy it, and that young people will have an opportunity to do all the enjoyable outdoor pursuits before school beckons.

Talking about school, we had the Leaving Cert results on Wednesday of this week. Of course, there is the usual speculation and wonder regarding those who got 500 or 600 points, the choices which will be available to them, and all the rest of the trappings which go with the results. On the other side of the coin, there will also be those who will be in despair and feel they didn’t do well enough.

Now, I want to really talk full-on to everyone about those results. Of course we applaud the people who are the high flyers. It would be churlish of anyone not to do so, but I would also like to applaud everyone who finished the senior cycle that is the Leaving Certificate. No matter what their results are, they stayed the course and they have won the race.

As a nation we have a fixation on third level as a badge of honour; that, irrespective of the aptitude of our young people, third level is the ultimate Holy Grail. This is certainly not the case.

I would like to say to all young people - the CAO is not the be-all and the end-all of life. Of course, it is important for those who gain it and pass through the portals of the various universities and third-level institutions. However, there are so many routes available now to further education and so many other pathways leading to different choices and to different career options.

Let’s look at the opportunities which are opening up for apprenticeships. Some 12 months ago I wrote about the burgeoning new Apprenticeship System. At that time I spoke of the planned changes to the existing Apprenticeship System as being the most significant to the Irish education system in decades.

This year these new plans have flowered and what an array of opportunities are opening up for young people in that system. A new Apprenticeship Council has been set up and the variety of opportunities, which it is offering in hitherto unchartered waters, are great for young people. These apprenticeships are deep-learning and are not traineeships or internships. They are also not the sort of apprenticeships traditionally associated with technical or practical careers.

The road to insurance and accounting and other such financial services, the road to software development and plastic technology, the vistas to health and beauty and to hospitality, and so many other choices are now open. I am sure that the schools which young people have attended are opening up these possibilities to them and are advocating the array of choices previously unavailable to young people completing the Leaving Certificate.

Many of these courses will eventually lead on to the CAO and university, so my advice to everyone is explore everything. Talk to your parents and to your teachers. You have the key in your hand to make future choices for yourselves. Make sure to use it. Good luck to everyone as they start out on the path of life.

We have had such enjoyment and incredible woes looking at the action in Rio during the last week. I will just pick on a few of them. We had the wonderful two rowers from Skibbereen - O’Donovan Brothers from Lisheen in County Cork. I switch my mind immediately to Lisheen. It’s a tiny rural community with a very small school which I saw again on TV. It now has 73 pupils.

Years and years ago during my time as Minister for Education, I visited Lisheen to open a lovely new school which they had built. Then, as now, there was huge community spirit and I saw all the children in Lisheen jumping for joy at their two heroes. Of course we laughed at the openness of the two of them. When asked what their secret was one of them said: “We closed our eyes and we pulled like dogs!” And so they did and brought the lovely lustre of silver medals to us in Ireland and to tiny Lisheen in Cork.

We have had the utter heartbreak of Katie Taylor. Somehow I knew, and I am sure so many saw it too, as she entered the ring that there was something of defeat in her demeanor. As she said afterwards, she has had many losses in the last 12 months. Of course, Billy Walsh was a loss, but I understand the other loss to which she referred was the absence of her father by her side. I don’t know what it all was, but Katie, whom I thought fought valiantly, didn’t make it to get even the bronze medal. In that moment of defeat, so achingly portrayed on TV, I willed someone to run up and throw their arms around her and embrace her in a heartfelt hug. But Katie, you gave us so much joy for so many years.

Katie, like the Leaving Cert students, is at a crossroads now in her life, and I wish her good luck and happiness in her journey ahead.

Our hopes rested on Annalise Murphy, the sailor whose every day was thwarted by wind speeds but who didn’t disappoint as she claimed the silver medal in the women’s laser radial sailing in Rio on Tuesday evening. The 26-year-old put in an excellent performance to secure Ireland’s second medal of the Games.

Let us not forget to pay tribute to the marvellous hurlers of Kilkenny, Waterford, Tipperary, and Galway. What a feast of delight in Semple Stadium in Thurles and in Croke Park in Dublin last weekend. Each team displayed skill and daring, courage and strength. They had perfect weather conditions, ecstatic audiences, and truly gave us all such spectacles to behold.

Each Sunday morning at 8.30 for a half an hour John Bowman gives us other feasts on which to dwell – feasts and fetes of the past, whether it is Roger Casement, a wonderful author from way back, or the old-time gold Olympic holders whom he relayed to us last Sunday. Names like Bob Tisdale, who won gold at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, and Dr Pat O’Callaghan, who had won a gold in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam and went on to win a second gold for Ireland in Los Angeles in 1932. John Bowman is a wonderful broadcaster and that half hour on a Sunday morning is a feast of listening which I enjoy before I decide to get up and get going.

Enough of nostalgia; have a good week ahead.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go fóill,

MARY O’ ROURKE

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