Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Young People, Recession and Debate

The most affected group in Ireland and indeed elsewhere are people entering the labour market yet they are a very tiny squeek of noise in an otherwise roaring debate. If there is anyone who reads this blog who has ideas for getting students and other people around the age of 18-25 involved in the economic debate, feel free to comment here or just email. I don't know in advance whether anything useful could come of this but it seems crazy to be having old stand-by debates around the college campuses when this monster of an issue that directly affects everyone leaving school or graduating college in the next three years at least is roaring ahead without much attention.

Some of the questions that might be worth considering for public debate include:

- How bad is the current economy for people entering the labour market? How worried are school and college leavers?

- What role can and should migration play?

- Are there cultural trends emerging among people leaving school and college that are different from people who left prior to the recession? Are any of these positive? Which are particularly negative?

- What can be done by policymakers to avoid the worst outcomes for school and college leavers?

- Are college leavers interested in low-paid internships as an alternative to further study or unemployment? Are there pitfalls with having these systems?

- Are business start-ups a viable alternative for people leaving college?

- Is the social welfare system flexible enough to allow people to avail of work/study and related pathways?


Rob Gillanders said...

It's far from a quick fix but I reckon the best way to get the young uns interested would be to introduce some sort of civics class in secondary school. Ditch the compulsary Irish and use the time to create a sense of community via an understanding of why we should care rather than being able to tell each other we need to go to the jax "as Gaeil...Gailg..."in Irish.

Martin Ryan said...


I couldn't agree with you more on getting rid of compulsory Irish (I have argued for this before).

It should be noted that Senior Cycle education (i.e. Transition Year and Leaving Cert. programmes) is currently the subject of a major review by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). One example is that the NCCA has developed a draft syllabus for a new subject in the area of social and political education, called "Politics and Society". This could be an engaging optional subject for many Leaving Cert. students.

I have argued before to re-orientate the Leaving Cert. curriculum to have four compulsory subjects: English, Maths, Applied Maths (geared towards information technology) and the “Chemistry and Biology of Everyday Life”.

This may be bring us onto some very difficult questions about the economic returns to certain courses of education at Leaving Cert. While Irish language is important for heritage (and knock-on effects on tourism), do we not get enough of that benefit by schooling students in the Irish language up until Junior Cert.?

Those who want to study Irish at third-level (and I can see the need for this) could enter third-level courses that pick up where Junior Cert. Irish left off.

Looking at Leaving Cert. subject choice between 1997 and 2005 (based on anslysis I conducted on the blog before), we know that most students choose Geography, Business Studies, French and Biology for their optional subjects. The following are the most popular subjects, in order. (I should point out that after Accounting, the numbers taking any subject are quite low):

1. Geography
2. Business Studies
3. French
4. Biology
5. Home Econ.
6. History
7. Art
8. Construction
9. Physics
10. Chemistry
11. German
12. Accounting

I should also point out that there is a sizeable fall of about 50% in the numbers taking any subject after Home Economics. We can see that the top four (Geography, Business Studies, French and Biology) include one of Hist/Geog, one "Business" subject, one language and one science subject.

I think that having (only) three of these "broad choices" alongside Maths, Applied Maths, CBEL and English would be a very rounded preparation before doing anything after second-level.

My hunch is that Geography, Business Studies, French, Biology and Home Econ are being chosen because they are easier exams to score more points from. I suspect that French is being chosen to get into NUI colleges, but that Home Econ would be a higher preference if the NUI language rule did not exist.

Finally, it could also be argued that having four (instead of three) compulsory choices might be fairer, in that it could be viewed as a more level playing-field.

Rob Gillanders said...

Nice idea Martin.. I'd switch out Applied Maths for History though...but that's just cause I'm more cultured than you.

David Karp said...

I know it's off topic, but is "Irish" the same thing as Gaelic? I've never heard the adjective Irish used to describe a language before.

As for getting more people interested in debate, as a 23-year-old Canadian I agree education is part of the puzzle. If you don't understand the financial crisis, it's hard to debate it.

Another way to get young people debating though is to identify young people who have an interest and aptitude in the subject matter and get them together. For example, in Canada the Fraser Institute think tank hosts student seminars, and they invite top students from the seminars to debate economic readings over a weekend later in the year.

Liam Delaney said...

student seminars are one idea. More debates organised by the students themselves would be good. One of the main debating societies had Jo Stiglitz last night. I think a series of debates something along the lines of "are we a lost generation?" or "this government is failing young people" or something like that would kick things off. Meddling with student debates is a bad idea if you are faculty. Every generation of students will decide what they want to debate and often seemingly trivial debates from the perspective of the professors and politicians become the mainstream as the students themselves become the mainstream. But it is important for students to get involved in this. There are massive decisions being taken that are far larger in scale than the fees issue that have substantial implications for students in Irish colleges. It would be good to see some of these issues thrashed through.

Martin Ryan said...

David, "Gaelic" is the most suitable way to describe the native language of Ireland. But some people also refer to it as "Irish"; indeed this is how it is referred to in Irish schools.