Times of Change: NUI Maynooth conference on making the move to higher education

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It seems that up until now, not enough serious consideration has been paid to the the transition that post-primary students face as they head into higher education.

Which seems a bit strange for a number of reasons. For one thing, the leap from primary to secondary school is a huge leap that marks a vital new phase in a person’s development. It’s all a bit intimidating for the poor first-year students who only a few months previously had been the big fish in an admittedly smaller pond. Suddenly almost everyone is bigger than them, they have to get used to new uniforms, new buildings and classrooms, new teachers, new subjects and new responsibilities.

New environment

In some respects it is little different for students entering higher education for the first time. Granted, the people around you may be the same size as you (maybe even smaller), but the new sensations can be a bit daunting, even overwhelming. Suddenly you find yourself in a completely new environment, in a new location, and all around you are unfamiliar faces. And it is not just the people: classrooms are referred to variously as ‘theatres’, ‘auditoriums’ or ‘lecture halls’; subjects are talked about and treated with a kind of tantalising, teasing insight; and when it comes to attendance or study, you are largely left to your own devices (which is a very odd feeling at first). On top of all this is the burgeoning new social life at your finger tips, as a new set unruly of distractions rally around you and vie for your undivided attention.

How can one cope with such a personal, social and academic leap? Just as making the transition from primary to secondary school marked the shift from childhood to adolescence, making the leap from secondary education to higher education helps define the metamorphosis from adolescence to adulthood. For this reason, much of the coping is left in the hands of the student. However, it is not – nor should it be – the student’s sole responsibility to adapt to a new way of learning: they need help, and the earlier they get it, the better off they will be.


Thankfully there are signs of change. A major conference recently held at NUI Maynooth was solely dedicated to the issue of transitioning from secondary to tertiary education. In his opening address at the conference, the Minister for Education and Skills Rory Quinn commented: ‘There is widespread agreement in this room and beyond that our young peoples’ potential and experience of education is being threatened by the nature of a high-stakes Leaving Certificate examination that is also used to determine entry into higher education.’

‘I am very happy with progress to date and am confident that implementation of these reforms will be of enormous benefit to students in the future. It is important that we are informed through analysis and evidence of the potential impacts of reform in such a sensitive area. The results of the research underway and the important contribution made at this conference will be drawn together by the end of this year when we should be able to see a clear path forward for implementing the changes necessary at second level and in higher education,’ said Minister Quinn.


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