We spend most of our lives reminiscing about youth. Times were better, summers were sunnier, pints were cheaper. When I started college in the early 1990s, the country was beginning to emerge from what we once considered to be a deep recession. Now, by recent comparison, it measures merely as an economic blip. For those leaving secondary school back then, there was still a points race, but the number of third level courses was rising. For those leaving college, a booming economy meant that the furthest you considered travelling for work was up the N8 to Dublin.
This past week, there have been two stories that have highlighted for me how the pressures of grown-up Ireland have started to encroach on the next generation (a generation I consider to be very important because they are the ones who will be funding the public services I will rely upon when parts of me start to fall off). Firstly, there was the Leaving Cert.
As a reporter, I have covered the Leaving Cert results day for many years. You turn up at a school to witness both excitement and dismay, with success and failure very much on public display. There was some discussion on the day of the results of the impact of a new “bonus points” scheme for honours maths, but parents and students alike questioned just how significant any impact might be. Fast forward to Monday, and those logging onto the CAO’s website quickly found out.
There were some science courses that just a few years ago would have allowed you enter with 300 points. In 2012, you would have needed 500 points to get in. We told these teenagers that the jobs were in science. We told them that their failure to study honours maths was a black mark on their collective character. So they all studied honours maths, and they applied for science. Their reward for following this sage advice? They didn’t get the courses they had applied for.
There will be students who would be excellent scientists, and who last year would have gotten their first choice. Now, we have managed to create a system that excludes them, when the object of the exercise was to encourage them. You would understand if this left something of a sour taste.
Then, spare a thought for those who have passed through college, and are now unemployed on the other side. Take the example of a young man called Chris, who we spoke to on the radio programme. Like so many, he saw no value in sitting at home while searching for a job, so opted to take an unpaid internship in his field of interest. Chris considered himself still available for work, and was actively looking.
However, honesty was his downfall, because when he applied for the dole and told them he was doing an unpaid internship, the Department of Social Protection decided that meant he wasn't actively seeking work, and could therefore take a hike. There was no discussion, although he frustratingly had to tell his story to a number of different people before they ultimately said no. One official helpfully told him that had he said nothing, he would have probably gotten away with it.
So, what are we telling our young people?
1) In making important decisions about your future, follow the official advice, but be prepared for disappointment because those officials didn’t expect you to listen to them.
2) Whatever you do, don’t be honest. It will only lead to disappointment.
Ireland in 2012 is obviously trying to baffle her youth into submission. Let's just hope it doesn't work.