Angela Maher

'Snobbery' leading Westmeath students into wrong choices


A warning that some students in Westmeath are making poor educational and career choices because of “snobbery” was sounded last week by a professional career coach from Mullingar

Students believing they must go to university are ignoring the opportunities that apprenticeships and PLC courses present, Angela Maher of Career Coaching Matters claimed.

She also revealed that some students – again out of “snobbishness” – erroneously believe degree courses trump those from institutes of technology.

Ms Maher said the result is a 20-24 percent dropout rate from some degree courses, with many young people missing out on the real opportunities they should be getting.

At a public meeting on jobs held in Mullingar on Tuesday week, Ms Maher said that she believed the high drop-out rate from third level institutions is happening partly because many students are not ready for third level – but also because there was only “a certain cohort” able for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) courses at third level.

“Youngsters who are really bright are going to go straight into third level and do an honours degree but unfortunately we’re growing a middle cohort – which is larger than it used to be – of the undecided, the completely lost, the unable to cope with going to third level education, the unable to cope with being away from home,” she said.

Ms Maher’s suggestion was that there be a focus on “further education”, which included apprenticeships and PLC courses and she was critical of the “snobbery” which also saw second level students opining that an engineering degree from a university was better than any from an IT.

“We need to take the snobbery about education out of second level,” she said, before calling to have more PLC options made available within Mullingar.

Dentist Anne O’Donnell backed up Ms Maher’s claims, saying that there is a cohort not ready for a degree, but there were few opportunities for people coming straight from school.

That said, she feared there were a lot of parents who did not realise the impact of failure for their children, and who let them go to college even if not able for it.

Ms O’Donnell said she believed the regional colleges had “lost their way” somewhat, citing as an example the fact that dental nurses now have to do a full-time two-year course when, in fact, the coursework could be fitted into a year, and done part-time.

Businessman Michael Ellison of RI Media, remarked that there was a need for a lot of people to upskill or reskill, but the lack of back to education grants was hampering this.

“There’s an awful lot of supports that used to be there that are gone – right when we need them most,” he said.

Pulling no punches, he said the level of coding in Mullingar was “remedial”, and in marketing, there was an awful lot more that could be done.

Ms Maher agreed that there was a need for more education in coding and in languages – and at school, students should be learning vital skills such as Excel.

Support for the call for a wider choice of options for students came from nursing home operator John Noel McGivney, who said Mullingar needs a college, and he believed it should be at St Loman’s.

The move to have it provided should, he said, be led by the county council.

“Not from the county councillors; from the county council,” he said, saying the staff at the county council were not providing leadership.