Leaving Cert Fail


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I am a Christian Syrian who has recently been forced to leave Damascus because of violence and, in particular, the bombing of the school attended by my three teenage daughters. My eldest daughter is sitting her Leaving Cert in June and intends taking Arabic as one of her subjects. In reviewing past papers, she has discovered that questions on the Koran are mandatory. She, as a Christian, has never studied the Koran. This is very unfair. What can we do about this?

A question put to education expert Brian Mooney in today’s Irish Times.

To which, Mr Mooney replies:

It may seem strange that it never occurred to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment when drafting the syllabus for Leaving Cert Arabic in 2003 – subsequently approved and published by the Department of Education – that not everyone fluent in Arabic would be a Muslim.

The fact that there are Christian, Yazidi and Buddhist communities throughout the Arab world that have no knowledge of the Koran clearly did not cross the mind of anyone involved in signing off the content of the exam.

To find yourself as a refugee in Ireland forced to answer questions on an Islamic religious text as part of a language exam in Arabic is, to use Charlie Haughey’s phrase, grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented.

I have brought this matter to the attention of the State Examinations Commission, which indicated to me that you are correct. Your daughter currently has no option other than to study the Koran if she wishes to take Arabic for the Leaving Cert.

There you go now.

Ask Brian: Why does Leaving Cert Arabic assume students will have knowledge of the Koran? (Irish Times)


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84 thoughts on “Leaving Cert Fail

  1. mildred st. meadowlark

    That’s utterly mad. How did questions about a religious text end up on a language paper in the first place?

    1. mildred st. meadowlark

      Yeah, refugees should only face really serious issues like finding clean water, or a place to stay where they aren’t prosecuted for their beliefs and circumstances. Education is none of their business.

  2. Tish Mahorey

    “to use Charlie Haughey’s phrase, grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented.”

    Nah, it’s not that outrageous. It is an oversight and a bit narrow minded alright but it’s easily fixed.

    Ireland has had a huge influx of different races, cultures and languages (and very welcome in my opinion). But it takes a state our size which has been culturally homogenous until about the late 1990s to catch up in all areas where people engage with state institutions.

    A lot done, a lot more to do etc…

  3. Advertising On Police Cars

    What’s the big deal? Studying ‘works of fiction’ should not be a problem if she can understand the language….

    1. ET

      Problem is the Quran uses a different type of Arabic to the standard every day Arabic, even in places where Arabic is a first language they have to have separate classes in school to study it so they will understand the language used.

  4. Starina

    woah. What about Irish people wanting to study Arabic for business? bit racist, really, in dumb, assuming kind of way.

    1. Cian

      The arabic curriculum is written like the English/Finnish curriculum. It’s designed for those who already have the language, not for learners. If Irish people want to study Arabic for business, Leaving cert Arabic is not the way to go about it.

    2. joj

      Do you think a pasty white Irish public servant designed that curriculum? of course not, it was designed by an Arab and being Muslim he would not have given a second thought to including mandatory Koran studies

  5. ahjayzis

    I was always mad jelo of classmates getting to do ‘X as a foreign language’ for the LC when X was their first language >_<

    1. Paps

      I specifically chose to do another language, it would have meant 2 years of being bored in class.

  6. bisted

    …on the other hand, atheists and non-christian flavours of religion will have no ploblem on questions relating to catholic texts since they will be exposed to them from the day they enter the school system.

  7. Paps

    We all had to learn useless, unhelpful stuff in school which we’ll never use again , the leaving cert is a memory test and nothing more. The LC doesn’t accommodate to (Insert Language Here) at all. If you think that the Arabic syllabus set is so “grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented.” pick another language and expand your mind.

  8. Colm

    A couple of things on this:
    It’s a fascinating and disturbing insight into the lives of some people – we all probably thought we had ‘challenges’ with education but your school being destroyed by bombing is some backdrop to your leaving cert.

    I agree it’s an oversight, not a slight and they’ll probably correct it, possibly not in time for this year. It does give an insight into the default thinking at certain echelons in the civil service. As far as they were concerned ‘shur all a them Arabs are Muslims I’d say’ and no one bothered to google to see was this the case everywhere. Not malicious, just sort of unimaginative. there isn’t much more sophistication in certain areas at the top of the American political establishment when it comes to the middle east either so they’re in good company.

    1. Mickey Twopints

      My experiences lead me to believe that it’s the default setting to be expected throughout our education system and isn’t confined to “certain echelons”.

  9. collynomial

    “The fact that there are Christian, Yazidi and Buddhist communities throughout the Arab world that have no knowledge of the Koran clearly did not cross the mind of anyone involved in signing off the content of the exam.”

    Are we supposed to criticise pencil pushers in the Dept. of Education for signing off on something that they would be largely unfamiliar with?

    Is the course made for people who come form families who speak Arabic who live in Ireland or to be potentially accessible by all Irish school children? For example, when I studied business, was I at a disadvantage because I came from a family which were not Entrpreneurs? Probably. Was that disadvantage so great that I could not read the books and apply myself and get a decent grad? No.

    Any other person not having grown up an Arabic speaking family is at a disadvantage to anyone who did, but the course is open for those students alike. Moreover those students who didn’t grow up in Arabic speaking family are even less likely to have studied the Qur’an.

    One has to consider what the view of the Dept. of Education might have been at the time. Why might they offer Arabic? To equip students with the ability to speak and conduct business in Arabic? To help students born in families where Arabic is the first language get a good grade in the leaving cert? To allow students to go to university and study the history of Arabia; Arabic Literature etc? For the craic? All of the above?

    Whatever the reason, one cannot deny that the Qur’an is one of the most important texts which has been written and studied in Arabic. In the same way that in Leaving Cert Latin one studies Virgil and in Leaving Cert Ancient Greek one studies the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles: they are formative texts in the history of the language. Regardless of whether your parent raised you a Roman or a Christian.

    Do the Christian students in Ireland “study” the bible before going to school, they might be familiar with some of the stories, but I doubt they would have studied it from a literary point of view. There’s no reason to say Muslim students of Ireland are any different. They might be aware of a few bits of here and there, but they wouldn’t have studied it from a literary point of view.

    I’m sorry for the student in question that they feel marginalized, but to me it looks like the opposite was the intention: the course is designed as a one size fits all, meant for everybody who has an interest. If the student is willing, they can learn and they will pass.

    1. Mickey Twopints

      Are we supposed to criticise pencil pushers in the Dept. of Education for signing off on something that they would be largely unfamiliar with?

      In a word, yes. They are paid very well to do just that, and it is standard practice to have at least one (frequently several) subject matter experts review exam content and standards prior to acceptance for publication.

      1. collynomial

        You can’t have it both ways, you can’t be a general dogsbody in the Dept. of Education pushing things through for approval *and* a subject matter expert.

        The pencil pusher ship things off to the subject matter expert they come back with their findings and the dogsbody sends it on up to the Director general and the Minister for approval. You can’t fault the pencil pushers for signing off on something they would be largely unfamiliar with.

        1. Mickey Twopints

          Do you honestly believe that papers for state examinations such as the Leaving Cert are processed by “general dogsbody” “pencil pusher” staff as you call them?

          If so, you are very much mistaken.

  10. dan

    I call bs on this article. The Koran is a very important book in Arabic culture.
    In the exam, the text is given and the pupil is asked questions that directly relate to the text to examine their understanding of the text, not the religious doctrine.
    There is a question on context which a Christian might struggle to answer but it’s one question among many.

    1. They Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab

      awhh. I call “bs”.. well done lad – you’re a big boy aren’t you?

    2. ahjayzis

      No more important to broader Arabic culture than the King James Bible is to that of the Anglosphere. I don’t think TEFL courses carry a lot of theological reading material though.

      1. Rob_G

        Both the Koran and KJV Bible are hugely important to each of the languages you mentioned, and in that context could justifiably be included in an exam paper.

        (from an atheist, for what it’s worth)

    3. Janet, I ate my avatar

      Agree. you don’t have to agree with the waffle but if you at least know what’s in it at least you can constructively argue with the contents, if you want to.

    4. Cup of tea anyone?

      The Qur’an and the old testament are close enough. So as a christian she should already be familiar with most of it.

    5. mauriac

      yes.it strikes me that the refugee parent is being sectarian in not wanting her child to study the Koran as part of an Arabic syllabus.

  11. nellyb

    Irish doesn’t come with bible studies, why not if Arabic does? And marxist concepts for Chinese lang exams? Go Ireland!

  12. Gorev Mahagut

    The syllabus expects candidates to be able to read and understand the Koran. It does not ask them to have prior knowledge of it. The distinction is lost on Mr Mooney, but perhaps that’s forgivable. I believe he is a careers guidance counsellor.

    1. nellyb

      “understand the Koran” on what level? as in – recognition of words and sentences without comprehension?
      while on comprehension topic – faith writers about bible:
      “There are many difficult verses, some would say troubling, hard-to-understand or accept verses throughout the Bible and there will never be unanimous agreement as to which verse is the most difficult. Measuring the difficulty in a verse of Scripture is not an objective exercise like deciding on the shortest verse”
      That leaving cert “faux pas” is an insult to young people and islam alike.

  13. veritas

    My concern would be that like John Charles McQuaid and the constitution some Saudi/ Wahabi influence was brought to bear as a qui pro quo for investment or funding the mosque and muslim school building program.It should end immediately even if there are any agreements with any foreign power involved.Would any of those who don’t object accept questions on canon law on the Irish exam

  14. JC

    Something tells me the Dept contracted this particular piece out and the questions were set by someone with an obvious agenda in spreading the Word of the Koran even via a leaving cert question. Not very bright of the department at all.

    1. Rob_G

      … or maybe no-one in the DoE can read Arabic, and no-one had pointed out between 2003 and now.

      1. Owen C

        Someone signs up for Leaving Cert English. They’ve never read Shakespeare. They’re expected to read Shakespeare. Outrage ensues?

        It does not appear deep insight or rote-style-learing of the Koran is required, merely the ability to broadly interpret what is a common book in modern and historic Arabic culture. Whats the problem? Did this man think that his daughter could just turn up to the exam with no preparation, and that it was just a basic literacy exam?

        1. rotide


          It’s hard to know exactly how much or little to be outraged by this without knowing what sort of questions are asked but at worst it’s an oversight.

          1. St. John Smythe

            Q: Write 1000 words in Arabic explaining why Allah is the only true Liight and the Way? Please show your work and use an extra sheet if needed.


  15. Anomanomanom

    Sure on a serious note and I’m not trolling, The leaving cert is utterly useless unless you have a specific college in mind and need X amount of points to get in. I have no junior or leaving cert (I’m not joking), I’m very intelligent but the set up just didn’t interest me, yet I now have a great job because when I left school I could put my intelligence to interests I actually had. So long winded point you really need to get over yourself and just plough ahead with our useless system of learning.

    1. They Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab

      ” yet I now have a great job because when I left school I could put my intelligence to interests I actually had”

      Fair play and well done you, I genuinely love hearing this sort of story. I followed much the same in my own career but when the economy took a nose dive I discovered my considerable skills and experience in one area were not in demand at that time and hence was unemployable. I wouldn’t advise anyone now not to get formal qualifications as a consequence.

          1. Anomanomanom

            God no. But there is something about pulling a lever in a big shine tube that appeals to me.

  16. MoyestWithExcitement

    I don’t get how there’s any confusion or even debate here. It was assumed that Arab = Muslim and he took offence, understandably. Is he picketing the depth of education or suing anyone? No, he wrote a letter to some bloke’s newspaper column. “Outrage” tends to provoke a lot of Outrage on Internet forums.

  17. dan

    0.27% of students sit the Arabic paper, a small number would have no knowledge of the Koran.

    It’s not worth spending money to change the syllabus to accommodate such a small %.

    For info, the requirement to “study ” the Koran is on the syllabus therefore the student in question should have known this.

    Here’s a solution; take Arabic off the Leaving Cert syllabus. Problem solved.

  18. Tony

    What actually is wrong with someone being asked to read the Koran. Surely refusal to do so indicates a more strident belief than any religion. But sure thats the trouble with fascist secularists/atheists, everyones beliefs is wrong except theirs.

    1. Cup of tea anyone?

      “But sure thats the trouble with fascist secularists/atheists, everyones beliefs is wrong except theirs.”

      Surely that is the belief held by all religions?

    2. veritas

      If you lost your home,all your possessions and had to travel thousands of miles to safety and then were told to read and understand the holy book of the people who opressed you would you think it a good idea.You won’t see the works of L Ron Hubbard or Joseph Smith on the English syllabus in the US.The point made that it only affects a few so why bother is crazy,If it is wrong it is wrong no matter how many are affected

  19. Pat-the-barker

    Did you know I was in Dubai recently, I had to abide by their rules or, or there was no other option.

    1. Tish Mahorey

      Hey Pat, did you feel all posh and sophisticated in the land of bad taste, crass money and slave labour?

  20. wearnicehats

    Maybe whoever set the exam was so scared of offending people who would be offended that the Koran wasn’t in there that they forgot about offending people who would be offended that it was in there while all the time forgetting again about offending people who would be offended that the course exists at all.

  21. ET

    Unfortunately this article doesn’t explain why she actually has a problem and is at a legitimate disadvantage. It’s because the Arabic used in the Quoran is not the same as Modern Standard Arabic, it is actually written differently. Think reading Shakespeare vs reading today’s publication of the Irish Times. Any student that has been taught for years how to read and understand the Quoran will have a huge advantage over a student who has never been taught how to understand it, even if their first language is Arabic.

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