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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Junior Cert Leaving Cert

AFTER MANY years of consultation, the NCCA published the report Junior Cycle Developments, Innovation and Identity, the summary of its consultation findings in February.
The new Minister for Education and Skills RuairĂ­ Quinn has now set September 2012 as a target date for the introduction of a revised Junior Certificate programme.
As a precursor to the NCCA consultation process, the ESRI carried out research into the experiences of students in the junior cycle. Among the many issues highlighted, the research identified discontinuities in the learning experiences between primary and post-primary school; that students were often taking what appeared to be an excessive number of subjects; that curriculum provision in some schools was relatively “unbalanced” with many students having no access to subjects with a practical orientation; and that the pressure experienced by teachers to complete the course for the examination meant that, at certain times, an over-reliance on giving extensive notes or on textbooks become the norm.
At the same time, students expressed a preference for more varied approaches to teaching and learning, and were more engaged with learning when these approaches were used.
Four overarching concerns have emerged from the NCCA consultation process:
First, the existing junior cycle programme has inbuilt inequalities and does not meet the needs of all students. The challenge for any new curriculum is that it be accompanied by the resources required to ensure that disadvantaged students can benefit equally from it.
Second, there is the issue of how to get the balance right between a locally-devised curriculum and central control. Everyone agrees that schools should have more flexibility and freedom to develop programmes to meet their students’ needs, but the danger is that this will lead to highly differentiated learning experiences for students, escalating inequality and leading to a two-tier provision.
Third, there is the question of how to improve the connectivity between the new curriculum at junior cycle, and the primary and senior cycle education system. The negative influence of the Leaving Certificate programme and the points system on teaching and learning is highlighted.
Finally, there is broad agreement that any new junior cycle should have its own identity and not be seen as just a preparation for the Leaving Certificate.
Three outcomes for students at the end of the junior cycle are identified as desirable: that they become both independent and resourceful learners; that they develop confidence in themselves and their abilities; and that they become effective communicators enabled to interact with others.
To roll out this new curriculum within a little over a year is ambitious in the extreme. The scale of the changes being considered in both the curriculum to be presented to incoming first years in September 2012, and the teaching methodologies proposed to transmit it, will require intensive retraining of teachers as well as an information campaign to inform parents of the proposed changes.
The fact that all schools will have an additional 33 hours of time available to them from September 2011 onwards, may facilitate the beginnings of a long-term in-servicing of the existing pool of teachers, but if the proposals as outlined in the consultation findings just published are to be implemented in full, it will be many years before all of them can be realised. For all its faults and failings, the existing Junior Certificate programme has many strengths, which should not be jettisoned lightly. Let us proceed resolutely on this process of reform, but with caution.

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