New Junior Cert to have maximum of eight subjects
JUNIOR Certificate students will take a maximum of eight subjects in the exam in a bid to stamp out the practice of learning "off by heart".
It is the start of a major reform package in second-level education, which is also expected to include a change in the CAO points system used for college entry.
The cap on Junior Cert subjects will apply to students entering second-level education in September 2012.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn announced the limit yesterday as part of the new national strategy to combat poor numeracy and declining literacy standards among students.
Curriculum overload at second-level carries much of the blame for the practice of students memorising material, merely to regurgitate it in the exams.
It has become common for students to sit 10 or 11 Junior Cert exams, and in some cases up to 14 exams.
The rote learning habit carries through to the Leaving Cert, where the level of cramming leads to high stress levels and sleepless nights.
It also means that students are sacrificing a proper grasp of a subject and key skills -- focusing instead on learning for the exam and maximising their CAO points.
The big worry is that the students leave school without knowing how to learn independently and with poor writing skills, a source of criticism by third-level colleges and employers.
Dublin City University recently announced that it was putting a focus on writing skills in its BA journalism programme to help students address "gaps in their grasp of basic English, including spelling, grammar, punctuation and word usage".
The limit on the number of subjects students take in the Junior Cert is the first step in a a bigger shake-up in the exam.
Government education advisers, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), are also working on proposals that would see more continuous assessment of students by their own teachers, to take the focus off the single terminal exam.
Under the new literacy plan, the NCCA will also revise the Junior Cert syllabus for English, and for Irish in Irish-language schools
Mr Quinn said that the eight subject cap would provide schools with an opportunity to develop students' understanding of subjects in greater depth.
While the Junior Cert reform plans are at an advanced stage, there are now moves to follow on with changes at Leaving Cert level, which will begin with a major conference on the points system in September, involving the NCCA and the Higher Education Authority.