THE teaching of science to Junior Cert students has not kept pace with what is happening in other countries.
Too much time is spent on facts and theories rather than developing in students a broader appreciation of the relevance of science in the world around them, according to a review.
It says that students need to understand the practical and cultural value of science and, for instance, its role in the many ethical dilemmas that they will confront in life.
The review notes how the focus on science teaching in the junior cycle probably accounts for the "marginally above average" performance by Irish students in global comparative studies.
Although a new syllabus was introduced in 2003, it did not lead to any discernible improvement by Irish 15-year-olds in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) surveys of science skills, in 2006 and 2009.
The report states that while the 2003 syllabus encouraged many positive changes, the ongoing focus on a terminal exam inhibited genuine engagement with its spirit, an increased emphasis on an investigative approach.
The review was carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) as part of plans to revamp the Junior Cert.
It found that, internationally, the focus of science education has moved away from acquisition of a wide range of content to the development of a number of core scientific ideas, which provide a context for students to build their knowledge.
Ireland will have to shift from a curriculum based primarily on knowledge and content to one in which knowledge of, and knowledge about, science are interwoven with skills development, it concludes.
The findings provide a basis for a revised science syllabus to be introduced for first years in 2015, but the authors admit that it presents challenges for teaching cultures and styles of assessment.
The NCCA has published the review paper online and put it out for public consultation.