Pupils must not be forgotten in monumental task
Published 16/01/2014 | 02:30
JUNIOR Certificate reform is the biggest thing to happen in Irish education for a long time and so it is no surprise that it has generated excitement and nervousness, in equal measure.
So, what's it all about?
New ways of teaching, learning and assessment designed to encourage students to think for themselves, to be creative and set them up for work and life in and ever-changing, complex world.
A bigger choice of subjects with opportunities to study short courses such as Chinese, computing and artistic performance.
Replacement of traditional state exams with a system where teachers grade their own students and the school awards its own certificate.
Technology will be central and it will become commonplace for students to submit digital portfolios, or give multi-media presentations as part of their assessment.
There is enthusiasm on the part of a minister who wants to leave a legacy of reform.
Curriculum advisers insist change is essential if Irish teenagers are to keep pace internationally.
The reform was driven by their research showing how Irish second-level students start switching off education in second year because it doesn't engage them, and how the nature of the Junior Cert exam breeds a culture of rote learning.
School managers are justifiably apprehensive about whether a system already stretched to the limit, as a result of cutbacks in recent years, can cope with the level of change now being asked.
Schools have already had to drop subjects or merge higher/ordinary level classes and this week the Department of Education acknowledged that reduced resources was an "added challenge" for schools in delivering the minimum required 28 hours a week instruction time.
Teachers are worried about whether they will come under pressure from parents to deliver a good result or about how they will be perceived if the teacher in the class next door awards more As or Bs.
If the pressure is too much, rather than underpinning better learning, will reform drive standards down, they ask.
Some wonder whether a Junior Cycle Student Award (JCSA) from one school will carry the same weight as one from the school down the road.
It should, but that matters less than it would have at a time when large numbers of students left school at 16 and required a state certificate as a passport.
And, if there is something amiss in the school down the road, then it should be addressed.
Whatever their individual perspective, everyone on the Junior Cycle Working Group has the interests of students at heart and students must remain their focus in these deliberations.