Sunday 22 September 2019

Education Minister aims for early decision on whether history should be compulsory for junior cycle students

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Joe McHugh is aiming for an early decision on whether history should be compulsory for junior cycle students.

A review of history’s place as an optional subject is being reviewed at the request of the minister, and a report is expected by the end of March.

The report  is being prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and, one he has it, the minister is likely to make an early decision on history’s future.

Under the junior cycle reforms currently being rolled out, English, Irish and maths are the only core subjects, and schools have freedom to choose what others they want to offer.

The State never made history a compulsory junior cycle subject, but in religious-run secondary schools – which account for about half of schools - it was a ”must do”.

It was not compulsory in the community and comprehensive sectors but the uptake was high and, in practice, history has been taken by about 90pc of all junior cycle pupils.

Junior cycle reforms have brought more subject choices, including short courses such as coding, as well as restrictions on the number of subjects an individual student can sit, raising fears that history may be squeezed as students take the opportunity to pursue other interests.

President Michael D Higgins is among those who have lent his support to calls to give it a preferred status in the new regime.

Mr McHugh also keen to make it mandatory, saying it was “very important that our education system gives our young people the opportunity to learn about, and learn from, key times and events in our history, particularly in the context of our decade of centenaries. 

"These include the end of the First World War, the delicate path we walk to mark the foundation of the State and the role of women in society.”

He said the  study of history also gave pupils the chance to consider and learn from the story of Irish migration, of the journey from conflict to peace on this island, the experience and lessons to be learned from our most recent history and the rich history of our Irish language and its place in our culture and our heritage.

As part of the review, Mr McHugh has also asked the NCCA to identify how  best to  promote the study of history in schools.

The challenge  for the NCCA is to unpick the thinking that went into the junior cycle reforms and decide if, and why, history would deserve to be singled  out from  the 18 optional subjects to become part of the core.

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