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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Forget cramming for exams, children need creativity, flexibility and freedom

RUAIRI Quinn has taken a bold step with major change to the Junior Certificate. These changes represent a huge advance for formal education in Ireland. The truth is that change was long overdue.

The present system has distorted education and learning for decades. It has opened the way for a grind-and-rote culture while our learning outcomes as a nation are at best average, with a frightening number of young people caught in a trap of poor literacy and low academic performance.

The number of Junior Certificate students regularly taking grinds was identified in ESRI research as 50pc.

This is a multi-million-euro racket at the expense of already hard-pressed parents.

It also eats into the leisure time of young people, which could be much more profitably spent doing other things like sport, music, scouts and, yes, having fun.

Those of us who work with young people in the voluntary sector have seen the unfair pressure that this outdated examination and its trappings have placed on young people.

It is ridiculous that having spent a long week at school, young adolescents should be locked in for more hours of cramming and grinding content or preparing for 'mock' examinations.

Scouting Ireland recognises that the key skills identified for development in this new approach are more appropriate for young people's learning in the 21st Century.

The move away from content cramming, rote learning and the grind culture is very positive, as is the implicit acceptance that young people and their teachers require less pressure and more flexibility and freedom on their journey of learning and development.

The power of peer learning and collaborative working has long been ignored. Why are young people not facilitated to learn with and from their peers? The answer usually given is that it's 'the system'.

Vested interests in this system have convinced parents that the Junior Cert in its present form is a vital building block for their children's education.

Parents have been sold short with this idea and it's time that the truth was told.

If 21st Century learning skills such as creativity, collaborative skills, problem-solving and personal responsibility for learning are what parents seek for their children, then the junior cycle has been using the wrong ingredients to develop them.

It is well understood in international research that young people benefit from the out-of-school educational activity and experiences that scouting and other positive leisure time activity offers and this reform of the junior cycle will allow a harmony of approach in formal and non-formal learning.

All of us who care about education and young people should be glad Mr Quinn gave "the system" a good shake.

John Lawlor is CEO of Scouting Ireland and formerly the head of Trinity College's access programme Bridge 21.

Irish Independent

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