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Verdict on Junior Cert is 'must try harder'

THEY moan and groan about it but when it comes down to it, it's hard to find anyone who actually wants to get rid of the Junior Certificate.

Government education advisers sought the views of the public as part of a long-awaited reform plan for the early years of second-level education.

Everyone agrees that change is necessary to make the experience more relevant to young people.

But the two things that people most want to keep are the exam itself -- as a good practice run for the Leaving Cert -- and the range of subjects available for study. At the same time, many would like to see less of a focus on the terminal exams, held every year in June.

There is popular demand for fewer, and shorter, written exams, and the greater use of other forms of assessment, such as student portfolios.

There is also a strong preference for a greater emphasis on practical and creative subjects in the pre-Junior Cert years, including computers, road safety, music and art.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has been working on plans for Junior Cert reform for some time.

Before final recommendations are drawn up, students, parents, teachers, employer organisations and others were asked for their opinions in a public consultation process.

There were almost 500 responses to an online questionnaire, a day-long consultation with 86 students and 40 written submissions from groups such as the employers' body, IBEC, school managers, teacher unions, the Third-World agency, Trocaire, and the Irish Film Institute.

Curriculum overload has been identified as one of the main problems in the Junior Cert years, with some students taking up to 14 subjects.

While the consultation process found support for the range of subjects on offer, many felt that not all had to be done to the same depth.

Curriculum overload has been identified as one of the main problems

Getting away from rote learning -- or learning off by heart -- has also been identified as a key aim of the reform process.

"A majority of students was critical of the examination for putting too much pressure on students and for testing their memory rather than their understanding of a subject," the report states.

There was strong support from students for the use of portfolios in assessment.

They told the NCCA that portfolios carried "less stress", provided "a chance to display your creativity", helped them feel "more motivated, and it would actually be 'fun'."

Students also suggested that portfolios would generate a sense of pride and liked the idea of choosing their best pieces of work and having an opportunity to discuss and present it.

Irish Independent