Wednesday 21 March 2018

In My Opinion: Junior Cert reforms will deliver a happier generation of students

Clive Byrne

In the recent Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study, senior-cycle students viewed a good teacher as one who covers the course, gives lots of sample questions and provides grind-type notes cutting down the amount of study it takes to get good grades.

This generation of students has cracked the code and in many schools throughout the country it appears to me that the teachers are often working harder than the students.

The original hope educators had for the Junior Certificate has evaporated and we are left now with Leaving Cert lite. This is why I welcome the suggested reforms to the junior cycle. The proposals unanimously sent to the minister by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) provide a valuable opportunity for change in our system to harness the talents and creativity not only of our students, but also of our teachers.

The key to a successful education system is to deliver happy, fulfilled and challenged students who can think for themselves. When our children graduate from second-level, aged 17 or 18, are they imbued with a passion for, and a love of, learning? Can they think for themselves and be autonomous and self-directed learners? Increasingly the universities and employers are saying no.

Ireland needs the children emerging from our education system to be literate and numerate, to be flexible and adaptable, to have a global outlook, to be comfortable using ICT and technology, to possess innovative, entrepreneurial attitudes, to have good communication skills and be able to work in teams.

With over 90pc of students sitting Leaving Certificate, the Junior Certificate is not a high- stakes exam, but parents, in particular, need to be convinced that the world won't end if a student can study a subject and not take an exam in it, that teachers will make professional judgements about the achievement of a student, that there can be valid modes of assessment other than the terminal exam and that school-based assessment can be as equally valid.

In other countries, curricula are assessed using open-book exams, projects, extended essays and presentations. School accreditation involves wider levels of assessment for character, credits for attendance, punctuality, behaviour and co-operation, participation in extra-curricular sport, music and drama as well as being able to reward creativity and innovation -- in the case of Finland without a national exam and without school inspections.

The reforms proposed for junior cycle will cater for the needs of the students but will also nurture the talents of the teachers. Parents will see that the reforms will not dumb-down our system. By trusting our school leaders and teachers, Ireland can aspire to a second-level system which is more responsive to societal and student needs, which ensures equality and equity and provides the 21st Century skills we need in our students.

Clive Byrne is director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD)

Irish Independent

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