LEAVING Certificate science students are about to make a giant leap to where no fifth and sixth years have gone before.
A major shake-up in physics, chemistry and biology will catapult learning in Irish second-level schools to the cutting edge of science.
The revised syllabuses will introduce pupils to areas of study, such as biotechnology, which is already a multi-million euro industry.
For the first time, practical exams will be introduced in the three subjects to allow candidates to demonstrate what they know.
While Ireland has lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of science practicals, what's now envisaged is in line with the best.
The practicals will end the days when students could learn off an experiment by heart and regurgitate it in a written exam.
This is important if Irish school-leavers are to have their thought processes developed sufficiently for further study and employment.
Proposals for change have been drawn up by government education advisers and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
Now, the NCCA has launched a consultation process with the industry, teachers and other interested parties and wants feedback before delivering final proposals to the Department of Education at the end of the year. It will then be up to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to decide when the change will happen.
Information about the new syllabuses, as well as videos showing students demonstrating the new practicals, have been posted on the NCCA website.
Although money is tight, modernisation of the Leaving Certificate science syllabuses is a government priority.
The NCCA has come up with a simple, cost-effective way of overcoming the costs usually associated with such practicals. Instead of needing teachers or classroom assistants to prepare solutions, chemicals and equipment for the test, individual kits will be supplied to each student.
The kits, which are recyclable, contain everything the pupil requires for the experiment and also have the advantage of ensuring consistency.
During the 90-minute practicals, pupils would complete a series of tasks, recording and analysing data, and then draw conclusions.
For instance, one test could replicate a hospital lab and require students to measure and analyse the glucose levels in blood samples and make certain observations.
The kits and the practical assessments were enthusiastically received in 24 schools where a pilot project was carried out.