Tuesday 23 October 2018

Exam reforms are welcome but we need more than piecemeal change

Our View

Moves to revamp the Leaving Cert - with a new focus on promoting physical activity and further developing the computer skills of Ireland's young people - are laudable but does the plan go far enough?

From next September students in a limited number of schools across the country will be able to study both Physical Education and Computer Science for the Leaving Cert with the first state exams in each subject taking place in 2020.

The addition of PE and computing to the Leaving Cert curriculum is certainly good news but in both cases the plans are not only long overdue, they are also distinctly underwhelming.

There has been a cautious welcome for the new Physical Education course but many PE teachers and health experts have expressed significant reservations about it.

Chief among these are arguments that the course - while likely to be of huge benefit to young people who are already actively involved in sports - will do little to tackle Ireland's spiralling childhood obesity epidemic.

According to many PE teachers and health experts, the way the course will be structured means there will be little to encourage less active students to take up the subject.

They say that while students will not need to be supremely fit and active to attain decent marks, the subject's design - and how it has been promoted - appears geared more towards students who are already active and involved in sporting pursuits.

The fact that it will not be offered to Junior Cert students has also been criticised, as has the fact that many schools still don't have the facilities to teach the subject to exam standard.

Instead it has been argued that, rather than focussing on providing PE as a Leaving Cert subject, the Department should instead make efforts to get all students - at all levels - more active.

Providing dedicated PE teachers in all primary schools, so that all children receive proper PE from a young age, has been identified as one way the state could achieve this.

The introduction of Computer Science to the Leaving Cert has come in for less criticism but it is not without it's naysayers.

While the content of the planned course has been almost universally welcomed many - especially those in industry who have been calling for more computer and IT training in Irish schools for decades - say the new course is too little, too late.

Again the criticism comes down to the age of the students.

Most experts argue that, like PE, Computer Science should be offered at Junior Cert level and perhaps even earlier.

Given how technologically savvy Irish children now are, there is an argument to introduce basic computing in primary schools.

It may seem like a far-fetched idea but the notion is supported by the work of the 'Coder Dojo' charity which - since its foundation in 2011 - has taught thousands of children, aged from seven to 17, the basics of computer coding.

Any changes to our often outdated exam curricula are to be welcomed but if we are to see real benefits we need to see real change, not piecemeal reform. To paraphrase a famous election slogan a lot has been done but there's a lot more left to do.

Enniscorthy Guardian