Sinn Féin education spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien TD has broadly welcomed measures announced today to reform the Junior Cert Exam but he has expressed concerns that teachers will be expected to assess their own students’ work.
Deputy O’Brien said: “The worrying fall in literacy and numeracy standards in recent years can in part be attributed to the Junior Cert and there is a general consensus that this 20-year-old exam needs to be reformed.
Education Minister Ruairí Quinn deserves credit therefore, for implementing radical changes to an exam that is of key importance to young people during their first four years at secondary school.
“I believe we need to learn from progressive, high performing education systems such as those in Finland and New Zealand where there is less emphasis on learning by rote and greater importance placed on continual assessment.
“I understand that the new revised Junior Cert exam syllabuses are to be drawn up by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and will combine traditional subjects with a number of short courses in areas such as digital media, entrepreneurship, sustainable energy and living and Chinese language and culture.
“These changes will hopefully ensure that future generations of young people leaving Irish schools are better equipped to meet the demands of an evolving workplace and global market. Reform of the Junior Cert will however be rendered meaningless unless our education system is properly resourced and this includes ensuring there are incentives for the most capable graduates to enter teaching.
“Moves to introduce standardised tests in numeracy and English reading in second year, from 2014, should improve literacy and numeracy standards that are so essential achieving an individual’s academic potential.
“I also welcome the proposals to have in place standardised tests in science related subjects, and this must be accompanied by changes in how science is taught at primary level which presently averages at one and half hours per week, or well below the OECD average.
“One of the areas I am concerned about are the plans to have teachers assessing their students’ work. This is likely to place teachers in a very difficult position both in terms of their increased work load, the time they have to teach and problems with objectivity when assessing their own student’s work.
“They will also face the added burden and pressure from parents, particularly those who have unrealistic expectations of their own children and it is an aspect of the reform proposals for the Junior Cert that must be carefully considered.
“Another issue that we will be looking at is the future status of history and geography and how they will be affected should the number of core subjects within the Junior Cert be reduced.
“I believe it would be a retrograde step to downgrade either of these subjects as they are a vital part of our school curriculum.”