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To: Department of Education
Junior Cert Debacle
Put a brake on the current changes until meaningful consultation and debate takes place
Why is this important?
Teachers have boycotted the in-service for the new JC for several reasons: the presentation of the new JC higher and ordinary papers has confirmed fears concerning the 'dumbing down' of, not only English, but other important subjects which will now be assessed as Common exams. The new HL English paper is a single two-hour exam which appears to target only certain aspects of the work that has been studied by the students over a two- year period.
Second year students are in the invidious situation of studying a new course while its assessment has yet to be decided upon in formal and concrete terms.A system which takes its advice from only a fifth of the teaching population (of English Teachers) cannot say that it represents that body of teachers, irrespective of the reasons behind their inability to communicate their wishes/ideas. From the beginning, it behoved the NCCA and SEC to organise local meetings on the ground with the Teachers and parents to discuss the changes, to reach a compromise that would have suited all. We would not have needed any Union intervention and would not, today, be in this invidious situation. The arrogance of the Powers that Be has brought about this untenable situation; I would be concerned that many excellent teachers will leave the profession as a result.
The irony is that our concern arises from our understanding of our students and a desire to ensure standards in English are at the very least maintained, if not improved. When the original request came for some consultation, it was not seen as a means of using our input to demolish a system that is, by many standards quite excellent, but to enhance that excellence by filling in the gaps and moving forward into the 21st century.
While all teachers are happy and willing to engage with the new curriculum, concerns over assessment need to be discussed and determined by the body of English teachers as a whole in order to ensure a successful transition.
In recent days further consternation, anger and genuine fear has been expressed by teachers of Science and Business Studies; how can the Department of Education justify a single Common paper in these subjects, at a time when the world at large is crying out for a student body with the skills and the ability, with a solid comprehension and depth of knowledge of the subjects and the work involved to succeed in these areas. Sitting an OL paper at Junior Cycle does not mean a student cannot aspire to taking a subject at LC; some students require more time to mature and develop skills or may be more practical in their learning and, consequently, should be encouraged to study subjects which will allow them to go on and learn a trade.
The fact is that a demanding and challenging but, for the most part, a successful system of education is being cast aside; there has been no real consultation with the teachers who are working day in and day out with the students concerned, and whose input should have been acknowledged as being invaluable.
I would like to finish with a comment on the ‘dumbing down’ of the grading system for assignments and exams. How many young people were consulted with regard to the grading system? An Education system that ignores the word ‘fail’ does not prepare its students for life in the real world; it insults the intelligence of these students; it does not recognise the concept of learning from one’s failures or from one’s mistakes. George Orwell feared for the limitations he saw being imposed on the English language by a Party that recognised the power of language; instead of a ‘Ministry for Education’ it seems we have a ‘MiniEd’.