Study reveals education differences

Wed, Jan 18, 2012, 00:00

Traditional teaching methods still dominate in Irish primary schools with relatively little group work or active learning, according to a new report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The study concludes that girls and pupils attending fee-paying or gaelscoileanna are most likely to experience active learning in their classroom. 

The finding points out how the 1999 Primary Curriculum focuses on children as active learners. 

Despite this, it says “more traditional teaching approaches remain dominant. Whole-class teaching continues to be commonplace, with much less use of active learning methods (such as group-work) than had been envisaged”.

Younger teachers, it adds, are more likely to use more active methodologies in the classroom than more experienced teachers. 

More active teaching methods are much less prevalent in larger classes, indicating the constraints caused by class size. 

The study also points to significant differences in how pupils spend their school day. Girls in single-sex primary schools spend more time on religious education. But their male counterparts in single-sex schools spend more time on physical education, history and geography. 

Broadly, the nine-year-olds surveyed by the ESRI spent most time at school learning English, Irish, maths and religion. But the mix offered to pupils depended on the type of school attended. 

There is large variation across schools, and within schools, in the time allocated to particular subject areas. This may mean that some students spend significantly less time than their peers on subjects such as mathematics. 

More experienced teachers were much more likely to spend greater amounts of time on English, Irish and mathematics. 

Pupils in gaelscoileanna are more likely to experience a broad curriculum. Worryingly, the report points to “striking disengagement levels’’ among children with special educational needs. It also finds boys are more likely than girls to be disengaged and more negative about literacy based subjects. 

The ESRI reports how children's experiences of school vary quite dramatically depending on the school they attend and the teacher they have.

Dr Selina McCoy of the ESRI says the report highlights significant variation in the types of teaching and learning experiences primary school children have. “While this reflects schools and teachers adapting timetabling and teaching approaches to the perceived needs of different students, the report points to the need to balance this flexibility at the school level with ensuring that all children have exposure to varied subjects and methods,” she said. 

Other finding include:

- Special needs children were “substantially” less engaged with their education than others in their age group; 

- Girls are more likely to have a positive attitude towards languages; 

- Girls in single-sex schools were more interested in mathematics while boys in single-sex schools were happier to learn English, Irish and mathematics compared to those in mixed sex schools. 

The report is based on data gathered through a wider survey about the lives and attitudes of nine-year-olds in Ireland. The study finds they are broadly positive about school and their teachers.

The Primary Classroom: Insights From the 'Growing Up In Ireland' Study by Selina McCoy, Emer Smyth and Joanne Banks is published jointly by the ESRI and National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.