Dropping geography and history
Sir, – The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) plans for Junior Cycle reform centre on 24 statements of learning that are meant to cover all areas of knowledge considered important at Junior Cycle level.
The defence put forward for removing geography and history as compulsory subjects is that: 1. They are not currently compulsory for all students, and 2. It would be impossible to deliver the new Junior Cycle without teaching geography and history. Both of these defences are flawed.
First, all students take history and geography either as whole subjects or as part of environmental and social studies. Nonetheless, the argument that not all students take the full subjects compulsorily, therefore none should, is a fallacy. History and geography are the building blocks not only of an individual’s cultural identity but also of a society’s. The reintroduction of compulsory history and geography in the new core curriculum in the United Kingdom is in part a response to the negative impact on societal identity and cohesion contributed to by the absence of these subjects since their removal from the core curriculum in the 1980s. In trying to build an education system for the 21st century, it is disturbing that Ireland would seek to replicate the failings of 1980s British education policy.
Second, the statements of learning are constructed in such a way that a systematic course of study of any subject – except English, Irish and Maths – can be dispensed with altogether if a school so chooses or if their staffing levels force them to. In fact, the draft Framework for Junior Cycle sought to do away with the idea of “subjects” altogether and adopted a notion called “curriculum units” instead.
While the NCCA is developing syllabuses in history and geography, there will be no requirement on schools to offer these courses. Instead, a school could opt to study, for example, famous mathematicians or the history of one local building and it would satisfy the history requirement of the Statements of Learning. Interesting though these examples are, they are not a substitute for a systematic course of study that allows students to acquire a full and deeper understanding of the world they will enter as young adults.
The value of history and geography speaks for itself. Their removal as compulsory subjects is a mistake and has little to do with traditional and contemporary notions of what constitutes an education. – Yours, etc,
Vice-President of the
Association of Geography
Teachers of Ireland,
C/o Wesley College Dublin,
Ballinteer, Dublin 16.