Government rules out review of plan to ‘demote’ geography in junior cycle

Varadkar says making too many subjects compulsory risks overloading curriculum

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Education Joe McHugh and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor  at the launch of the Government’s  education plan  at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Education Joe McHugh and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor at the launch of the Government’s education plan at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The Government is to press ahead with plans to make geography an optional subject for junior cycle students despite opposition from teachers and academics.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Thursday that reversing its plans would run the risk of “overloading” the school curriculum with compulsory subjects.

He was responding to third-level academics who have expressed concern at the “demotion” of geography. In a recent letter to The Irish Times, the heads of departments at a number of universities said geography was key to solving global problems such as climate change.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Varadkar said the junior cycle reforms aimed to provide for a combination of long and short courses across a range of topics, which could include climate change.

“I appreciate the request or demand to make 20 or 30 subjects compulsory and to add new ones all the time. But we have to bear in mind the risk of overloading the curriculum, and having so many subjects that are core and compulsory that it is counter-productive. So, we have to get that balance right.”

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said he would not be seeking a review of plans to make geography an optional subject at junior cycle level. This is despite his request to the State’s advisory body on the curriculum to review plans to make history a non-core subject.

Mr McHugh said history and learning from the past was important and highly relevant to the times we live in.

Existing strategies

The Minister was speaking following the publication of a plan for education which sets out hundreds of actions aimed at preparing people “in a balanced way for life and work”.

The plan places a continued emphasis on existing strategies such as boosting the learning of foreign languages, placing a greater emphasis on Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) and investing in new Leaving Cert subjects such as physical education and computer science.

Mr McHugh said the State was spending almost €11 billion on education this year, the highest amount ever, and this was resulting in new schools, extensions and refurbishments, the lowest ever pupil-teacher ratios in primary schools and a record number of special needs assistants .

However, Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne was critical of what he said was a lack of ambition in “yet another education plan”.

He said education was not getting its fair share of resources, and the amount allocated to third level from central government had dropped this year by more than €15 million.

Educators

The plan drew a more positive response from educators, with the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals saying the aims would move “our education system into a more modern and fit-for-purpose model”.

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) also welcomed the plan’s commitment to “enhance guidance counselling” at second level.

“We very much look forward to experiencing what this ‘enhancement’ will translate into in our reality in schools,” said Beatrice Dooley, IGC president.

Employers’ group Ibec said while it welcomed the plan’s ambitions for higher education and research, they were undermined by the Government’s “ongoing failure to address under-investment in the third-level sector”.