Leaving Cert agricultural science: ‘A leap forward’ from the old rote thinking days

Topical question on pig farming coincides with concern over wild boar in Co Kerry

A topical question on pig farming asked about biosecurity; the fate of  wild boar in Co Kerry has been making the news recently. Photograph:  Radio Kerry

A topical question on pig farming asked about biosecurity; the fate of wild boar in Co Kerry has been making the news recently. Photograph: Radio Kerry

 

The first agricultural science papers of a new syllabus were topical, approachable and, for the first time, required higher order thinking skills, teachers have said.

Luke Saunders, Studyclix.ie agricultural science expert, said that the newly introduced syllabus put a much greater emphasis on the environmental impact of farming, sustainability and biodiversity.

Johnny Gleeson of the Irish Agricultural Science Teachers Association (IASTA) said that the paper was well laid out and attractive.

“But it was over 50 pages and some students have expressed concern over the time it took to read the paper,” he said.

We saw topics such as biodiversity, farm ecosystems and farm safety on the paper. A topical question on pig farming asked about biosecurity, and if students had listened to the news, they would have heard about the wild boar in Kerry and the risk they pose.”

Contemporary

Séamus Hynes, TUI subject representative and teacher at Clarin College in Athenry, Co Galway, said the paper appeared long because the questions posed more detailed scenarios, but he was glad to see more contemporary agricultural practices appear on a more modern exam.

Mr Saunders was also glad to see farm safety on the paper, and said the section A questions were fair but will have challenged students.

“Question 13 asked students to construct an argument to convince a group of farmer of the merits of growing multi-species grass sward on their farm - a leap forward from the old rote thinking days,” he said.

“The paper required higher order thinking, tested students to think like a scientist and used a range of contemporary source material from Farmer’s Journal articles to Department of Agriculture planning documents.”

Mr Saunders said the ordinary level paper was well-rounded and covered most of the main sections of the new course, but that the questions were pitched at a slightly more difficult level than on previous ordinary papers.

The new syllabus design for the subject has sparked controversy among teachers of the subject.

In October 2020, the IASTA wrote to Minister for Education Norma Foley expressing concerns about the new syllabus design and what it called “flaws in the learning outcomes”, with teachers unsure how long they should be allocating to each topic.

Mr Gleeson said that science teachers, whose syllabi are currently being developed, shared the same concerns.

“It is time to call a halt to the practice of the Department of Education publishing these vague and dumbed-down syllabi,” Mr Gleeson said.

Try this at home: - Leaving Cert agricultural science, higher level:

You are asked to address a group of farmers who are thinking about sowing a multi-species sward on their farm. Providing evidence from the article and with your own knowledge, construct an argument convincing them why it would be good to sow a multi-species sward on their farm. Your plan should include at least four specific benefits.