Teachers say junior-cycle science curriculum being ‘dumbed down’

Survey of 700 science teachers says lack of clarity is leading to anxiety and frustration

Some 85 per cent of teachers surveyed said it would be unacceptable if the same template of syllabus design used at junior cycle was to be used for  the Leaving Cert

Some 85 per cent of teachers surveyed said it would be unacceptable if the same template of syllabus design used at junior cycle was to be used for the Leaving Cert

 

Science teachers say a new science curriculum for pupils completing the junior cycle amounts to a “dumbing down” of the subject.

The finding is contained in a report by the Irish Science Teachers’ Association based on a survey of more than 700 teachers.

The report warns that the changes will provide “poor preparation” for study of science subjects at Leaving Cert level due to a widening gap between both programmes.

Only 1 per cent of teachers said junior cycle students would be very highly prepared to study science subjects at Leaving Cert level of foot of the changes.

Among teachers other concerns were that the curriculum consisted of “vague” learning outcomes and lack of depth of treatment which was causing a serious “dumbing down” of standards.

It says this lack of clarity is causing high levels of stress, anxiety and frustration among science teachers who find themselves having to teach a curriculum in which they themselves have to try to work out what exactly is on it.

Some 85 per cent of teachers said it would be unacceptable if the same template of syllabus design used at junior cycle was to be used for a high-stakes exam such as the Leaving Cert.

‘Destroy’

Many teachers commented that this would damage or “destroy” Stem subjects at Leaving Cert level, such as science, technology, maths and engineering.

The report, “Listening to the Voice of Science Teachers”, also claims there are “major flaws” in the template used by the State’s advisory body on the curriculum to design the junior cycle curriculum.

It says they were previously raised by Prof Áine Hyland, emeritus professor of education UCC, in 2014 when she carried out research on international best practice in curriculum design. One of the recommendations she made was that the design of draft science syllabi at Leaving Cert needed to be brought up to international standard before being introduced.

Prof Hyland said at the time that “more detailed information about the depth of treatment of subjects and the requirements for examination must be provided at national level in Ireland to bring the syllabuses into line with international good practice.”

In the same 2014 report, Prof Hyland pointed out at the time that the design adopted would be particularly inappropriate for a high-stakes exam such as the Leaving Certificate.

However, the association maintains that the same “flawed” template is being proposed for the draft Leaving Certificate science syllabuses.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which advises on education reform, has previously said the changes are aimed at promoting a more inquiry-led approach which enables students to ask more questions and promotes deeper engagement with the subject.

Scientific literacy

It has said the curriculum allows students to enhance their scientific literacy by developing their ability to explain phenomena scientifically; their understanding of scientific inquiry; and their ability to interpret and analyse scientific evidence and data to draw appropriate conclusions.

“Science is not just a tidy package of knowledge, nor is it a step-by-step approach to discovery. Nonetheless, science is able to promote the development of analytical thinking skills such as problem-solving, reasoning, and decision-making,” according to NCCA’s literature on the rationale for the changes.

“Learning science in junior cycle can afford students opportunities to build on their learning of primary science and to activate intuitive knowledge to generate, explore and refine solutions for solving problems,” according to NCCA’s rationale for the changes.