Yes Minister: ‘This is an opportunity that we cannot allow pass us by as educators’

Many students finish school with points and certificates but little understanding, we now have the opportunity to change that

Sr Liz Smyth. Photographed in 2000.

Sr Liz Smyth. Photographed in 2000.

 

It is my belief as a Dominican sister that it is important to support and encourage educational reform in Ireland that will equip our young people with the knowledge and skills required to change the world for the better, through study, witness and right relationships.

Prof Áine Hyland reminds us that “since 1922, there have been various attempts to loosen or remove the chain of centralised examinations from our second-level curriculum, especially at Junior Cycle but all such attempts have failed to date”.

The reason for this is that we have been using the Junior Cert exams as a dry run for the Leaving Cert. True education should not be about points. We need reform so that within our education system we can have “assessment for learning” instead of “assessment of learning”.

Most educators are in agreement that students today must be taught the skills to take responsibility for their learning; we as teachers must continue to be learners also. Despite the current impasse with teachers’ unions, I believe the time is right for radical reform. This reform is about addressing quality not quantity.

Learner-directed learning

So why can’t the JCSA be assessed, as proposed by Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, with 40 per cent school-based assessment and 60 per cent final exam?

Most teachers and school leaders I met want change and reform within our education system and all agree that the pressure of getting students prepared for exams can “kill” a subject. So why have the unions called for industrial action?

Status quo

Prof John Hattie discovered through his research that what helps students learn is when teachers become learners of their own teaching and when students become their own teachers. He believes this can be done through the feedback the teacher gives to the student.

Most people agree that many students finish school with points and certificates but little understanding.

We now have the opportunity to change that within the Irish education system. At its core, the JCSA involves ways of understanding pedagogy in order to fundamentally change the learning in our schools.

Sr Liz Smyth is deputy principal of St Dominic’s Secondary School, Ballyfermot

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