Decision to make history optional subject to be reviewed

Minister says it is through ‘learning the lessons of our past that we can plan for future’

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has announced a review of the decision to make history an optional subject at Junior Certificate level. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has announced a review of the decision to make history an optional subject at Junior Certificate level. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

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Minister for Education Joe McHugh has announced a review of the decision to make history an optional subject at Junior Certificate level.

Mr McHugh told the Fine Gael Ardfheis “it’s already recognised that history is generally the fifth most popular subject in the Junior Certificate examination”.

He said that showed the demand was there from “teachers who attract students to the subject through their own love and passion for education and learning and by engaging the natural curiosity of students”.

The subject became optional in September this year at Junior Certificate level leaving just three core mandatory subjects - Irish, English and Maths - and provoking major criticism.

Mr McHugh said it was through “learning the lessons of our past that we can plan for the future. The past century and more have been an immense period for Ireland.

“Even the events of the last week with our nearest neighbours, trying to plot their Brexit, provide testimony to that,” the minister said.

“The importance of understanding our shared history cannot be clearer and while we have deepened our relations in recent years we can use our understanding of history to build on those.

“It’s also in the context of marking the end of the First World War and how we commemorate anniversaries of the War of Independence, Civil War and Partition.”

Mr McHugh will meet officials from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment “in the next week or so to determine how we progress this”.

Earlier this year President Michael D Higgins expressed “deep and profound concern” that history would no longer be a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

The President said in May that history was the “inheritance of all our people”, and a republic worthy of the name would seek to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also excoriated the decision.

He said he would restore it to the curriculum if his party was in government after the next election.

A former history teacher, he said that when he became minister for education in 1997 there was a proposal to remove the subject from the curriculum.

He vetoed it and said he feared for the future of history, because if it was removed at Junior Certificate level there would be less follow-up at Leaving Certificate, leading to the eventual demise of the subject.

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