We need clarity on Leaving Cert science

 

Sir, – I would like to write to support Prof Ainé Hyland’s concerns about the proposed revision of the Leaving Certificate (Letters, January 21st).

I have been an active observer and supporter of science teaching in Irish schools since 1978, in particular the teaching of chemistry. The proposed minimalist specifications for the Leaving Certificate science subjects leave much to be desired as satisfactory and workable curriculum documents.

Prof Hyland showed in her 2014 report for the Irish Science Teachers’ Association that a “syllabus” based only on learning outcomes (statements of what students should know), does not reflect best international practice and does not provide an adequate framework to allow teachers to teach the course.

It is like trying to build a house based only on its desired features, but without an architectural drawing and detailed plans. Teachers need a detailed syllabus, like the ones currently used, in order to teach effectively – this includes detailed content specification, depth of treatment for ordinary and higher level, suggested or mandatory experiments, as well as clearly stated learning outcomes.

The lack of specifications for required practical work in junior cycle science appears to have led to a reduction in practical work in some schools, and a list of mandatory experiments was brought in previously to guard against this.

If the same mistakes are made with the Leaving Certificate sciences that were made with the junior cycle science course, I believe it will have serious consequences for the health of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education at second level, with a knock-on effect on STEM enrolment at third level.

There are already concerns that the current junior science course is not a good foundation for the existing Leaving Certificate science courses, due to the omission of core topics.

It is a recipe for disaster when teachers do not know what they are supposed to teach and to what depth, where each teacher becomes the arbiter of the curriculum.

How do you set meaningful exams when each teacher is effectively teaching a different course?

This is not a good basis for a rigorous STEM foundation for future courses and careers.

The Government and industry rightly want to promote STEM courses and careers, to underpin our successful STEM-based industries.

Allowing outcomes-only Leaving Certificate science specifications to be introduced, without the necessary supporting materials – and against the advice of science teachers, science education specialists and scientists – is a recipe for future failure.

The foundations of a STEM-based economy are in real danger of being weakened and undermined. – Yours, etc,

Dr PETER E CHILDS,

Castletroy, Limerick.