The NEW JUNIOR CERTIFICATE SCHOOLS AWARD (JCSA)
– An opportunity that we cannot allow pass us by as Educators (Dominicans)
Education is the key to breaking inequality according to the highly respected former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela
“Education is the greatest weapon we can use to change the world”. (The Planetarium Johannesburg 16th July 2013)
It is my belief as a Dominican Sister, and former Dominican student that it is important that we as Dominicans support and encourage educational reform within Ireland that will prepare our young people so that they have the knowledge and skills required to change the world for the better, through study, witness and right relationships as set out in our Mission Statement.
Aine Hyland in a review of 100 years of Junior Cycle (JC) Curriculum in the Le Chéile Journal Issue 8 October 2014 published by the NAPD 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 (JC) but all such attempts have failed to date”.
The reason for this is because we have been using the JC exams as a dry run for the Leaving Certificate. 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. Presently our system in the Republic of Ireland is 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. In a world full of technology students have knowledge at the touch of a button therefore when we are teaching young people today it is not about giving them knowledge; it is about giving them the skills to understand the knowledge they have. It is about encouraging our students to understand that they as learners themselves are the ultimate leaders of learning. It’s about moving away from passive teacher-led Instructivism to learner-led active Constructivism.
Despite the current impasse with teachers union, I believe that the time is necessary for radical reform. This reform is about addressing quality not quantity. As it was stated at a recent Le Chéile Deputy Principal’s In-service the issue of Assessment will be resolved. Therefore we as educators must continue to sow the seeds of real education reform.
The core of the New Junior Certificate which will be known as the Junior Certificate Schools Award, (JSCA) is an opportunity for us to understand pedagogy in order to fundamentally change the nature of learning in our schools. It promotes learner directed and teacher supported learning that will encourage innovation, experimentation, self-discovery and collaboration within and between schools. At present our education system is teaching to the test, rote learning and memorisation. If you have a bad day on the day of the exam tough luck!!
The present system does not support or encourage those who learn through experience or imagination. This often leads to students being bored, which leads to class distribution or at its worse leads to a reinforcement in some young people that they are failures and even stupid!
The new JCSA gives schools the opportunity to provide courses that are relevant to the lives of their students. Under the following key skills 1) Managing Myself 2)Staying Well 3)Being Creative 4)Communicating 5)Working With Others 6)Managing Information and Thinking.
The reform of the JC gives teachers the opportunity to develop short courses that they are passionate about and that they know will benefit their students in their journey of learning. We have had the opportunity to fulfil this criteria through the Transition Year Programme, at present our students complete 10 week modules on Mindfulness, Development Studies, Leisure, Photography, Chinese, Film Making, Digital Media and Interior Design – these modules are changed regularly depending on the students’ needs as the school has control and does not have to teach them to a “rote exam”. Students also have the opportunity to experience their traditional subjects (Maths, Irish, English, and History etc). So why can’t the JCSA be assessed as is proposed by Minister for Education Jan O’ Sullivan which is 40% school based assessment and 60% Final Exam?
Assessment for Learning
Most teachers and school leaders that 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. Therefore, why have the unions called for industrial action? This is a question that I have heard over and over recently. It could be because there has not been enough investment put into the preparation of teachers for changing the culture of Assessment – It could be that some feel the “Status Quo” of our Education is under threat. Mary Hanafin, Chairperson of our Board Management and Former Education Minister, believes that a School based certificate from DEIS schools like St. Dominic’s Ballyfermot, will not be valued the same as schools in more affluent areas. ”The Cert. from the school in the disadvantaged area will not be perceived to have the same status as one from the area which pays the highest property tax”. (JC Three Major Concerns – Le Chéile Journal Oct 2014) Mary may have a point due to the “snobbery” that some people have re schools and education. One of the ways to change this snobbery is to change the way we assess.
It is my belief and the belief of many educators that we need to change our method is assessment. From Assessment of learning to Assessment for Learning.
Prof. John Hattie in his research (The Visible Learner) discovered that what help students learn is when the teachers become learners of their own teaching and when students become their own teachers. This he believes can be done by the feedback that the teacher gives to the student. It is more than chalk and talk. He says that that teaching requires deliberate interventions to ensure that there is cognitive change in the students. This is only achievable if the teacher can provide direction and re-direction in terms of content being understood and not just memorised. Most people agree that at present many students finish school, with points required and certificates but little understanding.
We now have the opportunity to change that within the Irish Education System, starting with the JC reform, which will help us in the future to reform the LC and free us from the “Points System” At its core, the JCSA involves ways of understanding pedagogy in order to fundamentally change the learning in our schools.
It is an opportunity for us to make our Dominican Schools Mission Statements a reality which is ‘to educate the whole person (Academically, Socially, Emotionally, Ascetically, Spiritually) as individuals’. “One size does not fit all” and the New JC is affording us the opportunity to have many different sizes within our schools for all our students, therefore meeting the needs of every individual student so that they have sense of “Success” and “Belonging”.
The proposed reform will give us opportunities as teachers to get away from the restricted autonomy, and lack of creativity and judgement due to the packed prescribed curricula. It will give us the opportunity to collaborate within our own schools and others, but that is for another days reflection!
Liz Smyth OP