ERG SES G 10, Primary and Post-primary Education
Theoretical and Philosophical Framework and Objectives:
For decades, Irish policy-makers have striven to address the issue of effective second-level education. Irish post-primary education is at a ‘crossroads’ of development involving curricular development and significant changes in evolving cultural and social structures. Diverse pupil-populations and increased class sizes are among the most pressing challenges for teachers. For policy-makers, the challenges are more political and complex. According to Looney (2001), trying to balance curriculum, structures and culture is a problem which is not easily solved. The current post-primary curriculum is described as ‘overcrowded’ (NCCA, 2006) and this results in the curriculum being regarded as a problem rather than an opportunity.
Irish pupils continue to perform in the top sectors in international studies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) PISA evaluations. However, longitudinal research completed by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI, 2007-2011) has identified post-primary educational experiences for pupils at junior-cycle level as didactic and exam-oriented. An over-emphasis on rote-learning and ‘teaching to the test’ with reliance on text books has been reported (ESRI, 2011). The following excerpt from the study outlines approaches which pupils felt best facilitated their learning:
Third year students generally prefer techniques that allow them more autonomy in the learning process whereas a strictly teacher-led approach is considered less helpful.
(ESRI Research Bulletin, 2009/4/1)
How could current pedagogical practice in Irish post-primary schools be described? This is a key research question for the current study. Do teachers recognise the need to focus on the development of skills and move away from knowledge which is fragile and fluid within a fast-moving world? Is teaching about delivering knowledge or about the optimisation of engagement of pupils in their own meaningful learning experiences while developing the skills necessary for the twenty first century world? According to the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC, 2011), Junior-Cycle reform is urgently required and depends on teacher-quality and professional development:
IBEC believes that radical reform of junior cycle teaching methods and curriculum content could have a profound impact on educational outcomes including the development of critical thinking and moving away from the dominance of rote learning...therefore it should be regarded as a priority area for policy attention and investment.’
(IBEC 2011 Budget Submission)
There is a dearth of research into teacher effectiveness in Ireland. In their longitudinal study, Smyth et al (2007; 2009; 2011) identify the lack of differentiation at post-primary level and confirms the prevalence of didactic, exam-orientated, teacher-led activity as being the normal pedagogical practice. The need for differentiated teaching methodologies is well-justified from recent research, such as the ESRI study (2007-2011).
References: Department of Education and Skills (2012). Revised Junior Cycle Framework. Dublin: Government Publications. Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) (2010). Reform of the Junior Cycle in Secondary School. Dublin: IBEC Looney, A. (2001). Curriculum as policy: some implications of contemporary policy studies for the analysis of curriculum policy, with particular reference to post-primary curriculum policy in the Republic of Ireland. UK: The Curriculum Journal, Vol. 12 no. 2; 149-162. National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (2006). NCCA commentary on ESRI research into the experiences of students in the second year of junior cycle. Trim: NCCA Subban, P. (2006). Differentiated Instruction, a research basis. Monash, Australia: International Educational Journal, 7(7), 935-947.
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