The National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA) revealed earlier this year their new vision for senior cycle science education in Ireland – new draft syllabi for Leaving Certificate biology, chemistry and physics and a dramatic change in how they could be assessed. The NCCA also opened up a consultation process to allow scientists, outreach groups, teachers, parents, students or anyone interested in science education the chance to mould the future course of science education in Ireland.
The NCCA’s aim is to create a “learner centred” approach to science education with a spotlight on developing scientific literacy, critical thinking skills, communication skills and the cultivation of analytical proficiency across all the senior sciences.
There have obviously been some changes to the content of each of the syllabi with some material added and other elements removed – which is sure to cause much discussion. However, the most significant change is a shift in the focus of the assessment from purely examination based to the incorporation of a new practical component.
When introduced candidate will receive twenty percent of their total mark, in each of the subjects, based on the completion of mandatory practicals throughout the two years of study (5%) and a 90 minute practical test (15%) where pupils will be asked to complete a series of three or four short set tasks. These tasks will aim to assess their practical skills and their ability to analyse data and draw conclusions. Some of the material within this practical assessment will be beyond the scope of the syllabus.
The terminal exam will also look to challenge the candidates more and reward students with a greater understanding of the scientific method. The NCCA have just recently released samples of the types of question which could be included and they are a welcome move from the current style of exam question in Leaving Certificate which, more often than not, rewards the students capable of remembering facts and regurgitating them on paper come exam day.
The consultation process, which closes on Friday (October 28th), is a chance for anyone with an interest in science to shape the future direction of science education.
Over the past number of weeks, science teachers around the country have been meeting to discuss the new syllabi, the proposed changes, additions, deletions and to consider the new approach to assessment. By all accounts these meetings have been very productive and the Irish Science Teachers’ Association (ISTA) will be submitting the teacher feedback to the NCCA.
However, it is also incredibly important that the Irish scientific community are willing to contribute to this consultation process. It is vital that the new syllabi are up-to-date with new scientific thinking; include the latest advances in scientific understanding; contain relevant content and develop the required skills for the next generation of Irish scientists.
This is an excellent opportunity to influence how science will be taught in this country over the next decade and there is a responsibility on everyone involved in Irish science to ensure that this new direction is the right one. So please take some time to review the new syllabi and to fill out the short questionnaires so that the NCCA can mould these draft syllabi into structures that promote the sciences and develop scientific literacy.