What’s the new Junior Cert about?
First things first: it’s won’t even be called the Junior Certificate anymore. The State exam is being abolished and is being replaced from 2014 with a lower-stakes, in-house exam, called the Junior Cycle Programme.
Teachers will devise and correct some – and, eventually, all – the subjects. The timetable will be radically altered, as schools are instructed to introduce a number of short courses, based on local needs and capabilities, to complement the eight to 10 subjects they will offer at exam level.
What’s the problem with the current exam?
The main catalyst for reform was those dismal figures for Ireland in the 2010 OECD rankings which tested 15 years-olds across the developed world.
Ireland slumped from 5th to 17th in reading and from 16th to 25th in maths.
There were other factors. Research shows students weaned on rote learning struggle to cope with independent learning, especially at third level. Meanwhile, ESRI studies indicated how a high percentage of boys disengaged from the Junior Cert and the problem is acute in disadvantaged areas.
The new exam is based on best international practice from the world’s best education systems, including Finland and New Zealand.
So, how will students be marked?
Sixty per cent of their marks will be based on their final exam, while 40 per cent will come from project and portfolio work carried out in schools.
A student’s portfolio should demonstrate how the student has developed, improved and learned from the beginning of second year to the end of third year.
There will be a maximum of 10 subjects. Students can mix and match between traditional subjects and new short courses. Irish, English, maths and science will be compulsory.
Two short courses are the equivalent of one traditional subject.