Thursday, December 22, 2011

Transitional changes

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) of Ireland the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment have issued their report on the "From Transaction to Transition" conference which took place earlier this year and examined the transition of students from second to third level.

The Minister for Education and Skills, RuairĂ­ Quinn, has welcomed the report and has called for an open debate on the full range of possible options for change and improvement.

Minister Quinn said: "I want in particular to publicly thank both organisations for the speed with which they have responded. In addition, their report is focused, compact and explicit in its recommendations".

The Minister said that he agreed with the overall thrust of the report. "There are a number of issues I have asked the HEA and NCCA to consider further in consultation with the State Examinations Commission (SEC) and higher education institutions.

"I have requested the HEA and NCCA, in partnership with the SEC and higher education institutions where appropriate, to now begin advancing the recommendations."

The report makes a number of important recommendations, a few of which are outlined here.

  • The report reiterates the importance of completing the ongoing curriculum review for Biology, Chemistry and Physics at Leaving Certificate level to incorporate "new methods of assessing scientific knowledge and skills".
  • The authors suggest e-learning and inter-school collaboration be examined as new ways to increase learners' access to a broad range of subjects at senior cycle level.
  • The NCCA and State Examinations Commission will be asked (possible with the support of an independent agency) to assess and address and problems with predictability in the Leaving Certificate exams - an attempt to prevent students 'guessing' what is due to appear on the exam.
  • The current 14-point system of grading exams (A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.) will be replaced with an 8-point system (A1, A2, B, C, D, E, NG).
  • Research will be carried to assess what impact the compulsory inclusion of maths and english in the calculations for CAO 'points' would have.
  • The academic year at third-level should be extended to accommodate the "incorporation of transversal skills without compromising discipline-specific content and academic rigour". The authors propose that since the action "does not require any changes to existing contracts" implementation at first-year should start immediately.
  • There should be broader entry to undergraduate programmes at third-level with students specialising after first-year.

The full text of the short report is worth reading.

Many of the proposals fit with proposals outlined in the Hunt Report of this year, especially the movement towards a broader first-year curriculum which includes training in generic and foundational skills and are to be welcomed.

The proposal to extend the undergraduate academic year may well have some virtue but for many in the third-level sector the summer months are an opportunity to focus on research and writing which has been sidelined during the year. Any changes to the duration of the academic year, I would argue, needs to be carefully balanced to ensure research output does not suffer. Given the link between ongoing research and good teaching, this is crucial.


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