STUDENTS of a County Limerick secondary school are getting an opportunity to cut their teeth in the world of journalism thanks to an overhaul of the junior cycle programme.
Coláiste Chiaráin in Croom is the first school in Ireland to implement the new three-year programme, under National Council for Curriculum and Assessment guidelines.
First years at the secondary school have just begun a new junior cycle which includes, as well as conventional subjects, an array of innovative new areas of study including broadcast and print media with the support of RTE.
“The Department of Education announced two years ago that they wanted to reduce the number of subjects that students were studying because it was excessive. My own children, a few years ago, did something like 12 or 13 subjects – completely ridiculous,” explained school principal Noel Malone.
The education minister decided to reduce to eight the number of examinable subjects from the year 2014 and he invited schools to start that process from 2012.
The department also afforded a new opportunity to schools to devise their own courses.
The current first years in Colaiste Chiarain are studying eight examinable subjects – the standard subjects - and they can now choose two of the 12 new options offered at the school.
These “super options”, as they have been called, will be delivered in conjunction with a variety of third level education and business partnerships, including RTÉ, UL and the Limerick Leader.
They are designed to help students develop their own creativity, confidence and decision-making skills, as well as introducing them, at an early stage, to exciting career options.
“This is followed over three years rather than short bitty courses which means that at the end of the three years the students will be at a level whereby they will be at a considerable advantage to most students even at first year in university,” said Mr Malone.
“Our hope and our expectation is that we will be in a position to move these forward from junior to senior cycle with full recognition by the universities in terms of points which would be completely unique in the country,” he added.
The focus, according to Mr Malone, is to take the talent of the staff in the school and translate that into providing “wonderful opportunities for the students going forward”.
“It is having a remarkable effect already in terms of teaching. All these courses will feed back into the main stream subjects and enhance them. I wish I was back at school and the parents will say the same – these students are moving forward so fast,” he said.
The decision taken by the national broadcaster, RTE, to get involved in the media module, he said, was carefully thought out.
“They went through the director general and then it was passed at the RTE authority level. RTE have committed to six major projects over every calender year which will open up potential in terms of placements and career opportunities.”
Other “super options” include Italian Culture and Communications Studies, Animal Care and Equine Studies and Other Sports and Health Studies. Experienced broadcaster, Matt Kelly, is the course leader in broadcasting and print media.
Partners involved in this module include the Limerick Leader, Live 95FM and RTE.
“You are talking about the big hitters in this area, in terms of the media who will be advising us,” said Mr Kelly.
“The programme we have developed is a real life programme based on real publishing and broadcasting - radio and television. We are hoping that in those three years the students will be publishing work in print, and be on television and radio. It’s a great start for them,” he said.