THE majority of parents would like to see the Junior Cert exam retained, according to Jim Walsh, one of almost two dozen teachers at Desmond College, Newcastle West who took part in the county-wide and nation-wide lunchtime protest organised by the TUI and the ASTI this Tuesday.
The protest was called to oppose a proposal for a new junior cycle by the Minister for Education and Science.
“Parents want a structured examination and a structured award,” Mr Walsh said.
A state exam, where the rules are known, where every student is a number and where there is no room for favouritism of any kind is, Mr Walsh believes, the fairest approach for students and for their teachers. Ensuring everything was “squeaky clean” was vital, Mr Walsh stressed.
“There is need for change,” Mr Walsh accepted. But what was not acceptable to the teachers is the way sweeping changes have been proposed by Minister for Education and Science, Ruairi Quinn “without consultation.” The Minister wants the new approach to begin with English this coming September.
“There are some good things within the Minister’s proposals,” Mr Walsh conceded. “But taking away a terminal examination is not a good idea.”
“There needs to be a certain amount of continuous assessment but there also needs to be an objective examination at the end of the three years, corrected and overseen by the state exam board.”
“Ruairi Quinn has been constantly harping on about rote learning.. but he is wrong saying it is all rote learning. It is not. We teach so that students understand. We teach so that students learn.”
But Mr Walsh also defended the Junior Cert exam as a first chance for students to learn certain life skills such as studying with a deadline, dealing with pressure, coping with time constraints etc, and also as a precursor to the Leaving Cert.
The TUI and the ASTI, who called Tuesday’s lunchtime protest, also argue that there is an unacceptable lack of information about how the new programme will work and how it will be resourced. It will, they say, put standards at risk and will raise questions about the validity of results. Moreover, they argue, the education system is not equipped for change of such magnitude after six years of austerity cuts.
Both unions intend to ballot their members about escalating their opposition. Meanwhile, in Newcastle West, pupils clapped their teachers back into the school when the protest ended in time for afternoon class.