The primary school curriculum is changing. Soon your child’s school will be using a new Language Curriculum for English and Irish. The first classes to see this change will be junior and senior infants and first and second class. It really is an exciting development. The last time the curriculum was changed was back in 1999 and the country has undergone significant changes in that period.
Many people for whom English is not their first language have chosen to live here. Our schools have had to attempt to adjust to dealing with this within the confines of a curriculum that assumes that English or Irish is the first language. So the new curriculum is a welcome innovation.
To start, the children will do lots of talking in class sharing what they think and feel. This will help them to learn more about talking with others and talking about different topics. Children will be helped to learn to talk, read and write at their own pace. The Language Curriculum helps children with different learning strengths and needs. I feel that this is a significant change as children with learning challenges such as dyslexia will continue to learn languages, learning at a pace that suits them. English and Irish will be learned through play and playful activities especially in junior and senior infants. This will help children as they move from pre-school and continue their learning in primary school. By identifying the changes as a language curriculum, rather than separate subjects within the curriculum, it will be much easier for children to see links between English and Irish as they learn both languages.
Now, the emphasis will be on learning the spoken word before focusing on reading and writing, especially in the formative years of school. This is similar to the very successful approach taken in Finland, where children are not taught to read until age 7.
In English speaking schools, Irish will continue to be taught during Irish lessons but the use of Irish will not be confined to that time only and instead will be interspersed naturally throughout the day. This switching from one language to another has huge benefits for cognitive development as you know from my previous blogs. In Gaelscoilenna and Gaeltacht Schools, the schools can opt for 100% immersion in Irish for the first two years with English being taught from first class.
The focus will now be on learning outcomes with progression milestones. Stage 1 will be for junior & senior infants with progression milestones A to E while stage 2 will be first & second class and milestones from D to H. As the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) states “This continuum reflects the reality that children come to school with different language experiences, are at different places in their language-learning journey, and develop at different rates, particularly children with special educational needs and children in the early years of primary school.”
Of course, such a major overhaul cannot take place over night and teachers will have until 2017/2018 to fully implement the new curriculum in their classrooms. Over the coming years the entire primary curriculum will be reviewed. Work has already started on developing a new language curriculum for children from third to sixth class.
It will be vital that the gains made from this new curriculum will not be eroded when the children move into secondary school. The new Junior Cycle must interconnect with the Primary Language Curriculum. Lessons must be learned from the disjuncture of the current primary maths curriculum and Project Maths in second level.