What to teach children

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What to teach children

In Ireland, when I was growing up the school curriculum was really bad – especially for Irish language. My Grandfather, Father and my friends had to study the most boring book in the world – Peig. 

The book starts  “Im an old woman with one foot in the grave”  and continues downhill. Pretty much nothing happened in Peig’s life but Irish people had to learn every word of it for their final school assessment. We weren’t taught how to speak Irish with each other and Ireland lost a huge number of Irish speakers due to a bad Irish curriculum. The book has finally been removed from the curriculum and Ireland’s education system has vastly improved. 

There has been some great work being developed by the Department of Education and Skills in Ireland, especially The Eight principles and The Twenty-four Statements of Learning (2015) developed for the Transition Year.

Eight principles underpin the Framework for the Irish Junior Cycle (Transition Year age 15-17)

The Twenty-four Statements of Learning (2015)

1. communicates effectively using a variety of means in a range of contexts in the language medium of the school (English in English-medium schools; Irish in Irish-medium schools).

2. listens, speaks, reads and writes in the second language (Irish in English-medium schools; English in Irish-medium schools) and one other language at a level of proficiency that is appropriate to her or his ability

3. creates, appreciates and critically interprets a wide range of texts

4. creates and presents artistic works and appreciates the process and skills involved

5. has an awareness of personal values and an understanding of the process of moral decision making

6. appreciates and respects how diverse values, beliefs and traditions have contributed to the communities and culture in which she/he lives

7. values what it means to be an active citizen, with rights and responsibilities in local and wider contexts

8. values local, national and international heritage, understands the importance of the relationship between past and current events and the forces that drive change

9. understands the origins and impacts of social, economic, and environmental aspects of the world around her/him

10. has the awareness, knowledge, skills, values and motivation to live sustainably

11. takes action to safeguard and promote her/his wellbeing and that of others

12. is a confident and competent participant in physical activity and is motivated to be physically active

13. understands the importance of food and diet in making healthy lifestyle choices

14. makes informed financial decisions and develops good consumer skills

15. recognises the potential uses of mathematical knowledge, skills and understanding in all areas of learning

16. describes, illustrates, interprets, predicts and explains patterns and relationships

17. devises and evaluates strategies for investigating and solving problems using mathematical knowledge, reasoning and skills

18. observes and evaluates empirical events and processes and draws valid deductions and conclusions

19. values the role and contribution of science and technology to society, and their personal, social and global importance

20. uses appropriate technologies in meeting a design challenge

21. applies practical skills as she/he develop models and products using a variety of materials and technologies

22. takes initiative, is innovative and develops entrepreneurial skills

23. brings an idea from conception to realisation

24. uses technology and digital media tools to learn, communicate, work and think collaboratively and creatively in a responsible and ethical manner

Ireland has been ranked by the World Economic Forum as having the sixth best school system in the World. Our secondary students rank among the best in the EU (especially for reading). Ireland has the second-highest percentage (43%) of working-age adults with a third-level education in the EU, according to an OECD report in 2016. 

English Language And Literacy

The UK’s curriculum is outstanding, especially for the English language. Here are the objectives for Language and Literacy for the UK’s Primary Curricilum (2014).

Teachers should develop pupils’ spoken language, reading, writing and vocabulary as integral aspects of the teaching of every subject. English is both a subject in its own right and the medium for teaching; for pupils, understanding the language provides access to the whole curriculum. Fluency in the English language is an essential foundation for success in all subjects.

Spoken language

Pupils should be taught to speak clearly and convey ideas confidently using Standard English. They should learn to justify ideas with reasons; ask questions to check understanding; develop vocabulary and build knowledge; negotiate; evaluate and build on the ideas of others; and select the appropriate register for effective communication. They should be taught to give well-structured descriptions and explanations and develop their understanding through speculating, hypothesising and exploring ideas. This will enable them to clarify their thinking as well as organise their ideas for writing.

Reading and writing

Teachers should develop pupils’ reading and writing in all subjects to support their acquisition of knowledge. Pupils should be taught to read fluently, understand extended prose (both fiction and non-fiction) and be encouraged to read for pleasure. Schools should do everything to promote wider reading. They should provide library facilities and set ambitious expectations for reading at home. Pupils should develop the stamina and skills to write at length, with accurate spelling and punctuation. They should be taught the correct use of grammar. They should build on what they have been taught to expand the range of their writing and the variety of the grammar they use. The writing they do should include narratives, explanations, descriptions, comparisons, summaries and evaluations: such writing supports them in rehearsing, understanding and consolidating what they have heard or read.

Vocabulary development

Pupils’ acquisition and command of vocabulary are key to their learning and progress across the whole curriculum. Teachers should therefore develop vocabulary actively, building systematically on pupils’ current knowledge. They should increase pupils’ store of words in general; simultaneously, they should also make links between known and new vocabulary and discuss the shades of meaning in similar words. In this way, pupils expand the vocabulary choices that are available to them when they write. In addition, it is vital for pupils’ comprehension that they understand the meanings of words they meet in their reading across all subjects, and older pupils should be taught the meaning of instruction verbs that they may meet in examination questions. It is particularly important to induct pupils into the language which defines each subject in its own right, such as accurate mathematical and scientific language.

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