Pupils could start learning foreign languages from the third grade under sweeping changes proposed for the primary curriculum.
The planned overhaul of teaching and learning in primary schools – the most dramatic in 20 years – could also lead to a reduction in the time allocated to training in religious faith and other subjects.
Instead, the focus will be on well-being, maths and languages, as well as new aspects such as technology.
Schools would also have more “flexible time” to decide which areas of learning they want to prioritize for their students.
The proposals are contained in a draft primary curriculum framework which is undergoing a new consultation process, overseen by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
A previous consultation with schools was postponed to the end of 2020 due to the pandemic.
Parents, teachers, school leaders and children are invited to share their observations online from today Monday until February 2022.
This draft framework will guide the development of a new curriculum that will shape the way children learn for decades to come.
The NCCA expects to complete the development of all program area specifications by summer 2026.
The speed of rolling out the changes will be the business of the Minister of Education at the time.
Some of the first children to be enrolled under the new program are expected to be born this year.
Emphasizing the need to keep the program up to date, the NCCA pointed out that these children will begin their working lives in the 2050s and are expected to retire in the late 2080s/early 2090s.
Some of the proposals contained in the draft framework would see major changes such as:
- The replacement of subjects in the first four years of primary school with much broader “areas of study” rather than up to 11 separate subjects as is currently the case. More defined subjects would be taught from third to sixth grade. More emphasis would be placed on areas such as physical education, digital learning and the introduction of foreign languages, education on religion and ethics in the world, and broader artistic education;
- More “flexible time” to allow schools to focus more on areas of learning that would be decided by each school. This would be facilitated by reducing the time allocated to most program areas. This general reduction in time would reduce the time devoted to employer programs – or religious training in denominational schools – from 2.5 hours a week to two hours;
- The introduction of seven key skills which aim to acquire essential knowledge, skills and values to enable children to adapt and cope with a range of situations, challenges and contexts. These skills are closely linked to the Aistear – the pre-school program – and to the Junior Cycle of secondary school.
The NCCA says the changes build on the strengths of the 1999 elementary school curriculum, while responding to changing challenges, needs and priorities.
He says the changes are intended to give schools greater agency and flexibility in their role as “curriculum creators”.
According to officials, it would also foster stronger connections between children’s experiences in primary school and their earlier experiences in preschool, as well as with their later experiences in post-primary school.
The proposed changes are based on an extensive body of curriculum research and consultation.
They also draw on work that took place in a school forum, which included dozens of primary, preschool and post-primary schools, as well as deliberations with education partners and wider stakeholders. .