A wide-ranging new strategy aimed at ensuring that every child leaves school having mastered literacy and numeracy was launched last Friday by Minister for Education and Skills, Mr Ruairí Quinn TD.
Named ‘Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life’, the National Strategy to improve literacy and numeracy among children and young people is a key pillar of the Programme for Government.
This is an issue of equality. Without the skills of literacy and numeracy, a young person or adult is often denied full participation in society.
- Mr Ruairí Quinn TD
Speaking at the launch, Minister Quinn said: “It is the government’s belief that no child should leave school unable to read and write and use mathematics to solve problems. We know that there is currently much room for improvement, and this strategy sets out the road map with concrete targets and reforms that will ensure our children, from early childhood to the end of second level, master these key skills.”
Ambitious targets have been set under the Strategy, to be achieved by 2020. Nationally, the aims include:
* At primary level, increasing the number of children performing at Level 3 or above (the highest levels) in the national assessments of reading and mathematics by 5 percentage points
* Reducing the percentage performing at or below the lowest level (Level 1) by 5 percentage points
* At post-primary level, increasing the number of 15-year old students performing at Level 4 or above (the highest levels) in the OECD’s PISA test of literacy and mathematics by at least 5 percentage points
* Halve the numbers performing at Level 1 (the lowest level) in the PISA test of literacy and mathematics
* Improve early childhood education and public attitudes to reading and mathematics
According to Minister Quinn, the strategy aims to ensure that teachers and schools maintain a strong focus on literacy and numeracy skills within a broad and balanced curriculum. It sets out a wide-ranging programme of reforms in initial teacher education courses, in professional development for teachers and school principals, and in the content of the curriculum at primary and post-primary levels in order to achieve these vital skills.
Under the plan, schools are to make greater use of standardised tests of reading and mathematics in second and sixth class in primary, and to introduce these tests for 2nd year students in post-primary education. They will report the findings to parents, boards of management and the Department of Education and Skills. Schools will be required to develop and implement school improvement plans in accordance with guidance from the Department’s Inspectorate.
Minister Quinn said: “This is an issue of equality. Without the skills of literacy and numeracy, a young person or adult is often denied full participation in society. They may be condemned to poorly paid jobs or unemployment, and a lifetime of poverty and exclusion. This is why I am convinced that ensuring all our young people acquire good literacy and numeracy skills is one of the greatest contributions that we can make towards achieving equality and social justice in our country.”
Implementation of a number of measures in the strategy is already underway. A circular will be issued to primary schools shortly requiring them to increase the time available for literacy to 90 minutes per day, and for mathematics to 50 minutes per day (up from the current 36 minutes) from this September.
The Minister announced that the number of examination subjects in the Junior Certificate is to be limited to 8 to provide more time to develop students’ literacy and numeracy skills, and for more in-depth learning. He said that, ideally, this change would occur for students entering second-level education in September 2012. A wider review of the junior cycle is being undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which will issue recommendations in the autumn.
Progress is being made on preparation for professional development courses for teachers and principals. The NCCA is also to prioritise work on revising the curriculum in English and Irish in Irish-medium schools, and on guidance material for these subjects and maths at primary and post-primary levels.
Given the financial constraints facing the country, Minister Quinn said the strategy had been developed in a way that keeps additional costs to a minimum.
“This means that we will have to find the necessary resources for literacy and numeracy by re-prioritising existing spending, by cutting activities that may be desirable but less important, and by ensuring that we get the very best outcomes from whatever financial and human resources we have,” he said.
It is estimated that the cost of implementing the strategy will be 6 million euro in 2012, rising to 19 million euro per annum by 2017.
The publication of the strategy is the culmination of an extensive consultation process. A draft plan was published by the Department of Education and Skills in November 2010. Written submissions were received from almost 480 individuals and organisations, and Department officials held consultative meetings with over 60 interest groups, not only from the education sector but from community and other sectors.
Minister Quinn said: “The large number of people and organisations who participated in this process shows how strongly Irish people are committed to improving literacy and numeracy standards. I want to harness and focus that commitment in a concerted national effort to achieve world-class literacy and numeracy skills among our children and young people.”Commenting on the launch of the strategy, Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa said that reports published recently by the European Commission confirming a ‘notable’ decline in average reading results by 15-year olds in Ireland between 2000 and 2009 underline the need for the strategy.
Mr De Rossa said: "EU Education Ministers have set a target of reducing the number of 15-year olds with inadequate reading skills from 20 per cent to less than 15 per cent by 2020. … report[s] indicate that while the number of such pupils in Ireland still stood at 17.2 per cent in 2009, below the EU average of 19.6 per cent, Ireland was one of the two EU countries, according to the Commission, that showed a ‘notable’ decline in average results between 2000 and 2009.
“Given the constrained budgetary circumstances the new Government has inherited, it is important that we work closely with our European partners in tackling these challenges, particularly with countries like Finland and the Netherlands, which perform much better than Ireland in the key area of literacy,” said Mr De Rossa.