Friday, 31 January 2014

NCCA Revisited

In my mid-December blog on the new Junior Cycle I stated that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) was a 'wonderful new organisation grown out of the Department of Education and Skills'. All true but in fact the NCCA was set up in 1984 (not recently) initially known as the Curriculum and Examinations Board (CEB) and has been the driver of educational reform at Primary and Second Level since then.

The first Chairperson of the CEB in 1984 appointed by Minister Gemma Hussey was Dr Edward Walsh then President of NIHE Limerick. The Board of the CEB was representative of parents, teachers, IBEC and school managers.

Its first Chief Executive was Albert O'Ceallaigh and Assistant CE was Gary Granville (now Head of Education at National College of Art and Design). Both inspired choices obviously especially Granville who taught Art in Dublin schools and worked in the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) established to support teachers by CDVEC, TCD and Dept of Education.

When the new National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was launched by Minister Mary O'Rourke in 1987 its first task was to transform what was then the Intermediate Certificate into the Junior Certificate with new and revised syllabuses and at two levels for differing abilities. The new Junior Certificate was launched in 1988 and all students sat the new exam for the first time in 1992.

The Minister also charged the NCCA to oversee the completion of the review of the primary school curriculum which was published in 1999. This curriculum, which contained an infant curriculum for children aged 4 to 6, was based on the latest thinking and research on how children learn and how that learning can be supported optimally for each child through skilled, sensitive and informed involvement by the teacher. This document formed part of the National Children's Strategy: 'Our Children - Their Lives' launched in 2000 by the National Children's Office.

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The NCCA became a statutory body in 2001 under Minister for Education and Science Michael Woods with more widespread educational and industrial representation on its Board. A new Chief Executive Anne Looney formerly a full time education officer in NCCA took over from Albert O'Ceallaigh.

In 2003, another review commenced of Primary Education which led to 'Towards a New Framework for Early Learning' published in 2004. This looked for the first time at learning from birth to 6 years of age. This led to 'Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework' which deals with the pre-school period from birth to 6 years. The word Aistear is the Irish for 'journey' and was chosen because early childhood marks the beginning of children's lifelong learning journeys.

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In 2005 NCCA addressed making the senior cycle more understandable to parents with a new DVD and other aids. In 2006, the challenge of multi-racialism was addressed as were new Guidelines for Exceptionally Able Students. In 2006 Professor Tom Collins Professor of Education in Maynooth College became NCCA Chairman and is currently in that position as is Anne Looney as CEO.

That brings us to 2008/2009 with the emphasis and leadership on the new Project Maths syllabus with which many engineers are familiar. This new more practical approach to Maths is best illustrated through practical problem solving in the engineering world.

Beginning on a phased basis in September 2014, the new Junior Cycle will feature revised subjects and short courses its main a focus is on literacy, numeracy and key skills together new approaches of assessment and reporting. Schools will have more freedom to design junior cycle programmes that meet the learning needs of all students. For students, the new Junior Cycle will mean that the curriculum available in their schools will be a mix of core subjects and short courses in topics like Art Computing and Chinese.

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The new Junior Certificate will be known as the Junior Cycle Student Award (JCSA).

All in all, when you look back on the many positive achievements, the students, teachers, parents and all stakeholders in the Irish education system have a lot to be grateful to the NCCA who have transformed and are still transforming pre-school, primary and secondary level education in this country.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

New National Economic Plan Published

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Just before Christmas and days after our exit from the EU IMF bailout programme, the Government published its Medium Term Economic Strategy 2014 - 2020.

Its purpose is clearly set out 'as the core component of the Government's strategy to continue the work of rebuilding the economy, achieve sustainable economic growth, strong public finances and enduring job creation'.

No one should doubt the need for this new economic plan as a roadmap for Ireland's  future development over the next decade. Yet I have, over the Christmas, read much critical media comment from various economists and other commentators on the content or other aspects of this plan. Nevertheless there are two certain positives to this plan in my mind

 1. That we Do have an National Economic Plan for the future - that is good!

 2. Had we such a Plan a decade ago, Ireland would probably not have indulged in such reckless property speculation that brought our banking sector to its knees and almost bankrupt the country from which we now have a painful recovery - that is even better!

I said this in my Presidential Address 'Building a Sustainable Recovery' in Engineers Ireland in September 2011 (page 15, 'A Year in the Life') and still believe it. In that address I stressed the importance of economic planning and lamented its clear absence in previous decades.

I was greatly impressed therefore when the relatively new Director General Dept of Finance John Moran summoned a major consultative forum on the Medium Term Economic Strategy (MTES) in Dublin Castle on September 24th last to which I was invited. The genesis of the new MTES was at that Forum.
At the Forum we explored many diverse but interconnected themes like Ireland, our position in Europe and in the world, nurturing an entrepreneurial culture, the need for increased economic infrastructure and the barriers to its development and building an innovation driven economy.

The medium term economic strategy now published sets out the Government policies and forecasts until 2020 and predicts growth rates of above 2% from 2014, above 3% from 2017 and unemployment falling from present levels of 13.5% to 8% within 6 years. It has the ambitious objective of recovering the 330,000 jobs lost since the recession hit in 2008. It sounds ambitious but perhaps achievable as in 2013 some 58,000 jobs were created and this growth in jobs could accelerate if predicted economic growth happens.
Engineering manufacturing in Ireland is also recovering well according to the latest early year statistics. We know already that manufacturing accounts for some 25% of our annual GDP.
Following a slow start in early 2013 partly due to the pharma 'out of date patent' cliff, Investec Ireland reported 'a solid finish to 2013 for the manufacturing sector'.

On Jan 2, Investec reported that 'Irish manufacturing activity grew for the seventh month in December and at a faster pace than in November, ending the year on a high note after the country exited an EU/IMF bailout'.

An Taoiseach at the Autumn Panel Discussion with expert speakers
L ro R: Philip O'Doherty, E&I Engineering, Martin McVicar, Combilift, 
Edmond Harty, Dairymaster and Ian Quinn CregannaTactx Medical
This is all very encouraging after our own highlight this year - our Autumn Panel Discussion on Manufacturing in October led by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD supported by four of our leading engineering exporting entrepreneurs - Ian Quinn of Creganna, Philip O'Doherty of EI Engineering, Martin McVicar of Combilift and Edmond Harty of Dairymaster.

Patrick Joy of Suretank - Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Finally 2013 was a year when another UCD engineering graduate Patrick Joy of Suretank became Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Headquartered in Dunleer Co Louth, Suretank Group is the world's largest manufacturer of cargo carrying units for the offshore oil and gas industry. It currently employs 700 people and has revenues of over €68m. Congratulations Patrick!