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Tooling Up Education for the 21st Century

Proposed Leaving Cert reform showing aspects already tested within our prior research and embedded in our approach.

Critics of outdated and flawed education systems are gaining ground; parents, learners, and educators are all commenting on the gaps between what exists and what is needed. Ireland is no exception. An extensive Senior Cycle Review (2016 – 2020), gathered and distilled the views of teachers, students, school leaders, parents, education partners, researchers and wider civil society and international stakeholders including the UN Observers - Office of Economic Development (OECD). In 2021, the National Council for Curriculum Assessment released its Senior Cycle Review (2016-2019) advisory report was published. The report found the current cycle was ill-equipped to provide for 21st-century needs with key objectives as follows;

  • Progression for students following Level 1 or Level 2 Learning Programmes in Junior Cycle

  • A redeveloped Senior cycle: Transition Year (TY)

  • An integrated Senior Cycle

  • Flexible pathways

There have been valiant efforts made to update and reignite a desire for learning among students and professionals alike. In the Irish system, the Transition Year (TY) Program - implemented in 2004 is an under-utilised opportunity to seed new practices and support both teachers and learners to gain 21st-century skills and competencies.

The Transition Year: A waste of time or a time not to be wasted?

The Transition Year (TY) program was designed to provide students with life skills and incorporate work experiences with a mission to;

  • promote personal, social, educational and vocational development of students, and;

  • prepare students for their roles as autonomous, participatory and responsible members of society.

In principle, the TY offers an incredible opportunity for students across Ireland to embark on a real-world experiential learning journey. A year of reflection and creativity, igniting individual passion and purpose. It is also an opportunity for students to experience practice and project -based learning through opportunities to explore the world around them and their place in it.

Observational mapping to developing core skills, Mannix Point, Cahersiveen

There are a number of challenges to educators facilitating such opportunities. While there is flexibility and no standard curriculum the programme is delivered by educators who are still locked into a weekly or period-by-period timetable, where classes can be as short as 40 mins. It is very hard to do anything practical in a 40-minute session. Learners do not have 1 room, moving around the school as their timetable dictates with rooms being used by multiple teachers/learners. This makes it very hard to store project work, which limits the types of projects undertaken and the way they are undertaken.

Our research also found that moving from teaching a subject/curriculum to facilitating learning is not an easy task if unsupported. There is minimal time for developing resources or lessons with many teachers having heavy teaching loads. This can lead to a reliance on an off-the-peg programme, which is not scaffolded for teaching and learning. Complex higher-order tasks such as forming a team, and creating an effective awareness campaign, (tasks that many adults could struggle with) are presented as simple bullet points at the start of a project with no scaffolded support to develop the skills to actually complete the tasks with a degree of success.

Depending on the educators’ professional experience beyond teaching, this can mean they are unable to subsidise such programmes, which can leave both teachers and learners deflated and the project stalls. Educators could benefit from guidance in designing and facilitating learning experiences that provide TY students with ‘real-life’ experiences and solution-focused support that enable them to address real-world challenges. Based on our research 2017 - 2021, with close to 1000 learners and their teachers we developed Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM Future-Ready Teaching and Learning for Resilience. Dr. Anita McKeown - Muinin Catalyst Sustainable STEAM Project Co-Lead - shares the underpinning of the learning approach this short video.

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM: Future-Ready Teaching and Learning for Resilience - is one of 5 projects co-funded by the Department of Education and Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. Launched in South-West Kerry, Ireland, MCSS brings together tried and tested place-based STEAM education with a mission to facilitate new, real-world learning experiences for TY students. The MCSS programmes provide real-life challenges that develop critical 21st-century skills - skills that students ought to foster if they are to successfully conquer the VUCA world they must navigate as adults.

In STEAM, learning occurs at the intersection of five fields - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) - transforming how we know and investigate the world. The MCSS programme uses a transdisciplinary, STEAM-based pedagogical approach and has embedded UN Sustainable Development Goals and project-based learning methodologies into its lesson plans and learning resources. As a systemic approach, it provides learning across subjects, while engaging learners with social, economic and environmental justice and developing a growth mindset, through innovation and entrepreneurial tools and activities that have been tried and tested in the ‘real-world’ and then scaled to be age appropriate.

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM sample module summaries

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM incorporates a place-based learning approach that is not designed to be specific to geographical location - instead, it is a road map that can be used in all communities and contexts. Experiencing a place-based learning approach in the local context enables students to gain a better understanding and appreciation of their wider world, which becomes a strong foundation for global connections.

MSCC: Connecting Schools to Experts

Designed and developed by educators, artists, academics, and practitioners e.g. UCD Earth Institute and carefully selected external expertise in key areas like food security, agriculture, earth systems, science, innovation & enterprise, marine biology, space, and fashion - the ultimate aim of MCSS is to connect education with civil society, academia, industry / corporate and governance as a whole and move towards a more sustainable future by facing local and global challenges positively with creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

Collaborating with experts and practitioners inspires the idea that whole-systems approaches to solving challenges should occur to utilise collective intelligence and collaboration - the nexus of innovative learning. School communities, especially Transition Year, are where these experiences must begin. The benefits of connecting your Transition Year students to the MCSS program are many:

Overview of benefits to learners and educators

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM will work with 16 schools in the Munster province and provide Transition Year students with experiences that will prepare them for the next steps in their learning and life journeys beyond formal education. Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM program experiences vary in length from micro-modules to year-long project experiences, with over 80 lesson plans, teachers’ resources, student worksheets and place-based, STEAM teacher in-service CPD sessions available too. The MCSS project has been set up to gather critical data that will help augment and update the Irish Senior Cycle with 21st Century future-ready skills based on an Irish 'curriculum for all'.

Would you like to be one of those 16 schools?

Please get in touch with Rebecca White, Programme Co-lead find out how we can help your school community and its students prepare for a VUCA world.

The future is now. It is time to prepare today's students for today’s world.

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