Environmental science and departure – The Irish Times
Dear Sir, The Government Report on Higher Cycle Reform published in March 2022 includes a proposal for a new subject of climate action and sustainability which will be piloted from September 2024. It has already been pointed out that these subjects are already covered to some extent in geography and science subjects.
There is a strong case for a new science subject Leaving Cert, with biology, physics and chemistry streams, building on junior science and replacing the current physics course with a chemistry course, which has low usage. Such a general course would favor smaller schools with limited facilities and allow students to enter third-level science courses, after doing the three major sciences beyond the junior sciences.
Many students find first-year science classes challenging because they have to take classes in science subjects that they previously only encountered in Junior Science. Students who have only taken Leaving Cert biology, which is by far the dominant Leaving science, are forced to take physics and chemistry courses at the third level, and they find it very difficult. A Leaving Cert science subject would give them a better foundation for taking such courses and could reduce dropout rates.
There are even stronger arguments in favor of a Leaving Cert environmental science course than the one offered in Climate Science and Sustainability. Environmental science would be a broad-based science course including biology, chemistry, and physics, but within the context of the environment.
Such a course would include coverage of climate science and sustainability and would therefore encompass the proposed new course, but with a clear and solid scientific foundation. The topics of climate science and sustainability cannot be understood properly without a good scientific foundation, but an environmental science course would allow for a broader coverage and perspective of environmental issues. It would then be considered a supplement to existing Leaving Cert science courses. Many students currently taking a Leaving Cert biology course would likely opt for the new course. An environmental science course needs a good foundation in basic science and its treatment of environmental topics should be evidence-based, providing a good foundation for understanding contemporary environmental issues. With good science content, the Environmental Science Leaving Cert would provide a good entry subject into third-level science courses, including the many environmental science courses on offer, and fulfill the logic of a general science course Leaving Cert. An environmental science course should also be very attractive to many students and would likely address the gender imbalance in the adoption of Leaving Cert Biology and Physics.
It is hoped that the National Curriculum and Assessment Council will consult widely and take advice on the proposed new course, in particular with the Irish Association of Science Teachers, industry and third level scientists. – Yours, etc.,
Dr PETER E CHILDS,
University of Limerick.