The common level Junior Cycle geography was accessible to students of all abilities, but the lack of a marking scheme on the paper was an unfair obstacle to time management, teachers have said.
Tom Cahill, a teacher at St Joseph’s Mercy Secondary School in Navan, said the paper had a good mix of skills-based questions.
“It was good for students that are looking to pass the exam, as well as for students looking for a distinction: I feel they got the balance right on this common-level paper,” he said.
“Ordnance survey maps and graphs featured on several questions, in line with the Junior Cycle emphasis on skills.”
But in an age where maps have fallen out of fashion and Google and Apple Maps have displaced many of our cartographic skills, do maps have any relevance?
“The maps on the exam were not about how to get from one place to another, but about how to look at a map and get wider information,” Mr Cahill said.
“This year, there was a map of Dungarvan and students were asked what led to the development of the town. They may have seen that it is a bridging point on the river, and is on a coastline.”
With the last Bord na Móna peat production facility recently closed, students were given a photo of a peat factory and asked what influenced its location.
Another topical question focused on migration, with candidates asked about the life of a young person in a developed country relative to the life of a young person in a developing country.
“This is a topic that we cover in class,” said Mr Cahill. “We compare Ireland and Nigeria, so my students would have been able to explain the different factors that influence life in the respective countries. They may have said that, among other factors, Ireland has more education opportunities, and they would have explained why that is the case.”
But Mr Cahill was critical of the ongoing decision of the State Examinations Commission not to put the marks on Junior Cycle papers.
“There are no options on the paper and no marks on the question, and this is so unfair from a time management perspective,” he said.
“If a student is left with half an hour and two questions to do, but one is worth 40 marks and the other 20, how are they to know what to prioritise?”
Mr Cahill’s colleague in the TUI, Marie Kennedy, a teacher at Firhouse Community College, was also critical of the lack of a marking scheme.
She said the questions were wide-ranging and covered a wide range of different aspects and skills, so that a reasonably prepared student would have found the question content within their capabilities.
“However, to have no marking scheme provided [for] the student would [make] time management hard and [present a] difficulty in how to approach the exam,” Ms Kennedy said.