Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has said it is important that students are kept in school as long as possible, but that the way in which the junior cycle is taught needs to be reformed.
Earlier this year, it was announced that a new qualification to replace the current Junior Certificate exam will be known as the Junior Cycle Student Award.
The Department of Education made the announcement on 15 January.
Reform of the junior cycle, which is due to be phased-in from next September, has caused controversy and raised concern among teachers.
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Mr Quinn said that in the future, assessment will be for learning rather than testing and examining students.
He said that the current cycle is no longer suitable for modern students.
He said: "They're learning answers to anticipated questions next June. They're revising a curriculum. They've stopped actually learning. They're now learning to remember, they're memorising stuff. That is no longer learning in the 21st Century."
Teachers' Union of Ireland President Gerard Craughwell said teachers welcome the drive to introduce a new junior cycle.
However, he said there is serious concern about some aspects of the proposals.
Mr Craughwell said: "Our main concern is that the Junior Cert remains as an externally assessed certificate and that it carries with it a State certification.
"We welcome the addition of short courses but we have serious concerns about issues such as resources, we have serious concerns about issues such as the funding of the programme."