There has been some talk recently of reforming the education system in Ireland – something that is long overdue.
As far back as the 1920s, the fledgling State’s rulers were more taken with the idea of using the education system as an instrument of Gaelic revivalism, promoting a spurious homogeneous Gaelic, Catholic identity. Then, at some point, it was decided to teach all primary school children through Gaelic… a language the majority did not speak nor understand.
Those who controlled the education system, the politicians, the Catholic Church and the Gaelic League did not care that such a policy would result in children leaving school early with no education, other than a cowed deference to authority – which had been beaten into them.
I remember people going on about how great the Irish education system was when I was part of it in the 1980s… when even to a young participant it was anything but. Our school had a sizeable complement of incompetent teachers: some violent, some clueless, some psychotic, and some plain mad.
But whatever about the past, an article on the subject of schooling in Ireland by Emer O’Kelly in the most recent Sindo made some pertinent contemporary observations, such as these below:
"Those who didn't actually leave the education system without being able even to read and write (23 per cent of the adult population) were, apart from the very few of exceptional ability, products of a numbing system of rote learning which prevented provocative thought, intellectual exploration and critical analysis. They were uneducated, taught what to think, not how to think."
"Early retirement packages have been offered to teachers, allowing them to live extremely comfortably from their mid-50s onwards. And quite a lot of our "dedicated" teachers -- whose unions spend their time telling us of teacher selflessness, commitment, and risibly low salaries -- rushed to apply for the package. (By the way, how is €69,500 for a job that ends at four in the afternoon and has three months' holidays "risible"?)."
"As things stand, a teacher aged 54 with 34 years' service, based on 2009 arrangements, will receive a pension of €28,322. It will be accompanied by a gratuity of €88,655. That's if the teacher goes in February."
Interesting stuff, eh?
Now look at the following equation, ye at the back!
23% illiteracy + €69,500 teachers' salaries = Teachers fail miserably.
Think about that near ninety-grand retirees will receive. The very time-servers who have done our children such a disservice should be seen off by means of a size-12 foot up the collective hole, rather than through a golden handshake. That won't happen though, as they are unaccountable, so we just have to be happy we are getting rid of them at last - albeit at great expense.
To replace them, restrictions on foreign teachers working here – and many indigenous ones - through a Gaelic proficiency requirement, should be ended. Even as things stand, and ignoring the qualified-elsewhere teachers barred from employment in education, there are 2,000 non-permanent teachers to replace the 1,000 expected to take the money (according to O'Kelly). So let's re-educate them in any putative shake-up.
And then let's slaughter some Dev-inspired sacred cows. Compulsory Gaeilge and extra payments for teachers teaching it, must end immediately. As should extra points for students sitting exams as Gaeilge. Both help to perpetuate the industry within education around the subject, and the latter distorts students' results as well as causing resentment.
Teachers should be made accountable - their jobs should be seen as responsible ones and treated as such.
Finally, rote learning and regurgitation of facts should be replaced by an approach which enables pupils to actually understand the subjects they are being taught.
It might mean that, a few generations down the line, we would eventually have a populace capable of rational and critical thinking.
But then again, do our authorities really want such a thing?
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