Our training system wants a radical overhaul
The largely uniform education system that we have created in Ireland is not easily suited for children who are in special classes or schools or who need special preschool places and early intervention. The only thing the state can offer them is home tuition as an “interim plan” that is full of problems and almost always turns into an “endless plan”.
That’s not good enough. Children and teenagers keep saying that they want to go to school to make friends. That just can’t happen if you limit yourself to home study.
Parents, teachers, and everyone else felt helpless when they saw Leaving Cert students exposed to unbearable stress
Based on children’s experiences, AsIAm CEO Adam Harris has called our education system “broken” and he’s right. But let’s not be under the illusion that everything is fine even for neurotypical children. The education system just doesn’t work for all children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Ample evidence from our helpline, our members, and other valued stakeholders such as Dr. Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, make it an indisputable fact that large numbers of children in Ireland are denied their basic right to education.
Tanya Ward is the executive director of the Children’s Rights Alliance. File photo: Dara Mac Dónaill
So this week we are having a bipartisan debate on the future of education in Ireland and calling on the parties to come together and undertake a radical overhaul of our education system. We at the Children’s Rights Alliance firmly believe that the education system is not irreparable if politics takes action and works together to make rhetoric a reality.
Since Covid-19 devastated all of our lives, calls for reform have been loud, from columnist Fintan O’Toole to Tom Boland, the former chief executive of the higher education authority. We have endured so much over the past year and I think the pandemic is forcing the problem by exposing the limits of our unified education system and proving that if we focus on it, we can do things differently.
In terms of limitations, the system has creaked loudly under the weight and rigidity of the Leaving Cert exams during Covid-19. Parents, teachers and everyone else felt helpless as the Leaving Cert students endured unbearable stress and declining wellbeing. At the same time, our politicians and educational actors have shown that they are reactive and adaptable. In the face of a global pandemic, the government decided to prioritize education for children over other sectors. And our education leaders have worked hard to open our schools.
In the past few days, Alliance Member Inclusion Ireland has expressed concern that the government’s extended summer program for children with additional educational needs will fail due to extremely low acceptance, parents having real difficulty finding tutors at home, and exclusions by children with mild intellectual disabilities in mainstream schools and by children with a high need for support from schools and tutors.
The penny is sinking for more and more of us – our education system is not productive.
We know that every second child living in poverty is not in a Deis school
However, Covid-19 has also shown what things could be like. We have seen how the state can change its behavior, especially when it intervened to pay our educators’ wages. We also saw glimpses of a truly inclusive and rights-based education system when the state positively responded to the voice of children and youth during the negotiations to reopen schools during the lockdown through our member, the Irish Secondary Students’ Union (ISSU) received. .
But there are many profound problems that need to be resolved. Our young children, unlike their older counterparts, are still denied the right to education, even though they have agreed to invest in a “publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of childcare” over the next decade.
We know that every second child living in poverty does not attend a Deis (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) school, but when they find a place they continue to have lower educational needs compared to their peers in other schools.
Three years later, we are still waiting for the Department of Education’s strategy for alternative education, which would help support a cohort of children who have become disconnected from the regular education system or are at risk. Instead of increasing the reduced timetables, we should offer all children opportunities to study in an alternative educational setting (such as the Cork Life Center).
We are passionate about giving children – of all ages – the education they deserve; returning to the education system as it once was will not make their future any better.