I advocate an end to fee-paying secondary schools as well as an end to separate educational facilities for boys and girls. In addition, I support the development of a culture of excellence where students are encouraged to reach their full potential across all subjects. Ireland is particularly lacking in programmes for gifted and high-achieving children, who, as a consequence, often fail to fully apply themselves to learning and work later in life.

I favour an educational model that puts students and student-teacher relationships at the centre of learning, rather than an emphasis on technology-aided learning.

The Reasons

Ireland’s investment in education in the early years of the Republic was one of the country’s greatest achievements and forms a cornerstone of our economic success today. The level of education that was achieved against all obstacles in a once-impoverished nation is something we can be very proud of.

However, educational standards need to be continually reviewed and government bodies have kept their heads in the sand on the need for educational reform, despite numerous complaints from parents and teachers who have noticed the slipping standards in core skills. Politicians have become fond of repeating that Ireland offers world-class education, but fail to add that most of the world is composed of developing countries. Our education system is indeed much better than the education system in Mexico or Tunisia. However, it does not stack-up very well when compared with nations that have an equal, or slightly better, standard of living than our own.

Many Irish students graduate secondary school and third-level education without mastering basic skills, such as writing, math and time management. This is in large part not due to lack of capability on the part of the student, but rather inculcated by a culture that views talent and success as innate qualities. By contrast, highly successful education systems in Asia and Western Europe recognize that success is nine-tenths hard work. We need to change our culture to reflect that learning is not always easy or fun, but that it is ultimately worth the effort.

This needs to occur in an atmosphere where all children are given equal opportunities to excel. As it stands, Ireland’s education system enforces a deep level of social and gender segregation at an early age. It is a deplorable economic policy, in that it dooms many children to languish in sub-standard education where they are unable to reach their full potential and thus contribute to the economy to the fullest extent of their abilities.

Details / Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Wouldn’t getting rid of fee-paying secondary schools and gender-segregated schools be a massive undertaking?
    Yes, it would be, and it may take some time to achieve. However, I do not feel that any amount of effort should be spared in creating an educational model where all children have equal opportunities to succeed. Condemning some children to a second-class education because of their social circumstances is unacceptable.
  2. Won’t criticizing or failing children ruin their confidence?
    Refusing to provide constructive criticism is where real cruelty lies, because it sets up the child for failure later in life at a point where it is more difficult to adapt or change course. Even outright failure itself can serve as a confidence-building measure, because it teaches children that they can overcome seemingly insurmountable problems by persevering. Temporary failure and criticism are not the end of the world. Sometimes you just need to correct course and take another crack at things. Other times, maybe it is a wake up call that you are in the wrong programme.
  3. Why are you against technology-aided learning?
    I am against an over-reliance on technology-aided learning. No one is suggesting that we hang a slate and piece of chalk around every child’s neck, but at the same time no amount of computers and iPads can do the learning for you. The idea that technology means you have to make less of an effort to learn is the point I reject.
  4. Isn’t it a waste of resources to help gifted children, who are already doing well?
    Full disclosure: I myself was once a gifted child. As such, I did hard labour in a gifted programme followed by ten years in Mensa. I can see how this life-story wouldn’t elicit much pity from a lot of people and I am well aware that when it came to school I had life on easy street.
    Not too easy, though. The Canadian government did not sponsor these gifted programmes because they cared about how deathly bored we were in math class. They were very explicit in letting us know that we were in this programme so that Canadian society could someday harvest our genius potential and that we had better prove ourselves worthy of this investment.
    That is what is behind programmes for the gifted – not enabling gifted children to reach their full potential equates to a loss in productivity to society as a whole. When gifted children are not adequately challenged, they often lapse into apathy. When they are adequately challenged, they often end up doing the work of three people later in life. That kind of productivity is worth a little initial investment.