“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”
It would be nice to conclude my views of the ‘Towards a Framework for Junior Cycle’ in a short post. However, I believe to do so would be to limit myself to looking at a tree only to miss the forest. There is an awful lot more to the Framework than the Framework itself. While there appears to be general agreement on the need for reform of the Junior Cycle, I believe that much of this ‘agreement’ has been manufactured, partly by the NCCA, partly by the DOES and partly by media representation of education in Ireland. Much of the views generated thus have come from people who have little day-to-day involvement with the reality of schools and whose attitudes and values inform various proposals but which, I believe lead to a diminution of the core task of a teacher – to teach the content and skills of the subject in which they are trained. That nothing is written of the attitudes and values of policy formulators and how these have informed decision making is striking.
To begin with, it is useful to consider the available information
ESRI research between 2002 and 2007
Address by the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Ms. Mary Coughlan, T.D., at the launch of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment consultation process on the Junior Cycle
Minister for Education issues clarification regarding the number of exams that will be taken at Junior Certificate
In May 2009 Ireland had one of the best education systems in the world. Scarcely one year later was it little more than a basket case. Is this really the case? I would argue not. Afterall, we had successfully attracted 26% of all US foreign direct investment in Europe despite having only 1% of the EU’s population. This is not to suggest that we cannot improve. However, our success in attracting MNCs hardly points to a failing education system. So what is really going on?
It is clear that there is room for improvement in Ireland’s education system – both in the schools and among teachers. However, I do not believe the proposals contained in the Framework offer (or more correctly, point to) much improvement and that in fact, they represent a lowering of standards. The only possible exception to this is the references to ICT. However, despite having gone through a an economic boom and having paid only lip-service to ICT in education, I do not believe the State is now in a position, nor has it the vision, to implement the radical change necessary to see ICT become a meaningful part of Irish education.
It can take upwards of a decade to see the full effect of major changes to an educational system. If the change doesn’t succeed, those responsible can always fall back on the mantra that they followed the ‘advice of the experts’ as if to say that if the advice was wrong, that is just too bad but not their fault. Yet, as I will argue in a later post, the real experts – teachers – were materially excluded from the decision making process. This is all the more pity because teachers tend to be the first to be blamed for the ills of the education system.
Not to ignore the conspiratorial amongst you, I suggest that the proposed changes to the Junior Cycle have little to do with education and more to do with the mundane management of the government’s approach to providing an education service. I believe certain views of what happens in classrooms have been portrayed as the norm in all classrooms yet is far from the reality. However, unless there is something wrong with the system, there can be no valid argument for changing it. I do not mind if managing our educational resources at national level must be an issue – only that there would be more honesty about it.
I will argue that real change in the education system must involve not only certain changes to the system, but more significantly, changes to the way teachers are currently treated and portrayed by officialdom and in the media. As I mentioned above, there are improvements that teachers can make and I will offer some suggestions.
I write merely as it seems to me. I may be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. No one person or organisation has all the answers. Please add your comments on how you reason we can improve Irish education.