Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Education Inequality and Disadvantage: Discussion

4:00 pm

Ms Sinéad Dooley:

We have an opportunity to be radical and take a broad look at the education system. The general perception is that the education system is a good one, but that is a dangerous mentality. When we compare our system to the Finish model, sadly, it is lagging behind. The Finnish model is moving away from the emphasis on subject workload, heavy volumes of homework and rote learning, while in Ireland we use league tables as a barometer of children's success. We encourage students to revise and retain large volumes of sometimes irrelevant information and regurgitate it in a structured form in order to maximise their points.

When we look at extracurricular activities within the school system and the outcomes from young social innovators, young scientist competitions and Concern debates, to name but a few, we see that when young people are allowed to be creative, they excel above all those from other nations. We should have an education system in which innovation and creativity are rewarded, encouraged and recognised as part of the curriculum. Employers are shouting from the rooftops that they require employees with training and skills, as opposed to employees with multiple degrees and no problem solving skills. Encouraging innovation and problem solving skills from an early age would not only benefit the labour market, it would also build confidence and social skills which would enable young people to deal with issues in a logical manner and also reduce the number presenting with anxiety and stress. However, very often there are extra costs associated with participating in extracurricular activities. The Irish League of Credit Unions back to school survey in 2017 showed that 67% of parents surveyed would not have been able to afford extracurricular activities. While the level of early school leaving has decreased, children from disadvantaged areas are still more at risk of leaving school before completing their leaving certificate examinations. There may be a range of factors in a young person leaving school early, one of which is that the student has to conform with the education system. Reducing the average European rate of early school leaving to less than 10% is one of the headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy in the area of education. It would help towards the integration of young people into the labour market and contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation that leads to the social exclusion of too many young people.

The Youthreach programme which was originally intended to meet the needs of the student who felt "detached" from the education system has become more academic. We are suggesting this be reviewed. Funding for the programme, like others, is now outcomes and awards based, with the expected outcome for participants being to obtain a Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, level 4 qualification which equates to basic leaving certificate standard. The programme must revert to adopting a person-centred approach, where it would be tailored to meet the young person's needs. There is a mismatch between outcomes and awards and the skills match to which the Minister continually refers. The programme needs to be practical and skills based in order to be effective and relevant and encourage positive participation.

Too often schools place more of a focus on Central Applications Office, CAO, points and third level courses, highlighting past pupils' achievements by the third level institutes they attend and the level of qualification attained. Apprenticeships are often seen as the Cinderella route to a career, being referred to as the alternative option to explore. Students who choose to opt for an apprenticeship, whether it be in the traditional trades or the new apprenticeships of information and communications technology and finance, should not be made to feel inferior to those who choose to go directly to third level. Teachers and career guidance counsellors need to proactively promote all options available to students.

This opening statement and our brief submission only scratch the surface of the need to engage in further dialogue. Irish Rural Link proposes the establishment of a task force to carry out a critical analysis of the education system, one which will be representative of all education and skills providers and include an analysis of the availability and accessibility of community education programmes to ensure issues of disadvantage and inequality will be addressed adequately across the board.


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