Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Priority Questions.

School Curriculum.

2:00 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Question 5: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if she will introduce driver education into the school curriculum and make it widely available to young people; if she will have discussions with the Department of Transport to devise specific measures to educate young people regarding safe behaviour on the road; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20109/06]

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I have no plans to introduce driver education, in the form of driving lessons, in schools, and this is not the norm within the EU. As the Deputy will be aware, a report produced for the NCCA by an expert group which included representatives of the National Safety Council, the Garda Síochána, the Irish Insurance Federation, and the Society of the Irish Motor Industry indicated that the research available internationally was inconclusive on the benefits of teaching young people to drive at school. Particular issues highlighted include the gap arising between the time practical skills are learned initially and put into regular practice, and the risks arising from more young people taking up driving at an earlier age.

Nonetheless, schools have a role to play both in teaching students about road safety issues and in helping them to develop the attitudes necessary to promote safe behaviour on the roads. The social personal and health education programme, which is mandatory in primary schools and at junior cycle level, provides a framework under which the generic values and skills which underpin responsible decision-making, and respect for the rights and safety of others can be developed and promoted among students. SPHE has a specific personal safety strand within the programme and this provides a vehicle through which road safety issues for all can be best dealt with in an age appropriate way.

Specific materials for teaching young people about road safety have also been given to schools. At the start of the 2001-02 school year the National Safety Council, with assistance from my Department, distributed copies of Staying Alive — a road safety resource for transition year and the senior cycle — to all second level schools. This pack contained a wide range of learning opportunities and activities on topics such as personal responsibility and decision-making, environmental issues and risks and rules for road users. A CD-ROM with additional material downloaded from the Internet was included in the pack along with copies of the Rules of the Road. In the preparation of the Staying Alive resources material, views were sought from a range of organisations with interests in the promotion of road safety. Prior to its issue to second level schools, the material was piloted in 20 schools and the response from teachers in those schools was very positive. This is also supplemented by Garda visits to primary and second level schools during which the themes of crime, road safety, personal safety and substance abuse are explored as part of the SPHE programme. There were some 1,900 school visits in 2005.

Not only is there a curricular framework in place already in which the importance of road safety can be taught to our young people, but this is also supplemented by specific teaching materials and by a comprehensive programme of Garda visits to schools.

The issue of how road safety education can be further strengthened in our schools in an age appropriate way is being examined by the Cabinet sub-committee on road safety, of which I am a member.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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While the measures in place are good, by and large they are only implemented in the junior cycle. Has consideration been given to the proposal of the safe driving pledge organisation to have a comprehensive programme in all schools at senior cycle level, probably during transition year? Is the Minister aware that surveys indicate that both young people and 98% of parents would favour such driver education in schools? I am not talking about students learning to drive involving cars but rather simulated activity in a controlled environment in schools. They should be broadly educated about motivation, knowledge and attitude while driving cars. I am sure the Minister is aware that tragically young people are over-represented in the appalling carnage on our roads.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Tragically it is mostly young people who are involved in the accidents taking place. Obviously we should aim to encourage anything that schools can do to support young people in learning about responsibility, self-protection and care. I also see great potential within the transition year, with perhaps a structured modularised programme covering the rules of the road. Simulated driving experience may not be possible as the equipment can be very expensive. Values, respect and responsibility are just as important in this regard. We should not lightly cast away age appropriate behaviour. The role of SPHE is important in this regard, starting from a very early age with the child walking on the street or crossing the road and building up to being the passenger in a car and the responsibilities that passengers have for their own protection. In one tragic accident recently some young people were killed. However, three other young people had refused to get into the car. They took responsibility for at least their own lives. There is much we can do in this regard.

I accept that some parents maintain that this should all be taught in school. However, those same parents are buying cars for their 17 year old children. They would be far better employed putting the money into driving lessons before buying the car. There seems to be a lack of balance between the expenditure and the accompanying responsibility. It behoves all of us to do this. My one difficulty with transition year is that not all schools offer the option. However, the SPHE programme at senior level is now being devised by the curriculum council, which will include an extension of the programme up to junior cycle. It can be tackled in a broader curricular way but I would like it to be more structured in transition year. A great deal of research demonstrates that young people do not apply what they learn at school when they leave. They have a positive attitude about responsibility on the road, yet, in a survey in 2001, they also said it was safe to speed in certain circumstances. One must consider their age before striking a balance.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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That is all the more reason simulated driving modules should be provided.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I am supportive of promoting the respect and responsibility of young drivers for themselves and others in transition year.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Research highlights that, unfortunately, separating respect and responsibility from driving experience is not straightforward. While young people acknowledge the need for respect and responsibility, when they get behind the wheel of a car, their behaviour is different. That is why in other countries where simulators are used in schools, young people learn about and appreciate appropriate driving behaviour when they are behind the wheel and that makes the difference.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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It is a fair point to ensure the theory matches the practice. The difficulty is how to do that, especially where a driving course is taught to a 15 year old in transition year who must wait two years before he or she can get behind the wheel of a car. I am anxious to do whatever I can within the education system to support the work of other Departments to protect young people. I am investigating whether that should involve teaching them the rules of the road or providing a computer-based programme.