I beg to move —"To omit all after the word `Dáil' and to insert:— `regrets that the programme of legislation outlined in the speech of the Governor-General contains no proposals for the reform of the present educational system, including the provision of an effective scheme of compulsory school attendance."
We have had since our first meeting here last autumn many debates on various subjects of importance, and on most of these subjects we have had divided opinions, but whenever the question of education came before the Dáil, I was always pleased to note the practical unanimity with which it was put forward from all sides that a very grave necessity existed for educational reform. That was nothing new. It is a matter, I think, on which there has been general agreement for very many years. I was pleased to hear during the course of the debate on the last amendment my friend, Deputy Gorey, making the statement that education was all wrong—I took note of it at the time— and that most of the present evils were due to the want of education. I think it was Deputy Milroy who spoke of the necessity for a great scheme of national reconstruction. The foundation of any scheme of National reconstruction must be a thorough scheme of educational reform in the country. It was, therefore, with very great surprise, indeed, and with very great regret that I discovered in the programme of legislation outlined by the Ministry, that no reference whatsoever was made to the question of educational reform. I had hopes from the debates which took place in the Dáil or from the statement from the Government side that this would be one of the first questions to be tackled. I might quote as a sample the statement made by the Minister for Education on the occasion of a recent debate. Speaking of some things that had to be dealt with, he said:—"I trust that the Deputies belonging to this Assembly will bear it in mind that one of the heavy responsibilities that will lie upon them in the future will be to make all the provision, financial and otherwise, that is necessary, and that, in their judgment they can make to remedy this very faulty state of things." I regret this Dáil has not been given an opportunity of doing what the Minister is anxious should be done. In the course of the debate on the Estimates it was pointed out and admitted by the Ministry that we had in educational affairs in this country a very anomalous state of things, inasmuch as we have four, five, or more different departments — different branches of the Government service dealing with educational matters. We have what is called Primary Education, and what is called Secondary Education, and Technical Education, all at the present time controlled and administered by what are practically watertight compartments quite independent of one another. We have also had Estimates before us for Industrial Schools and, I think, there were one or two other branches of Departments like the Endowed School Commissioners. The first and great and urgent necessity if we are to prevent the uneconomical working of the systems of education, and if we are to prevent needless overlapping, and needless waste of energy and effort and money is to unify and bring under one control all the Departments of the State which deal with education. To show the necessity that there is for urgent action let us take any of these divisions—these arbitrary divisions I might say, for I regard them as arbitrary divisions. In the Primary Departments at the present time, they are simply carrying on. We do not know exactly where we are in the matter. We do not know what is the exact legal position. We do not know what is the position with regard to the Commissioners of National Education. I believe it is essential that their position should be regularised at the earliest possible opportunity. There is at present no educational code properly speaking. The code in existence, I believe, is five or six years' old, and if anybody unacquainted with Irish education at the present time found themselves in the position that he had to inquire as to what the situation was with regard to our educational code he would find himself in very great difficulty, indeed. For all the regulations, or most of them, which are printed in the present code — at all events a very large number of them are — obsolete. That Department is administered at the present time through the Regulations which are contained in the various circulars issued from time to time by the Department. It tends to very great confusion in the case of both the Administration and those who carry on the work of Education. That is one of the first things that the Ministry should tackle. We have heard a lot in this Dáil about Secondary Education. There is, in fact, really no Secondary system— no system of Secondary Education. It is not correct at all to speak of the Secondary Education system, because we have no such thing. I need not, I think, dwell on that particular phase of the question. That surely is admitted. Technical Education is under the control of, or administered by, the Department of Agriculture. I think it is necessary that this branch of education should be taken from the control of the Department and put under the control of the Ministry of Education. Then we have attempts made in various parts of the country at a so-called Scholarship system. Various County Councils and other bodies strike rates to establish Scholarships from the Primary and Secondary Schools. They have done that within the last year I understand. I do not know what is the position of the law regarding that. I doubt very much whether that position is regular. I would like to say with regard to the Scholarship system generally what may appear to be a heresy coming from people who from time to time did advocate this scheme of Scholarship or a scheme of Scholarships, that I at any rate have ever regarded the Scholarship scheme as a makeshift scheme. I do not believe in the system of taking boys or selecting from a class of boys or girls at the early age of 12 or 13 years; I do not believe in selecting precocious boys and taking them away from their homes perhaps and sending them to a Boarding School. I do not believe that is good; I do not believe it is good for education. I do not believe it is good for the boys themselves. I never could feel satisfied that boys so selected were the right selection. Because I hold that at that age it is not possible to judge fairly the boys or girls who will benefit most by Secondary or Higher Education. But apart from that I hold that those who are left behind are equally entitled to receive the benefits of Higher Education. It might be asked if they cannot be awarded scholarships or sent away to Boarding Schools for their Secondary Education, what is the alternative? My alternative, in any case, would be to bring the facilities. Rather than to send the boy to the school, I would bring the school to the boy. I would bring the facilities within the reach of the children in their own homes, and I believe that can be done, and that it is quite practicable. I believe we have the machinery already, and that is why I said, earlier in my remarks, that I believe this distinction between primary and secondary education is very largely arbitrary. I believe the village school should provide a good and sufficient education for a boy or girl up to the age of 16, 17 or 18 years. I believe that is possible, and it is the right way to tackle this question; that rather than set up a system of so-called Colleges or Boarding Schools or Secondary Schools, we should develop the existing schools as we find them, so that the children could find in their village school all the education which it is proper they should receive up to the age of 16, 17 or 18 years. That does not necessarily mean, and I do not intend it to mean at this stage, that education should be compulsory up to that age; but if boys or girls are prepared to attend school, or their parents are prepared to do without their services and give them the fair chance they should get in life, the facilities for availing of that should be at their doors. It does not mean either that every little school should provide these privileges. Certainly the schools established in our towns or villages should provide these facilities, and the grown pupils in the smaller schools, when they come to the age of 14, 15 or 16 years, could very easily go to the central school in the town or village at a distance of five or six miles. It would have many advantages, but the greatest advantage I see is the boy would not be rooted out of his home at the early age of 12, 13 or 14 years. He has to leave his home at the present time, if he seeks a secondary education or an education higher than that up to the compulsory attendance age, and I think that is bad for the boy, for the country, and for education generally. Another phase of the educational question that I would like to see tackled is the question of administration. I believe we have had too much centralisation in the past. Everything has been done from headquarters in Dublin. There is the necessity, undoubtedly, for directional control, if I may say so, and in some aspects national control is important and necessary. But there are many aspects connected with education in which the local people should be brought into much more direct touch than has been done in the past. The only branch of education in which local interest has been touched, and in which the local people have been encouraged to interest themselves, is on the technical side. So far as my experience goes, I think it is generally agreed that on that side the work of the technical branch is much more satisfactory, and has been on the whole more successful than in either of the other two branches, and it is quite possible this bringing of the local people into touch with the educational problems that present themselves may be responsible to some extent for that. I do not know what was the reason—it may have been historical; it may have been otherwise—but the fact remains that the ordinary layman regarded education as forbidden ground, something that was outside his purview, and that he was not to touch. It was too thorny a problem for the layman to touch, and he kept clear of it. The net result of that is that there has been and is very great apathy indeed on the part of the people generally with regard to educational questions, and, while they may have general ideas as to the necessity and advisability of education and educational reform, they have never come down to tackle this problem in a practical way or interested themselves in the matter. Who ever heard of a meeting of people to deal with the question of education unless it was got up by people who might be supposed, rightly or wrongly, to be directly interested in the question? There are some matters which should, in my opinion, specially interest the local bodies and the local people— questions such as the provision of material for school buildings and the finding of buildings. I do not mean that the cost of the building should be met by the locality. That would be impracticable, and I think that should be the duty of the State. What I mean is the type of school, and, above all, the maintenance of the fabric when it is provided. That surely should be the duty of the local bodies. Most of us in the Dáil know that you have all through the country buildings doing duty for schools which are little, if indeed anything, better than barns—miserable hovels called schools which are repellant even to the children, and which beget disgust with everything connected with the school on the part of the children who come and spend the greater part of the day in such buildings. Apart from that, there is the question of the health of the nation, and we know the foundations of many of the diseases which attack children and growing people are laid in these insanitary hovels which serve at the present time for schools. Nobody has any interest in these things; it is left largely to local voluntary effort. The clergyman of the district is supposed to collect or raise funds in any way that seems to him best to provide or maintain these public buildings. On a former occasion I paid a tribute to these men, who for many years have undertaken this onerous task, and I do so again here. They have done their best, on the whole, to meet the situation and to carry out a duty which should never have been placed upon their shoulders. But this voluntary system of carrying on the ordinary repairs of schools, of keeping them sanitary, has, in my opinion, completely broken down; and it is necessary that steps should be taken to make provision by which this important work should be carried on. That can only be done by legislation. It should not be left to voluntary effort. It is simply and solely a question of rates. That may frighten some people, but when we come down to examine it we find that that is the only solution. It is not fair that the parents of the children should be asked to pay subscriptions from year to year for the maintenance of these buildings while the man who may be in the fortunate—or unfortunate—position of not having any children at school gets off scot free. You may have poor parents having to contribute to such collections, while the big landholder, or the company perhaps, that owns property in the district does not contribute one penny. I certainly think it would be more equitable, and certainly it is necessary, that legislation should be introduced at as early a date as possible to meet these needs. I might add to that the necessity for the provision of suitable playgrounds. We know that in many of the schools there are no playgrounds provided. The children play on the road, to the very great danger and risk of their lives; either that or they play in a muddy schoolyard, and in winter time they have to stay inside rather than be admitted to the playgrounds. The local bodies should also provide for school plots in rural districts, especially school plots which could be made, and it is necessary that they should be made, where there is a rural population such as in this country, of very great educational advantage. Then there is the question of school meals. That is a very urgent question indeed in some of our poorer districts; but I personally would be glad to see provision made whereby all children could have a meal provided for them during the school interval. Some days ago I came across an interesting extract from a statement by Michael Davitt in this connection. He says that "up to the age of fifteen I would have all education compulsory and free, and, moreover, I would provide a free meal in the middle of the day for all the children. This latter provision I hold to be an indispensable one in any scheme of enlightened educational reform."
Now, there is also a matter which I mentioned some days ago, and which perhaps would arise more correctly in connection with the question of health; but it touches the school and educational question intimately, and that is the provision of medical and dental inspection of school children. I do not see any reference to these in the proposed scheme of legislation. I only hope that it may not be necessary to pass legislation. I hope it may be possible to adapt an Act which I understand is already there, in order to introduce medical and dental inspection in our schools. There is also a question—and this surely causes me surprise—with reference to the subject of compulsory attendance. I wonder how it was that the Ministry forgot the unanimous resolution that was passed in the Dáil on, I think, the 17th of November last. Perhaps I should read it. This was the resolution:—
"That, inasmuch as the attendance of children at school has of late been notoriously irregular, and as the present Compulsory Attendance Law has proved to be inadequate to deal with the situation thus created, it is the desire of this Dáil that the Compulsory Attendance Clauses of the Irish Education Act of 1892 should, at the earliest available opportunity, be amended."
Yet, while we have a long programme of legislation outlined, we have no reference in that programme, or no intention set forward in that programme of giving effect to this resolution which the Dáil passed on the 17th of November. I need not go into the necessity of that again. It was fully debated on that occasion, and the opinion of the Dáil is expressed in that resolution. I shall only content myself by expressing my surprise that a resolution so definite, so clear, and, above all, a unanimous resolution of that kind seems to have been forgotten by the Ministry in arranging their programme of legislation. Now, in view of this, I think the amendment which stands in my name, and which I am proposing, is eminently justified, if we are not to take it that, like all the other plans, schemes, and proposals which used to be the stock arguments of those who now sit in the Government benches before they came to sit on these benches, are not to be regarded as all wiped away, because they have got control of the Government into their hands. Perhaps in connection with this matter, especially in view of some statements that have been made from time to time in this Dáil and elsewhere, it might be of interest to refer to what is sometimes spoken of as an educational objective. There is hardly any question, I think, on which there are so many varied opinions, even amongst those who pose as experts, as on this question of an educational objective. The examination of these opinions and statements made from time to time shows, further, that these varying ideas range themselves largely under two heads. We have those who believe that the chief aim of education should be to train the child to take its place in the army of workers, and that all educatinal schemes and curricula should be directed towards producing a skilful and competent industrial unit, one who will be ready and trained to do useful work, either as a mechanic, or craftsman, or a professional man, in adding to the wealth and comfort and prosperity of the country as a whole. That is what I might call the utilitarian idea of education. Then we have, on the other hand, a smaller body of opinion, who believe that education and all that true education connotes, the pursuit of knowledge, is in itself an object eminently worthy of attainment, quite apart from, and independent of, its utilitarian aspect altogether.
Now, we may ask which of those is going to obtain in this country, because it is necessary, if we set out on the road to educational reform, to have an objective before us. To my mind in any case, it will depend entirely on the nature of the civilisation which we hope to establish in this country under our new-found liberty. If we are to have what Deputy O'Brien spoke of earlier this evening, the industrialism of America or England, if that is our aim in life, if the pursuit of what is now called wealth, and the comforts and pleasures which such wealth brings in its train, if that is to be our object, we must obviously shape our educational outlook, so as to attain that object, and in that case the utilitarian ideal will be uppermost, and will prevail. If, on the other hand, we are anxious to have a distinctive Gaelic State, a distinctive Gaelic civilisation, different from the industrial States of England or America, or even of Belgium, if we are to have a self-contained nation, that will be little influenced by the industrial movements or the markets of the world, if we are to have a country, or if we hope to build up a country, in which wealth and the products of wealth, as we know and speak of wealth at the present time, will be subordinate to the higher things, the higher spiritual things, and a community in which spiritual ideals of existence will count for more than what might be regarded as physical or bodily comforts; if that is to be our aim, we will come to realise that the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge and the shaping of our system of education so as to provide for mental and moral training and the formation of character, the mental training of the citizen in the higher things of life, and not only individual character, but national character, if that is to be our aim, then that must be our objective, and we must discard the utilitarian idea. I think that if we come to examine the matter fully that there can be no doubt which of these ideals ought to be our aim and our object. In this connection I might be permitted to quote from an article that appeared in Sinn Fein so far back as 1906.
"The ancient Irish," it says, "like the modern French, recognise an aristocracy of intellect as distinguished from an aristocracy of birth, and did not recognise an aristocracy of wealth at all. Into the first aristocracy they have afforded every man an opportunity of entrance by making education free to all. It never entered into our ancestors' heads that higher education was a thing to be set apart for those whose fathers were wealthier than their neighbours, or that the end of education was to qualify a man to earn money. Like the Greeks, they knew that the one end of education is to perfect the man."
There are some people in this country who think that the one and only ideal of education is to qualify a man to earn a living and become a better unit and a better machine in the industrial system. As I say, I hope that will not be our ideal. Our independence, our separation from England, which has been the object of our struggles for the past centuries, will not make any distinctive mark in history if we are simply going to use that independence and that separation in order to cultivate the same ideals, or, rather, cultivate the ideals that have been planted in this country during the years of the British occupation. It is our duty to show to the world that we here in Ireland are a distinctive race. It will be necessary in order to prove our age-long claim to independence, to show that we are a distinctive race, a distinctive nation, and a people with ideals and aspirations differing widely from those who held us in bondage through the centuries. We can only do this by building up within this country a distinctive Gaelic culture and giving our people a new outlook in life, and showing that, after all, the attainment of wealth and riches is not the ultimate object of human existence. I hope that the Ministry will see the necessity at the earliest possible opportunity of taking up this whole problem of education in a constructive and thorough way, and this to my mind is not one of the matters, although it is a very big and important matter in which it is necessary to adopt the usual method—what has come to be the usual method—of setting up a Commission. I have stated before, and state again, that in my opinion there is no necessity for setting up a Commission, especially on the lines of some of the Commissions that have already been set up, because the material is there and the evidence is there as a result of previous Commissions, out of which nothing came. It may require, perhaps, a small representative Committee which will collate material at hand and advise the Ministry as to the best way in which the very urgent question of Educational Reform might be tackled.