This debate follows a pretty general pattern and I do not think I can usefully help by following that pattern. The defects in our system were mentioned by some Deputies and then brushed aside, with a general attribution of them to compulsory Irish. Now, that is simply evading the issue. There are defects, but these defects are in no way due to either the teaching or the speaking of the Irish language. Some time ago there may have been cause for complaint in that regard, but the cause was temporary in its nature and the ground no longer exists. We are losing sight of the problem here by simply pointing out the things that are, perhaps, wrong; children to-day are being turned out with an insufficient grasp of some of the fundamentals and then there is thenon sequitur of reference straightway to the Irish language problem. Now these are two completely distinct issues.
I want to deal more generally, as far as I can here, with our educational system with regard to the product we are turning out. I am afraid it is a fact—and the evidence for it can be adduced, perhaps, from people who are taking young people in for employment, particularly in clerical grades, and the evidence of such people will be reinforced in many cases by university teachers—that there is a complaint generally going around more or less on these lines: that the children who are being turned out to-day are deficient as compared with earlier generations, particularly the generations who were educated, say, 30 or 40 years ago, in such matters as the detailed implementation of a task, the ability to write a business letter—to take a simple thing—the ability to do a calculation and to follow it through. There seems to be a certain dislike to attend to a particular task in detail and to prosecute it through to a finish and the exclusion of other distractions. Perhaps that is a natural human tendency but people who have some experience say that that tendency is more obvious to-day than it was in the past and it is said that such a pattern is too uniform and too common to be accidental.
There is another thing that one hears. It is a type of thing that is, I confess, very difficult to assess. In the case of any private Deputy getting up to speak on such a matter it is a very difficult thing to assess because it all depends on whom he has been talking to. Too often one hears, particularly in regard to secondary teaching, parents complaining that their children cannot do sums, that they have not been taught to write, that they cannot spell, that they have been introduced to all sorts of wide fields but that they are unable to do these simple things that matter. I must confess that there is certain corroboration of that to be found where people are interviewing or examining people for employment, say, in clerical grades.
In seeking for a cause of all that, granting that that is a fair picture and trying to assess it, I think that possibly the root cause goes back to a violent change in our educational outlook here which took place about 1925. There was a reaction. I know that that has been corrected to a large extent in more recent years but at that time there was a very violent reaction which, coupled with other things which happened in the country, had a very unfortunate effect.
I may be permitted to go back a little to that time. I have done it on a previous Estimate some years ago. In the period 1925 to 1929 the system and the programme were so diffuse and nebulous that the whole tendency was to turn out people from the secondary schools—I am confining myself to secondary schools for the moment— with a gentleman-dabbler's knowledge of nearly everything under the sun and a very serious deficiency in basic techniques and detailed knowledge of anything. It was the type of thing that tended to produce smart Alecks who were fundamentally inefficient and basically ignorant at the same time,
I know that that was corrected to a large extent by the introduction of prescribed texts again, and so forth, but I still think that the impetus of that is not completely gone and that what is really wrong—I am talking about our secondary approach—is that there is too much prescribed, the fields are too wide, the courses are too ambitious, the demands on the child are so wide as to deprive him of the opportunity which he really should have of concentrating. That had unfortunate consequences. The plea I want to make, as I made on a previous occasion here, is to narrow down somewhat and then concentrate on detail.
I do not want to repeat what I put on the record in regard to that some years ago. Is there a tendency in the Irish character towards slipshodness when it comes to prosecuting a task to completion? There may be an initial brilliant flash; there may be a certain aptitude and ability for commencing a task and even conceiving how it should be put through. All that is granted and I do not think our people are in any way behind others. In fact I think they have advantages over many people in that regard. But where the failure comes is in dogged detailed finishing of the job and the concentration on those details that make all the difference between a job well done and a job so badly done as to be hardly done at all.
If we could restrict the curriculum, demand more in detail, insist on a smaller course, a more circumscribed course but a more detailed and a higher standard of efficiency in answering on that restricted course, we would be not only helping to solve a number of our educational problems but we would also be making a contribution to the moulding of the national character.
I would like to draw the Minister's attention to some details in regard to these matters, particularly in regard to the leaving certificate of the secondary schools but, before so doing, there is another general aspect to be mentioned. There has been a change in the last 50 years in human society and modern development. There has been a very big change in technical development, in technical evolution and an increase in mechanisation in practically every department of life. There has been—and equally important—a very big change in communications. Naturally following from that, there has also been an inevitable tendency towards specialisation in the individual. These are trends that I do not think should be overlooked. Therefore, merely assessing the curricula in terms of, say, what was tried and successfully tried, I think, at the beginning of this century, the educational programmes and examinations need review in the light of the development I have indicated.
You have this tendency to specialisation. In a nutshell as far as this Estimate is concerned, you have a much greater amount of knowledge to convey to the child to fit him for the ordinary run of life on the one hand and, on the other hand, you have the local problem of trying to educate children to attend to an isolated or particular task or activity and complete the task in detail with efficiency. These two things conflict to a large extent. On that very general basis alone—I will particularise in a moment —I think a review of our secondary education programmes is indicated.
Somebody else in regard to some other part of the debate said you have got to ask yourself what is the objective. As time will not permit going into every course and programme in this House in detail—at least not this session—perhaps the best course to take is the leaving certificate honours and try to see that course in relation to life at the moment here and the general approach which I tried to indicate a few minutes ago. I take that course for the reason that it is the top, so to speak. It is the ultimate that anyone can reach in the secondary school.
That being so, it is natural to look at all other courses as regulated or graded towards that climax. Let me read from the rules and programme for the secondary schools, 1955-56, in respect of the leaving certificate examination under the heading Note:—
"The aim of the leaving certificate is to testify to the completion of a good secondary education and to the fitness of a pupil to enter upon a course of study in a university or an educational institution of similar standing."
"The aim of the leaving certificate is to testify to the completion of a good secondary education." That will be accepted but it may be well to question the meaning of the second part of that clause: "And to the fitness of a pupil to enter upon a course of study in a university or an educational institution of similar standing." What is to be understood by the phrase "fitness of a pupil?" Does it mean they are to get a certain preliminary specialised treatment and education in a subject which they are going to pursue in the university afterwards or does it simply mean a general secondary education of a kind that will fit the individual profitably to follow a course in the university?
Looking through the examination papers—I have them here in respect of three years—I rather think there is a certain lack of co-ordination between all the courses and the general aim. I think that, if anybody were asked, they would say that the basis is to give the child a good all-round secondary education so that, when he goes to a university, a law school or into any other activity or business, he will have that basic education that will enable him to attack the job in hand. In effect, you are saying that the aim would seem to be that specialisation is to come afterwards. I think that is the answer that most teachers and people would give if one posed the question.
On the other hand, reading the examination papers, one gets the feeling that the individual controllers of the courses and the people setting the examination have a much more specialised object in mind even though, perhaps, it is probably subconscious. It is a point though for the Department to examine and I think it is a point to be taken in relation to the general problem as to whether the courses are not too wide and too general in each individual subject, posing the ultimately impossible task to the student of mastering them all and leaving them in that unfinished condition of which I complained in the beginning.
I know I am taking a line here which is not usually taken in this House but it would be no harm to examine the question in that light. If one takes the particular subjects in detail, one is struck by two things. First of all, in connection with some subjects which I will mention in a moment, I would invite the Minister to compare a degree examination—mark you, I say a degree examination—in a university with the leaving certificate honours examination. That comparison alone will show, if you like to use the current phrase, the very high standard of the leaving certificate examination. I should prefer to describe it in less flattering terms myself because I think it is a mistake that that should be so but that is what you will be told.
You will be told: "Of course, the same standard of answering is not required." That is the whole trouble. The same standard of answering the question set should be required at all stages—the standard being sound knowledge, thorough knowledge and an ability to convey to the examiner that knowledge. One hears sometimes, in answer to criticism of that nature, "Of course the same standard of answering is not required." The system that allows that to happen is indicted out of hand in my humble opinion.
I would ask the Minister to compare practically any of his leaving certificate examinations—I have the papers here in respect of three years and I will have a look at them in a moment— with degree examinations in these subjects and I venture to say that there are questions in the leaving certificate examinations that could quite easily and properly be transferred to a degree paper and, on occasion, to an honours degree paper at that. If I am challenged on that, I have one question in mind which is certainly an honours degree question. Is that a sound situation to have? Would it not be better to circumscribe the course? If you like to go back a little bit to the old intermediate viewpoint under the old education board, limit the course, prescribe the course, make your examinations more definite so that the answers must be definite, so that a child will have to answer in a definite way, rightly or wrongly, and that he will be able to show that he has mastered the basic techniques of the subject in question.
I think that is a very urgent task for the Department and the Minister as far as secondary education is concerned. I shall postpone for a moment the following of that up because the details may, perhaps, get a little involved. There is another point I should like to make to the Minister in respect of this. I pointed out that the standard appears to be almost, in some respects, a university standard. People may argue that that is right but I think I have given the answer.
There is another facet of the problem. When a person goes to a law school, a university, some institution in which he will specialise, or maybe into business, he will be a specialist in our modern society, and whatever educationists may say about it, after the child leaves school he will find himself in some rank of society in some specialised occupation and, thereafter, his energies, his studies will, for practically the whole of the rest of his life, be directed to that specialisation.
That being so, I know that educationists will then say that is all the more reason why the secondary school course should be wide. Evading that again for a moment—it is a subject for discussion in itself—and saying we will continue to give a fairly broad basis on which to build, what are we doing about it? Again, on that ground, I am driven back to asking the Minister if he will restrict the courses? Let us compare again the leaving certificate course with certain other courses, whether in law in a specialised institution, in economics in a specialised institution or in the university. The groups of subjects will be homogeneous, related, more or less.
If a boy is sent from a school to a university, to a branch of science, he will have a group of subjects that hang together. If he does medicine he has a group of subjects that hang together. Of course the doctor can still deal in generalities, but with the exception of medicine, in every other department the subjects are not only related but they are closely related. Specialisation goes on in all these lines. When an engineer goes to college he has related subjects, in which he must have an interest, such as mathematics, mechanics and so forth. The lawyer will take legal and political science which have a common interest. That, in itself, helps in concentration, and helps the student at that stage to develop on a general line; in other words, the grouping tends to concentration.
You have the reverse situation in the secondary schools, where you have, for the moment, the theory that you are giving the children a good general education by having a grouping of divergent subjects, a grouping of subjects which are not inter-related. Concentration on one of those subjects does not help concentration of the other, and this makes the task much more difficult and places on the child a greater strain in the interests of specialisation afterwards.
There is a psychological point involved. Most people have aptitudes and inaptitudes and I think a teacher will find in a school that children who find certain subjects easy and who will have a liking for some subjects, will very often have a distaste for others. It is the one for which they have the distaste which will cause the bother and, in specialisation afterwards, presumably the student's tastes will be suited to all the related subjects in the group he takes. The net result of that approach is open to such interpretation that you should have a more restricted field of subjects, a more manageable field which you can use to equip the child with a certain basic knowledge in these subjects, a knowledge from which he can specialise afterwards, and, incidentally, a knowledge that will provide a certain amount of psychological balance afterwards.
Take that in relation to the leaving certificate. According to the syllabus the children must take five subjects. A boy, you will find, will take Irish and English for a start, because they seem to be necessary prerequisites anyway for living in the part of the world in which we live. After that, mathematics in some form are obviously necessary. There is a choice of two other subjects. What is the boy going to do there? Some may take Latin. There is a great deal to be said for the taking of Latin because there are many subjects afterwards where a rudimentary knowledge of Latin is useful. I have spoken of four out of five subjects. Most people, if they have not got anything else in their minds, may take subjects such as music and drawing.
I ask how can you work out a course like that? On that basis, you are simply not going to be able to go into useful detail, detail that will last, and a wide course that will last usefully in these things as we apparently are attempting, in these examinations, to do. A boy wants a modern language under modern circumstances. Without one he will find himself handicapped. If he is doing law it would, as I have said, be very useful for him to have a rudimentary knowledge of Latin. A modern language will not be lost anyway.
There you have probably four out of five for any child, the basic general pattern—Irish, English, Mathematics, and, we will say, Latin, or a modern language. When I say that, I am taking the average boy. On the basis of that let us ask a few questions in regard to these basic things. We will start with Irish. What do we need in respect of Irish? Do we not need a spoken knowledge—is not that what all are talking about—a spoken, active knowledge of the language? Details of literature, what I might call Celtic studies in a specialised sense are, by and large, for the specialist. What we want of the boy or girl coming out of school is a good, ordinary, spoken knowledge of the language.
This question has been gone into in detail already and I do not want to delay upon it. But, could we not in our secondary schools, right through from start to finish, concentrate on one simple thing, on encouraging the talking of Irish, by making it as simple as possible? If that were done we would gain two very valuable things in our educational system, especially when we are not concerned with the specialised pupil. The first valuable thing we would gain would be that we would probably do more for the revival of the language than anything else; secondly, there would be the useful education of the children in the idea of a second language. It does appear that it is harder for people to learn a language if they know only one language than if they have two. The very fact of being bilingual gives a certain facility for the understanding of what language is and for acquiring another language. That seems to be indicated by the experience on the Continent, and the same thing should also apply here.
If we just encourage the children to talk Irish—and we need not be too worried about a detailed knowledge, about poets or anything like that, but only about the spoken language—we will accomplish both of the things to which I have referred. The pupils will not be Irish scholars, but they will be Irish speakers. I know that that would mean a big administrative difficulty because it lays the emphasis on the tongue and not on the pen. It means organising in the schools some method of examining the children orally, and, as I suggest, making the written examinations so simple by comparison with other subjects that all the children will love Irish because it is easy.
This talk about the Irish language being more difficult than any other language is utter rubbish. Every language is difficult if you do not know it at first. I am sorry that the Minister is not present when I say this, but it would be worth while to organise a system by which we would have oral examinations each year for every student. After all, it is possible in Christian doctrine to have children orally examined at the present time and the children, I am glad to say, know their Christian doctrine. We should combine the two things—the emphasis on speaking and the easiness of Irish. There should be an understanding on the part of the examiners that they will simply go in for making the examination papers easy and attractive. Then, as I say, you will have done these two valuable things. So much for Irish.
Now, in regard to English, what we want, as I have said here before, is that the children should be able to express themselves in after life in English. They have to read and express themselves in their ordinary activities through English. I know that in saying this I may be accused of being too practical or too earthy, but the fact is that the ordinary child needs to be able to read and write English, to express himself in English and to be able to reason in that language. Indeed, he should be able to do the same in Irish, and he will, if the approaches that I have indicated here are adopted. In English, the child will need good grammar, good spelling, and good writing—I mean ordinary physical writing—and accurate expression. These are the things that are needed, and I would go rather easily on some of the specialised and ambitious prescribed courses.
It has often struck me—I do not know whether or not I am wrong—and everybody tells me, nowadays, that nobody reads poetry. You can go round to people who have just left school, and we find that the knowledge of Shakespeare generally is pretty poor. I wonder how much of that is due to our education? How many of us have had "Hamlet" or the best part of Shakespeare ruined for us by the approach that has been taken in our educational system to these things? I have often wondered whether the reading of poetry has declined in our population due to the fact that it is being shoved in a compulsory fashion down the necks of the children.
We hear talk about compulsion in education. If the Minister wants my opinion, compulsion of that nature, compulsion of this unnecessary nature is damaging. I hope to come to that in detail and to the actual examination papers in a moment, but the plea I would like to make is that the approach should be from the point of view of the child, whether he is going to be a doctor, an engineer or in business, that a basic command of the English medium of expression would be essential. It seems to me that it is very important from the lawyer's point of view. I know a professor of law who has complained bitterly of the difficulties encountered because of the inadequate teaching in that sense, in the sense that the accurate using of words and accuracy of expression is not insisted on. Children must be given the ability to express themselves accurately and to use words accurately in a way which does not seem to happen now as it happened under another system.
That is a fundamental thing, as I say, in regard to the law but it is equally fundamental in regard to practically any other subject. Even in the case of mathematics one needs to be quite clear on points of basic education, quite clear and unequivocal in expression. Mathematics cannot all be expressed by symbolism. The same applies in the case of any scientific job.
I think perhaps there, more than anywhere else, I have put my finger on what is wrong with our education and the defects of character that have resulted from it.
Moving from English to mathematics, I think that mathematics are completely over-prescribed. I am going to ask a couple of simple questions. Again I come to the papers. Let any of us ask ourselves—that is anybody who has not specialised on those lines in mathematics or science—to what extent do we need these things? Some of them we do need, and in fact, there is hardly anyone who does not need to be able to reckon a sum in money. The lawyer needs to be able to do it; so does the economist and the businessman for whom it is almost part of his stock-in-trade. Practically every one of us needs this ability in addition even if it is only for the benefit of the Revenue Commissioners.