The pleasing feature of this debate is the number of Deputies who have taken part in it. They seemed to express their opinions as individuals and as representing the views of various communities. They have, perhaps, given some very useful information in connection with primary, secondary, vocational and university education. It is only right that a deep interest should be taken in this Vote because education is the foundation of all progress in the State. It is necessary for the benefit of our agriculturists, industrialists, workers of all kinds, and those who enter the professions. While the views expressed may not receive any due consideration from the Minister or the high officials of his Department, nevertheless it is well to have them on record and, as I have said, it is gratifying to note that Deputies on all sides of the House are interested in education.
I always notice at election times that the word "education" is never mentioned—evidently because it must not be a very popular subject with the community at large. That may have been so in the past, but I think that at present all sections of our people are deeply interested in educational advancement, because they realise the necessity for it.
In his opening statement, the Minister expressed his views very clearly and fully. One of the most pleasing changes in educational policy which he announced was that in relation to the removal of the marriage ban. Agitation for the removal of that ban has been going on for the past 24 years, since it was first imposed, I think, in the year 1934.
When we consider this Estimate, we must think of the child, the home of the child, the teacher, the school programme, the school building, its environment and also, perhaps, our managerial system. When a child enters school at four, five or six years of age, he or she enters, as it were, a new world and I am sure the child is full of hope and wonder. A great deal will depend on its home environment up to that stage and afterwards during the whole course of its childhood. A good teacher will always deal with a child from the knowledge he or she has of the home life of the child. In order to deal with that aspect of education, a teacher must surely have the necessary training qualifications. It is well, therefore, that at least one step is being taken to ensure that, within a certain period, we shall, I hope, have qualified teachers in all our schools.
We have numerous unqualified teachers—teachers who never entered a training college—who are doing very well in educating children. Qualified teachers are very slow to accept positions in remote country schools and, in that case, the Department must sanction the appointment of unqualified teachers. In these remote districts, the only education children can get is that which is available to them in the primary school. They are far away from secondary schools and very vocational schools. It is, perhaps, very seldom that the parents can afford to send them to a boarding school, a vocational school or a university.
With further reference to the training of teachers, I think that, along with the percentage who enter the training college from preparatory schools, it would be well if the Minister would consider allowing university graduates to enter the training college for at least a course of one years, so that such students could learn all about the practice of teaching, psychology and teaching methods. In that way in addition to those teachers who are trained from the leaving certificate and from the preparatory colleges—and now, with the return of married women teachers —we would eventually have a sufficient number of qualified teachers for all our schools. That would also help to ensure that there would be no further understaffing of schools.
People should realise and understand clearly that where a teacher has to deal with 50, 60 or 70 children in one class the teacher cannot impart the individual education that is required and necessary. In schools, both two-teacher and three-teacher schools, there is a teacher in charge of a number of groups of classes. One teacher may be in charge of infants, first, second, third and fourth classes and another teacher in charge of fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth classes. In cases such as that it is impossible to deal with the children in the manner necessary for their educational advancement. The Minister, therefore, should consider the lowering of the average required for the appointment of a first assistant, a second assistant and so on in proportion to the number of children in a school. In that way there would be sufficient staffing of schools and it would lead to an advancement in general education standards. It would also assist the revival of the Irish language.
It is well that the Minister has introduced the scheme by which candidates for the teaching profession, enterants to the training colleges, are to be interviewed before they are called to training. He who aspires to be a teacher should really have a vocation for it. A vocation for teaching is just as necessary as a vocation in a candidate for the priesthood, for nursing, and in fact for any occupation at all. An individual must have a certain desire to undertake the work; it can happen that even a genius may be a very bad teacher. There are certain tests which indicate whether a person is capable of dealing with children; a great part depends on the character and personality of the teachers. I am sure that all the officials of the Department, inspectors and others, know that some very highly qualified men and women have proven to be hopeless as teachers.
There is a certain method by which a person can deal with children and control them without being harsh. There is a certain way in which knowledge can best the imparted. To achieve that in the proper way is one of the most difficult tasks of all. One must impart knowledge in a way that a child will be able to follow what is taught. One must be able to deal with children in such a way that they will be anxious to learn because of the love and respect which they have for their teacher. Therefore, it is most necessary to have the right type of teacher. No boy or girl should enter the teaching profession unless he or she a vocation for the work. Having entered the profession with that vocation, and having gained the necessary experience, a teacher can lead children to study the required subjects without having recourse to any harsh method of punishment.
Though I admit that Deputy Dr. Browne's contribution to this debate was interesting, I should not like to have him as Minister for Education because he has certain views with which experienced teachers would not agree. We all know that in the olden days teachers were supposed to be very harsh on children. I do not know how true that is but my own experience, during my period in school, was that I cried when two of my teachers passed away in middle age. I am sure if teachers could inculate real love and respect in the minds of children they would have no difficulty in controlling them at school. Of course, the conduct of the child at school depends a great deal on his conduct at home.
If parents control their children properly at home, if they see to it that they do their homework—not difficult homework—if they see to it that the children attend to their duties and are respectful and obedient to them, then I am sure the children will prove good pupils in the schools and will give no trouble. That has been the experience of many teachers. Some children are difficult to manage but teachers may be aware of the home lives of those children and will understand their weakness and make provision for them.
The present school programme was established as the result of a programme conference in 1923 or 1924. There have since been some revisions and I think the time has come to carry out a further revision. However, in that regard it might be better to wait until we see the results of the inquiry into the teaching of Irish in the schools and how best it may be promoted after leaving school.
Many Deputies and other people have the idea that instruction in agriculture should be part of the primary school programme. There is no time for it nor is there any opportunity of carrying it out in a particular way. In the early days of this century there was a certain amount of theoretical agriculture taught. There was a book by Professor Baldwin and it was certainly a most useful instrument for imparting agricultural knowledge in the schools. In schools where the teachers had land of their own, or had access to the lands of other people, some practical work was done in agriculture which was very useful. However, nowadays my belief is that agricultural education should form part of vocational education, but if there could be an agricultural bias given in the primary schools by the issue of suitable school books it would be all to the good.
The whole question of school books is a rather troublesome one. They have been changed from year to year though I believe there has been some alteration in that respect recently. School books are so dear that it is very difficult for parents in poor areas to purchase them for their children year after year. In fact there are many of these books dealing not only with Irish and English but also with history and geography which are not in any way suitable for their purposes. The teacher's organisation down through the years has asked that good types of school books should be issued.
In fact, much of the trouble about reviving Irish is caused by the lack of suitable books. Translations published by An Gúm were destroyed recently. I do not know why. There are periodicals published in Irish, some of which are not of much use. There is one periodical called Amárach which is about the best Irish periodical that we have seen for some time. It might be no harm if the Minister would consider helping it in some way by a grant as, otherwise, there is a danger that it may have to cease production.
While I am dealing with the school programme, I may as well refer to the burning question of the revival of Irish. I do not think that expression should be used because the Irish language has never died in this country, even after its suppression for over 700 years. Some fanatics think that Irish should be revived within a few years. If the effort to destroy the language took 700 years, very good work will be done if in 100 years the language will be revived and spoken by the majority of the people.
It has been suggested that Irish as a compulsory school subject has retarded the educational advancement of pupils. In the real sense, it is not a compulsory subject any more than English, arithmetic or other subjects in the school curriculum. It is understood by those who know that where a teacher is not competent to teach subjects through the medium of Irish, he is not compelled to do so. Subjects are not taught through the medium of Irish unless the teacher is qualified to do it and the children are capable of assimilating the knowledge so imparted. There is a difference of opinion about teaching infants through the medium of Irish only. That is one of the matters that should be, and will be considered, of course, by the commission of inquiry that the Minister is about to set up.
So far as my knowledge goes, and I had 43 years' experience as a teacher, I do not think that the teaching of Irish in the schools in any way hindered the educational advancement of the children. On the contrary, it was a means by which their mental development was promoted. Even though a second language is not taught in the primary schools of other countries, with the possible exception of Wales, it would be very foolish, very unwise, to change the policy adopted here. It is only in the schools that any attempt is being made to revive the language. Until the language is spoken at home by parents and members of families, to whatever extent they know the language, the revival will be slow and perhaps will never be achieved.
People ask why should we teach Irish to children when they have to emigrate. We do not educate our children for emigration. Certainly we should keep in mind that, whether our people stay at home or emigrate, they should receive the best education possible so that they will be good citizens of this State or good citizens of the country of their adoption. In England, and perhaps also in the United States of America, wherever the Irish congregate, Irish classes are promoted. When I was in London many years ago Irish classes were carried on there. Were the Government to prohibit the teaching of Irish, it might be one way of hastening the revival of Irish. It was during the English réigime, when the British had control of education in this country, that the people were enthusiastic about the study of Irish. Years before this State was set up, teachers voluntarily attended Irish colleges and did everything in their power to acquire a knowledge of the language so that they could teach it in their schools.
At one period in our history, at the foundation of the State, some of the schools were in a shocking condition but it must be admitted that we have now some of the finest schools in the world. Their construction has been expensive, perhaps a little too expensive, because the lifetime of a school is only about 50 years and, perhaps, if less expensive schools were built, there could be more new and reconstructed schools. Deputy Jones recommended the adoption of a standard plan for the various types of schools, single-teacher, two-teacher, three-teacher schools, and so on. That would save a great deal of expense, such as the cost of employing an architect, and so on. I suppose the idea behind the present system is that a school building should be in conformity with its surroundings.
There are still schools which are not fit for children or for teachers but it will be admitted that, to the extent permitted by our financial resources, vast improvements have been made. There are often difficulties about sites and there is still the old trouble— shortage of money. It is well to know that after the lapse of nine or ten years nearly all our schools will be in a pretty good condition. In this matter consideration should not be confined to cities and towns. It is important that the school in the remotest area should be as well constructed and as neatly kept as schools in cities or towns.
It is regrettable that, owing to the decline in the population and the consequent decline in the average number of pupils, a number of rural schools have been closed down. In certain areas, the school was always the cultural centre. Even where there are only seven or eight pupils, the teacher should be maintained. The trouble, of course, is to get teachers to stay in such schools. Perhaps an enticement would be to give teachers in such schools the same basic salary and the same maximum salary payable to a teacher in a two-teacher or three-teacher school. The capitation grant, or the principal's allowance as it is called, could also be increased. There is a great difference between the principal's allowance in a small school and in a large school. After all, the teacher in a small school must teach all subjects and, in fact, must teach them under greater difficulties than if he or she were in a large school. I think if teachers were treated in a more generous way in regard to salaries and principals' allowances it would be an enticement to qualified teachers to accept appointments in those schools.
In years gone by a teacher always lived near his or her school, lived among the people and was associated with them in many ways. The teachers knew the conditions of the various families and in that way were in a better position to deal with their pupils and also to be more helpful to the parents. Now, owing to the development of transport and other amenities, teachers live in the towns and villages. You can do nothing about that because this is a free country and they must be allowed to live wherever they like.
There is also the difficulty about sanitation and the heating and cleaning of schools. The grant for heating and cleaning is entirely too small. It will take just as much to heat a room in a small school as a room in a large school. Where you have, say, a two-teacher school you must have two fires to heat that school. A conference took place some time ago between the managers and representatives of the I.N.T.O. and the Department, in connection with this matter. I do not know if anything has come of it but I should like the Minister to look into it if a report has been received from that conference. He should try to increase the grants if at all possible, to ensure the better heating and cleaning of schools. It is not right that teachers and pupils should have to sweep the schools and wash the floors. We did it and it was done well but in this modern age I do not think the parents like their children to do it, although personally I do not think it would do them much harm.
The managerial system has been in operation in this country down the years and I am sure that neither the teachers nor the Department wish to have any alteration in it. It is working perfectly. It is only right that the clergy of the various denominations should have control of the schools to a certain extent and be in a position to help the teachers in imparting religious instruction. There have been grievances in regard to the inspector system. There have been improvements but one peculiar matter was introduced after the foundation of the State. Merit marks for each subject were then introduced, whereas before that there was just one general report given by the inspector on the general working of a school.
Anybody conversant with education who enters a schoolroom knows at once whether that school is run efficiently or otherwise. There is always something about the appearance of the school, its tidiness and so on, which creates a certain impression. There is something about the children, their courtesy, manners and general appearance and the bearing of the teacher himself which influences that impression. Even without examining the children at all, I am sure the inspector, or whoever enters the school, will get a certain impression, good or otherwise, so that there should be no necessity for these merit marks on different subjects. The I.N.T.O. down the years has demanded the abolition of these merit marks and it would be well if the Minister reviewed the matter now with a view to altering it.
There is the other question of the primary certificate examination which is compulsory. I think I cannot do better than to quote what the Taoiseach said on one occasion. For a short period, I think in 1944 and 1945, he himself acted temporarily as Minister for Education, and he was not a bad Minister either. He spoke at the I.N.T.O. Congress in Kilkee at Easter in 1955, and was reported as saying:—
"The matter of the primary leaving certificate examination had been mentioned often and to-day again the matter had been stressed in the address of the President of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation.
‘I must confess,' said Mr. de Valera, ‘that I did not know this examination was compulsory.
("Oh" from audience).
‘I did not know that it was compulsory in the sense that every child must go for it.'"
Then he said:—
"I do not think that can be defended. It was a shock to me to find I was not aware of that. As your president said, every pupil in a secondary school is not required to sit for the secondary leaving certificate. I think there should be inducement rather than compulsion. The method of examination is another matter. When a standard has been reached it is right that some certificate be given at the end of the course to indicate that a certain standard has been reached. I think that can be achieved. I do, however, feel that the compulsion to sit for the examination is indefensible."
I hope the Minister will consider that from his chief and that some alteration will be made in connection with the compulsory primary certificate examination. Perhaps the teacher should be in a position to give a certificate of merit to each deserving child when he or she has completed, say, the sixth standard, or whenever the pupil is about to leave the school.
However, that is a matter for consideration but it is ridiculous for pupils who are mentally deficient in some way to be put forward for a primary certificate examination. The teacher is obliged to put forward every child who has spent one year in the sixth standard. I have referred to mentally deficient children and it is a pity that something could not be done for those retarded children in the schools. Because of our system of inspection and because of the primary certificate examination and the understanding of schools, teachers cannot give to mentally deficient children, the attention that such children deserve if they are to be helped. They are kept back in classes because of their deficiency and I am sure that they feel that; it gives them a certain inferiority complex. They cannot follow the course in the same way as children of the same age who came to school with them when they entered.
It would not be possible to put these children into a separate class because they would feel that also. Perhaps we could have one teacher for that type of children, but I am afraid that would not work out. It is a pity nothing can be done for them. There is only one hope for them. You often find that these retarded children, who are very slow to learn in the primary school, in many cases are wonderful at manual work if they have an opportunity of attending a vocational school. I have known several examples of that. The pity is, of course, that there are so few vocational schools in the country at present, and consequently those living in remote areas cannot get that opportunity.
I had better not say too much about vocational education because I have spoken for too long already, but I think it is true that no grants are given by the State for the erection of secondary schools. If a teacher qualifies as a secondary teacher and wants to set up a school, he must provide premises himself. The numbers attending secondary schools prove that our people are anxious to have secondary education. The Minister should seriously consider allowing grants to help teachers build secondary schools. We know that the religious bodies have such schools, but that is a different matter altogether. They are doing wonderful work.
As regards vocational education, I think that the proper age for a child to enter a vocational school is about 16 years. A child, having finished its primary education, would attend a secondary school for two years. If such a secondary school is not available there should be attached to every national school a higher primary school in which extra subjects would be taught, perhaps by a special teacher. It would be recognised more or less as a type of secondary education. After two years there, the child would be well equipped to enter a vocational school. Consequently, it would not be necessary, as it is at present, to teach such subjects as arithmetic and English in the vocational schools.
The proper subjects for vocational schools would be rural science, domestic economy—cookery, laundry, housework of different kinds—woodwork, metal work, religious instruction and a continuation of the teaching of Irish. In that way we would be helping the revival of the language, first in the primary school, then in the high primary, then in the secondary school and vocational school up to the age of 18.
It is regrettable that people who must leave the country have to be regarded as unskilled workers. Provision should be made, as I hope it will be, to ensure that all our children will have primary education, a certain amount of secondary education and certainly a thorough vocational education to equip them for life in a difficult world. Certain critics have said that the children leaving our schools now are illiterate or semi-illiterate. Nowadays, our children gain various kinds of knowledge in a broad way. In the early days of the national schools, and up to about 30 or 40 years ago, we just had what we called "the three R's" and a certain amount of geography and history. Of course, it was not correct history. By the way, that is one subject that should be well taught in every school, primary and secondary. If we are to maintain a love of country we should have a thorough knowledge of its past history and of the men who helped to make it great.
If, after leaving school, our children continue studying on their own, I think we could hold that, with such general knowledge, they could compete with the children of the schools of any other country. If the children attending school regularly are helped with their lessons at home and if, after school, they read good books, newspapers and periodicals and gain a thorough knowledge, not only of the affairs of their own country but of international affairs as well, I think that, with their native wit and humour, our children could compare favourably with the children of any other country.
There is no use in people being so pessimistic about our educational system. It is as perfect as it can be within the limits of the financial resources available. I am sure that if teachers and pupils do their work, all will be well with Irish education. I should like to pay a tribute to the officials of the Department who have always been very helpful to managers and teachers and, I suppose, Deputies and Senators.
Before I finish I wish to refer to one aspect of education concerning former teachers. I am referring now to what are called the pre-1950 pensioned teachers.