The time has come when we must assess certain facets of our educational development so far, and the progress made therein, objectively and analytically. Despite the commendations offered by Deputies to the Minister on his commonsense approach to many of our educational problems, we do a better service to the country, I think, if we try to pinpoint in a rational way some of the more glaring defects becoming all too obvious in our educational development.
I was more than gratified to find the Minister devoted a substantial part of his speech to the problem of mentally retarded or mentally handicapped children. During the debate on the Health Estimate, I spoke at some length on this problem. I realise the problem is reaching proportions requiring swift remedial action. In this field of education, the Minister will have to get down to co-ordinated thinking. The problem is not just one for the Department of Education. Its solution requires co-ordination between health services and the Minister's Department. It is essential that there should be sufficient child psychiatrists to deal with these children.
The Minister should not permit Finance to impinge in such manner as might reduce the moneys so essential to put this problem on a proper basis in order to bring it under reasonable control. I have done some exhaustive research in my own area into this problem. Some of the problem is not really a question of mental handicap. Some of it is due to slow mental development coupled with too rapid physical development. These cases require little more than understanding and sustained patience in order to bring the children into adult life at a standard comparable with that achieved by the normal child.
This is a problem in which there is complete unanimity. It is one which must be tackled in a very forthright way. I think the Minister is entitled, if he so thinks fit, to anticipate the future finances of this country so that steps may be taken to get the necessary type of instruction, the necessary type of staff, the necessary type of therapy training straight away. Surely the ultimate benefit to posterity of the improvement and alleviation of this problem is something that can properly be carried by the Exchequer in future years?
I commend to the Minister dynamic action where this problem is concerned. It is too well known to many of us that an easy way out, under cloak of alleged mental illness, has been used in relation to a number of semi-adult people who, if they had had the benefit of psychiatric treatment and normal educational training, would have overcome whatever inefficiency or deficiency might exist and, but for the circumstances of incarceration in antiquated antediluvian mental institutions, would now be perfectly normal citizens.
The time has come when the people throughout the length and breadth of this country should be made aware of the fact that this is something which, if tackled in an energetic and co-operative manner, can effectively, to a very large degree, be overcome. I am sick and tired of hush hush methods, of secrecy, of a kind of innate shyness about a problem that has a remedy. I am impatient at the inept effort that has been made to get the general rehabilitation of this type of person under way, particularly when we can see in what we sometimes describe as a Godless and soul-less neighbour the immense strides that are being made to solve this problem.
The Minister will find that no effort he makes will be too great to get the full support and commendation of this House. I shall not labour the problem. The time has passed when action should have commenced. The time is present when the Minister should bend his two-fold knowledge to the problem. With his medical training and his vast experience of another disease that was at one time the subject of hush hush and ignorance in this country—tuberculosis—the Minister should have the unity of purpose and the drive to get the medical people as well as the teachers and the institutions under way.
We are fortunate to the extent that tremendous advances have been made elsewhere to enable us to start institutional training, designed therapy and applied psychiatric treatment that can very early show efficacious results. To that task may I earnestly commend the Minister to bend all the energy he can?
On the general principles of education, I do not for a moment subscribe to the belief that our educational system is as bad as some of the people in this House suggested. I exult in the fact that the average Irish boy and girl of 14 or 15 years of age can compare with any child from any type of school in England of the same age in intelligence and advancement. I think we are wrong in any way to belittle the effort that has been made by our primary schools under very difficult circumstances to maintain the standard that has been achieved. The native intelligence, the perspicacity and the assimilative power of the Irish boy or girl of 14 or 15 years compare favourably, I am convinced, with those of any of their counterparts anywhere in the world and are away in excess of very many of them.
Our problem is not solved by destructive criticism. Our problem is to find a reasoned and a rational way of improving the system. It has occurred to me that after 40 years of self-government we should have developed a more co-ordinated effort between the Department and educational groups to get a more effective result. There is a lot of talk about what one may describe as the wasted year, the lacuna year, or any kind of year you like to call it, between the national school and the vocational school.
It has occurred to me, particularly in the light of modern agricultural development, that it is of vital importance that there should be proper co-ordination between the Department and, we will say, the agricultural services in the counties at large. We know perfectly well that in the old days, before I went to a national school— possibly in the recollection of Deputy Seán MacCarthy, beyond—an effective and worthwhile part of the curriculum was devoted to simple principles of horticulture, simple ideas of agriculture and the effect of various types of fertiliser on land.
There is no doubt that that was a very valuable and realistic part of the school curriculum. It has occurred to me that, without any great effort and without any great increase in cost, with the demand for expansion that is being placed on the agricultural community, a lesson of even one hour a week in the last year of schooling would be of immense value to boys who are to take over the burden of the family homestead and who ultimately will settle down to continue the output and effort on the home farm.
If the agricultural instructor or one of his assistants in the area were available to give instruction to boys at school, it would be most beneficial. I am thinking now in terms of the rudimentary principles of soil equation, of what type of soil will offset a deficiency in certain soil, and I am thinking also of information about seed, the quality of seed, and the type of yield that would be expected from it. Such information would be much more helpful to rural Ireland than the pinches of seeds mentioned by Deputy Dooley yesterday in reference to the Department's subvention to national schools for horticulture.
If we took an objective view of this matter and if we co-ordinated this type of development for the farmer's son, we could extend it also to the rudimentary principles of housekeeping, needlework, and the various types of duties that girls undertake, by extending to them at the age of 13 or 14 years the services given by the various domestic economy instructresses in the various counties. That may involve an extra hour's or two hours' work during the course of a week for those people, but I feel that if they were remunerated, it would be a worthwhile and realistic contribution to those people who will have in their lifetime to face the job of housekeeping for a brother or a husband and family. In that way, we could come to grips with the problem and it could be dealt with effectively without reports from commissions and without any necessity for any new type of institution.
I agree completely with Deputy Dooley that there is not sufficient co-ordination or understanding between the branches of our educational system. Above all, the integration between the vocational system and the national schools is not as effective as it should be. In many cases, there is a break in the chain. In many cases also, the difficulty arises that people who would be ideal subjects for vocational education—children with advanced knowledge, aptitude and keenness—are unable to get that education because a vocational school is not immediately available to them, and it is not possible for them to get to and from such a school in a reasonable way. I have always said—and particularly in the hullabaloo——
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,