Private Members' Business. - National Board for Curriculum and Assessment Bill, 1987: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I should like to congratulate Deputy Hussey for bringing this important Bill before the House. Deputy Hussey will go down as one of the most innovative Ministers the country has produced in this century. History will rank her among the great Ministers for Education and she will be placed on the same pedestal as John Marcus O'Sullivan and Donogh O'Malley. She will also be remembered as a great reformist.

Deputy Hussey opened the door for the debate on curriculum change and assessment and, without her efforts, the debate would not have reached this stage. We would still be back in the early eighties. As someone who has a professional background in education, I warmly welcome the Bill. It will have an historic impact on our educational system at primary and second levels.

The Bill is comprehensive and encompasses all aspects of curriculum reform and the means for its implementation. It is of crucial importance that the board proposed by Deputy Hussey be appointed on a statutory basis which will guarantee their independence from the Department of Education. The work of such a board can be measured against the highly professional and well-researched reports published by the now defunct Curriculum and Examinations Board. The board throught their system of committees provided invaluable service to our educational system. The main focus of their research dealt with curriculum content and assessment in post-primary schools. The advantages and shortcomings of the present system were clearly outlined and the need for change adequately stated.

The growth in numbers in post-primary schools has been quite staggering. Indeed, it has increased four-fold since 1961. In spite of this dramatic change, however, there has not been a corresponding change in the method of assessment of curriculum content in schools. The education process, by its very nature, is rather conservative and somewhat resistant to change. A statutory board, working with an innovative and progressive Minister for Education, would harness the expertise of educational interests and bring about the necessary reform which is so desirable.

I am particularly concerned with certian aspects of our education system. Thousands of students are currently being funnelled through a system which clearly is not meeting their needs. This is evident in the annual national frenzy during late August regarding entry to third level education and the dreaded points race. The whole focus of the leaving certificate is as an entry requirement for third level education; yet two-thirds of students do not go on to third level and have no aspirations to do so. These students enter the workforce, remain unemployed or, sadly, emigrate. They are probably badly prepared for all these outlets. The Department of Labour recently issued a pack for emigrants which is most informative. However, I cannot understand why this pack was not distributed to career guidance teachers in schools. Instead, copies were sent out to the various National Manpower Offices around the country with specific instructions not to give it to the schools. If people wanted it they had to go to their local Manpower office. This was very unfair to the unfortunate young people and it should have been given to the career guidance teachers to distribute.

The shortcomings of the leaving certificate as a preparation for the working world is evident in the huge demand for vocational preparation and training programmes. Recent rumours that funding for these programmes will be curtailed or withdrawn have caused great anxiety among students and teachers. If these courses are withdrawn, students would have to revert to the leaving certificate cycle which is clearly unsuitable to their needs.

Radical reform of the leaving certificate is urgently required. Due to the huge expansion in numbers there is now a great range of ability levels among students at second level and the leaving certificate programme should be adapted to cater for their increasingly diverse needs. A practical approach to the teaching of mathematics is necessary. There should also be a more linguistic orientation in regard to teaching English. The position regarding the competence achieved in Irish is very disturbing. I estimate that a student who sits his or her leaving certificate will have had approximately 2,000 hours instruction — at primary and second level — but the effort and investment is poorly rewarded. It is most disturbing that such a high percentage failed the leaving certificate pass paper in 1983. Over 20 per cent of boys and 80 per cent of girls failed. When one considers the amount of tuition given to students it puts a huge question mark on our system of teaching Irish. Future developments in the teaching of Irish should concentrate on oral work and fluency rather than on literature and the written language. This should apply particularly at primary level. I am pleased that the proposed board is to have regard to the status of the Irish language.

Our system must reflect the ongoing changes in society, whether social, cultural or economic. We are witnessing a significant change in the nature of jobs. Labour based industries are being replaced by skill based industries and these in turn will be replaced by knowledge based industries. Our commercial future lies in information, in the creation of knowledge, its application and its communication. This covers a wide range of activities from consultancy and financial services to research and development education, to tourism and the arts. The new curriculum board must confront these issues and introduce the appropriate changes to the curriculum. The school curriculum must reflect these times of rapid change. It should not be 20 years behind as it is at the moment. When I was going through college in the early seventies an effort was being made to widen the scope of the school curriculum but we have not made much progress since then. That reflects on our education system and on our emphasis on the points system. Professor Charles Handy in his book The Future of Work said that an education system is a mirror of society, that it adjusts this mirror quickly enough to reflect the world that is springing up around us rather than the world that used to be, that all the opportunities of the future of work depend upon a population with access to education, a people geared to think and act for themselves, and that if we do not get education right we will be faced with a scenario of lost opportunities and a generation of whom it might be said of one day that “they have a bright future behind them”.

I will now look more closely at the provisions contained in the Bill as we probably will not have an opportunity to discuss them on Committee Stage.

The Bill will fulfil a long felt need in second level education. All the parties interested in education have through the years called for this type of body. The Fianna Fáil manifesto for the last general election promised that if elected the Government would set up a statutory body. It is unfortunate that this promise has not been kept. Everyone involved in education agrees that a statutory body should be set up. This proposition would not diminish the role of the inspectorate who at present are the Minister's principal agency for advice. It would liberate the inspectorate to fulfil their role of visiting schools so as to give advice and to sample the quality of education. At the moment schools are not visited often enough by inspectors because they are too busy.

The Bill would preserve the independence and autonomy of the Minister for Education and it would strengthen the vital pivotal role of the Department. The Bill would also provide for new methods of assessment to be introduced into the examanations system so that credit could be given for skills and aptitudes not being tested in the present examinations system. Some of the most successful people in the country did not come through our examinations system. Many people who failed public examinations have come to the top in politics, in business and in other areas. That points to the fact that our examinations system does not adequately test the ability of the people going through it.

The constitution of the board shows an awareness of the need for partnership in education. All the major education interests will be represented. The concept of designated bodies is welcome as it ensures the widest possible type of free flowing communication. It will be possible to float new concepts and ideas to the interested parties and one hopes that the final decisions will have a broad degree of consensus.

The structures and committees which will be set up by the board would provide an opportunity for practising teachers to advance their views and ideas on curriculum development and to make a sizeable input into the future shape of education at post primary level. Many teachers have been frustrated by being totally tied down to an examination oriented curriculum. Such a curriculum allows neither teachers nor students to express their views. Whatever reform takes place will have to take the views of teachers and pupils into consideration. The proposed composition of the board shows that the Minister recognises this.

The computerisation of examination and assessment returns would lead to improved efficiency of the system. Schools constantly complain about late results. This year the intermediate certificate results were a week later than they were last year. This delay will continue until results are computerised. Computerisation would lead to huge savings in personnel and finance. Because of the lateness of intermediate certificate results this year a number of school principals had difficulty drawing up their curriculum and in slotting pupils into their appropriate subject areas. We should make an earnest effort next year to ensure that the results are out as soon as possible after the leaving certificate results. We should make it an objective to get the results out before students return to school so that they can decide on subjects with a view to their future aspirations.

The Bill would allow for a very orderly transfer of responsibilities and thereby eliminate any possibility of disruption to schools or to the Department of Education. It would also allow for a greater alignment of curricula between first and second level education and would remove much of the anxiety which exists at present in the transition from primary to post primary schools. The Bill would ensure greater relevance in the curriculum and that is very important. Through constant ongoing review it would ensure that what is taught is meaningful and relevant to the students and to their needs.

The Bill, as proposed by Deputy Hussey, would provide the Minister with a body or board in position at all times capable of being called on by her to undertake investigation into any area of first and second level curricula which the Minister recommends or demands. The Bill also recognises the constitutional and inalienable rights of parents and students and gives a unity and solidarity to the educational needs of the nation for students in first and second level education. I appeal to the Minister to change her attitude to the Bill on the lines proposed by Deputy Hussey. Unless the Curriculum and Examinations Board get statutory recognition they will lack the clout, status and political strength to influence change. The board proposed by the Minister is welcome but basically it will take over from the previous board. I am sure there will be many recommendations and proposals but very little action. Young people today deserve the kind of action we are proposing. For their sake the Minister should seriously consider changing her mind in regard to this Bill.

If the only reason the Minister will not accept this Bill is that it was brought forward by Deputy Hussey, that is wrong. In order to meet the needs of the present generation in several different ways we must have change as soon as possible. I would like to point out to the Minister that education must be seen as an investment and not as a cost. The question has been asked in this debate as to what this board will cost. Education is one area that never should be subject to cutbacks as it is at present. We should look on it in a very positive way as being a definite investment in the future of our country and in our young people and not from the point of view of cost or expenditure.

Is the Minister of State giving way to his Galway colleague?

The Chair is overwhelmed with the courtesy that is prevailing this evening. I am happy to call on Deputy Michael Higgins. Tá leathuair a chloig agat má tá sé uait, níl a fhios agam.

Has the half hour been taken up at this stage?

Má tá beagnach leathuair a chloig caite ag an Teachta Deenihan bheadh cúig noiméad eile le caitheamh aige.

I was allowing the cúig noiméad but if Deputy Higgins wishes to take some more time he may.

I would not want to extend the generosity of the Minister of State beyond five minutes. If he wants to proceed I have no objection to waiting.


Technically it is not a great idea to leave one such as Deputy Higgins to have all the shots to fire.

First, I welcome the contributions that have been made to this legislation both last night and tonight, all of which have been constructive. While I may not agree with much of what has been said I believe that this debate has been a very useful one in the context of the curriculum reform which is in progress. I compliment Deputy Hussey for her initiative, while Minister for Education, in opening up the whole area of curriculum reform and development for examination. I agree with the other speakers that this was required to be done and was overdue.

It is worth having a look at what happened since Deputy Hussey, as Minister, set up the interim curriculum review board. It was her intention to proceed with the setting up of that statutory board but for four years she did not do so. One must ask why, when she as Minister for Education, or indeed her successor, did not proceed with the setting up of this board. It is clear that one of the main reasons was that a great amount of financial resources would have been required for such a development. Apart from other factors that would have to be considered to be the main reason.

One of the main difficulties I see with this Bill is that it now proposes setting up a statutory board to do a task which can be quite easily done by the curriculum council which is being set up by the Minister for Education. There is no necessity to set up a statutory body to reform the curriculum in primary and secondary schools. We do not need any further structures in education or elsewhere. I am quite satisfied that to set up another statutory structure would amount to setting up a bureaucracy which, rather than solving the problem and bringing about the development we all wish to see, would put the whole debate into a tailspin, would waste huge amounts of money and would probably leave us in a position where in years to come we would not have achieved the developments to which we all aspire.

The other interesting aspect of the debate last night was the effort made by Deputy Hussey and Deputy Quill to prove that the most efficient way to bring about those developments was through the setting up of a statutory body. While I agree with much of the sentiments that were expressed as to the objectives to be achieved, I am not at all convinced, having heard both Deputies, that the proposals as outlined in this Bill would achieve those objectives. It is clear to me that this Bill is not the most cost effective way of developing first and second level schools curricula or of implementing the most appropriate examination assessment techniques.

Deputy Quill advocated investment in education and pledged her party's support of the Bill for that purpose. There is no conflict here. I, too, want to see the maximum resources which the State can provide invested in education. The difference between us is that the Government's concern is to ensure, as far as is in their power, that any State investment in education is put to the best possible use within the system. There is some misunderstanding on Deputy Quill's part that the £500,000 additional funding proposed in the explanatory and financial memorandum which accompanied the 1986 Bill was to be applied to support the National Board for Curriculum and Assessment. The fact is that more than 50 per cent of this £500,000 additional funding represented the estimated requirements to support the various committees of the board. There were to be subject and course committees, curriculum committees, an assessment and certification committee. These would, of course, be working committees but whether the cost represented value for money is a question I am unable to answer.

The potential running costs of the board might not even have stopped there because the board had asked the Department to pay substitution allowances to replace teachers away from the classroom on board business. The whole thing seemed to becoming a new industry. If Deputies Quill and Hussey think that the £500,000 which would have been spent in this way was a good investment in education then I beg to disagree with both of them. I emphasise that none of this money would have been used to implement any recommendations for curriculum reform which the board might make. The board made no estimate of the anticipated cost of its recommendations such as school-based assessment, in-service training, procedural proposals for validation and certification of courses, to name a few.

Deputy Deenihan mentioned that we should never fail to make an investment in education. Deputy Quill last night talked about the need for investment in education. But, alas, I must bring both Deputies Deenihan and Quill back to a very important point and that is that investment in education, like investment in every other area of current and capital expenditure, has to be governed by the overall financial situation. I have to take Deputy Quill to task because I fail to understand her call for increased investment in education by the setting up of yet another statutory committee as she belongs to a party which was founded on the very principle that current expenditure must be sharply reduced. My understanding of Deputy Quill's party policies are that we must reduce current expenditure. I fail to understand how Deputy Quill, like other Deputies in this party, continually come to the Dáil to tell us that we should increase investment in current expenditure. There is a very basic contradiction in that. I wish the Progressive Democrats would sort themselves out and either take the line that they want cuts in public expenditure or that they want to continue to increase public expenditure. They cannot have it both ways.

I am happy to have the opportunity to clarify for the House the nature and extent of the expenditure envisaged for the National Board for Curriculum and Assessment. It is important that people who support this Bill should be fully aware of the type of investment in education which is intended. They should ask themselves whether the type of investment envisaged in the Bill is in agreement with their philosophy on such issues as efficiency and effectiveness in State and semi-State agencies.

The terms of reference of the curriculum council recently established by the Minister for Education are broad and comprehensive. They encompass, for the first time, all the work of all the agencies involved in curriculum research and development funded by the State. In addition the curriculum council will also have three specific tasks:

1. To oversee the completion of the review of primary school curriculum;

2. The revision of the junior cycle syllabi for the new combined group and intermediate certificate examinations;

3. The revision of Rialacha agus Clár na Meanscoileanna.

I agree with the sentiments of Deputy Quill that the position of Irish and of modern continental languages other than French in our schools is unsatisfactory.

Tá sé mar pholasaí ag an Rialtas go ndéanfaí gach iarracht líofacht agus tuiscint sa Ghaeilge a chothú sna daltaí. Ní mór áit na Gaeilge a chaomhnú agus a chur ar aghaidh díreach mar a thugtar cothrom na Féinne do na hábhair eile sa churaclam.

Thar aon ní eile tá aontas forleathan gur ceart béim a chur ar an bhfocal labhartha agus gach iarracht a dhéanamh ar chaighdeán na Gaeilge ó bhéal a chur ar aghaidh. Tá sé i gceist ag an Roinn tionscadal píolota a bhunú i roinnt beag scoileanna. Bunófar an tionscadal ar na prionsobail seo a leanas: Tábhacht an dalta aonair; tús áite na teanga labhartha; tábhacht na cumarsáide; freastal na scoileanna ar riachtanais foghlamtha na ndaltaí; agus rannpháirtíocht na dtuismitheoirí. Déanfar maoirseacht chothromach ar dhul ar aghaidh na scéime le súil gur féidir foghlaim na Gaeilge a chur ar bhonn níos eolaíochta as seo amach.

Not enough pupils in post-primary schools study modern continental languages other than French. Unfortunately our involvement in Europe has not resulted to date in any major take-up of German, Spanish or Italian in our schools despite the fact that the syllabi for those languages have been recently revised and much emphasis is now placed on understanding the spoken language and on developing accuracy and fluency in oral expression. The format of the examinations in modern languages has also been changed and now includes oral and aural tests in the leaving certificate examination and optional oral tests in the intermediate certificate examination. It is necessary to convince school managers of the need to offer a second modern continental language as part of their subject options to their pupils and for school authorities to convince parents and pupils of the benefit accruing from having fluency in a continental language other than French. Various strategies for increasing the participation rates in modern languages are being actively considered and it is hoped to have proposals for new initiatives in the near future. I emphasise again that there is no necessity to set up a statutory curriculum board to bring about those developments and improvements.

I have a special interest in physical education and sport and in this area there is a need to bring about fundamental changes in the curricula of both the primary and secondary schools. It is my personal ambition to see physical education become an integral part of the curriculum with the same status and importance as other subjects. We have neglected physical education in our education system. Most young people go through the school system without appreciating the value and enjoyment of sport and its usefulness to the well-being of every person. It is my ambition to see the curriculum council address itself to this subject so that we can bring about significant developments and improvements in regard to the teaching of physical education and sport in both our primary and post-primary schools.

Will you be making funds available?

It is not necessary that extra funds be made available. This is again an important aspect of the curriculum council. Changes can be made without necessarily increasing significantly the amount of money which can be spent. The kind of change that I would be considering here is that we would simply allow more time for physical education.

Will you have enough teachers? Gabh mo leithscéal.

I do not mind Deputy Quill making a point. It puts a bit of interest into the debate. Again, I would remind the Deputy that it does not necessarily mean that you have to have more teachers. The number of teachers at present teaching a full school time-table——

Teaching Latin? Are you going to turn teachers of Latin into teachers of physical education overnight?

I would appreciate it if you would address yourself to the Chair, Minister, and I would ask Deputy Quill to do the same.

My apologies.

There is no reason why teachers of any subject could not be involved in the teaching of physical education——

Is that the kind of physical education you have in mind, Minister?

——or in the teaching of an appreciation of sport, especially sport which is not of the athletic type — there is a good reason for the laugh. You have a whole range of sports which are not athletic.

Draughts and Ludo.

Snakes and Ladders.

It is interesting that we had a little laugh from the gallery because of the fact that part of the problem with our education system at the moment is that for any child who is not athletic, not able to go out on to the rugby or soccer field, sport is a non-runner. There are approximately eight sports for which athletic ability, as we commonly know it, is not necessary. In the area of curriculum development it is required that we bring those sports into our schools, that we give our young people an appreciation of them. You do not necessarily need more teachers for that. This kind of development is part of education for life, where you educate young people to enjoy their leisure time. A grave drawback in our present curriculum is that we are educating young people to try to score points in the leaving certificate or whatever. We are allowing them to leave school without an appreciation of the enjoyment they can get from sport and physical activity. It is important that our curricula would address this aspect of the make-up and education of a young person. That is the whole purpose of the council we are setting up. It does not have to be statutory to bring about these changes.

Deputy Quill has also referred to the need for curricular reform in the primary area and the need for a continuation between primary and senior cycle. I agree entirely and part of the remit of the primary review body established by the Minister is that specific attention would be paid to the last two years of primary school and their alignment to the post-primary curriculum and you do not need a statutory body to do that.

The INTO have withdrawn from that body.

That is a matter for the INTO. I can assure Deputy Hussey the work will continue.

Without the teachers?

Whenever the INTO decide that they wish to return, they will be welcome. At present there is no advisory body to make recommendations regarding the co-ordination of curriculum development activities which are being carried out by various agencies under the aegis of the Department of Education. The curriculum council will perform a co-ordinating role in this area. This will ensure the most effective and efficient use of the resources, human, physical and financial, which are available for curriculum reform and development. I do not know if Deputy Quill heard the comments I had to make about the resources before she arrived, but certainly I want to remind all Deputies in the House that while we would all like to make more investment in this area we must be guided by the most important objective at the moment and that is to get the State finances into order.

That is not what you said last February.

We were mistaken in thinking that you had a policy on education as well. That is where we went wrong.

Acting Chairman:

Order, please. I shall not repeat myself. I want no further interruptions. Everybody has an opportunity to make his or her contribution. I ask the Minister to make his contribution, without interruptions.

The Minister is addressing us.

No, I am addressing the Chair. The best value for money is not to be got in the setting up of a statutory body, let this House be in no doubt about that. Much of the expenditure — and I outlined expenditure of £500,000 would be spent in areas which have nothing to do with curriculum development. In fact, a fundamental flaw in the Bill now before the House is to give the board advisory functions in relation to curricular matters at primary and post-primary levels and executive functions in relation to examinations and assessments and the issuing of certificates. There is a real danger that the executive function will become the dominant one, with the result that the curricular advice would be too greatly influenced by considerations of an assessment nature. It is not without due reason that most developed countries have advisory groups similar to the curriculum council whose functions do not include any examining or validating function.

And are at the whim of the Minister.

At the whim of the Minister, and why not? The Minister is the person responsible for the implementation of policy. By the way, it is quite correct to say that a statutory body would also be at the whim of the Minister and there would be no difference at all in the way in which the recommendations of a statutory body would be dealt with as opposed to those of the curriculum council which is being set up.

That only works if you have a Minister who has a policy on education.

The Minister has a policy on education. Let me just remind the Deputy that the Minister's policy on education is based on the financial resources available to him. Let me also remind Deputy Quill, as she obviously did not hear my earlier remarks——

Deputy Colley did.

——that her party's principal policy, the policy on which it was set up, was to reduce public expenditure.

No, to get value for public expenditure — that is quite different.

To reduce significantly public expenditure in this country, and the continual main policy plank of that party today is that we must bring about significant reductions in public expenditure. The contradiction for us on this side of the House is that Deputy Quill came in last night — as members of her party come in every night — to tell us that they want more public expenditure.

Tell us if you have something to say about education and leave Deputy Quill out of it. This is a dissertation on Deputy Quill.

I reminded the House before the Deputy's entry that you just cannot have it both ways. You must make up your mind. Do you want to run with the basic principle of policy you have, or do you want to have it both ways?

Have you anything to say on education?

The Deputy at the moment is trying to have it both ways. This is not the new dimension to Irish politics we expected from this new party. The people are fed up being hoodwinked. It is not good enough——

Would you repeat that, Minister?

——for people to come in telling us one thing one day and the opposite the next day. The curriculum council will not have any executive role in the administration and organisation of examinations. As a result, it will be free from the day-to-day operational activities of a time-consuming nature and will be able to concentrate on purely curricular and related matters. Before taking any decision on the restructuring of curriculum development work, a careful assessment was made of the various developments and changes which have taken place over the years. We have seen an explosion in post-primary education. In 1960 there were 8,000 candidates approximately for the leaving certificate examination, while in 1987 there were 55,000 — an increase of almost 700 per cent.

And no computerisation.

And no computerisation for the very good reason that the money is not available.

You could save money with it.

Acting Chairman:

Order, order.

In the intervening period there have been significant changes in the post-primary curriculum. Changes have taken place in order to achieve specific objectives. At all times the primary concern was — and, I might add, still is — to enable each pupil in the system to identify his or her weaknesses, to nurture his or her latent abilities and talents and to realise as fully as possible his or her true potential. At the same time, the needs of society were taken into account. Education endeavoured to provide pupils with the skills, attitude and competency which were perceived to meet social needs. The curricula and syllabi have been kept under review and both minor and major changes have been introduced wherever necessary.

In addition, in the recent past the views of industry, commercial and trading interests were sought and obtained when reviewing relevant subjects such as physics, chemistry and commerce etc. Recently, we have seen significant changes being implemented in many subjects in the post-primary education area, including mathematics, physics, chemistry engineering, metalwork, commerce, English and physical education etc. In the case of modern languages new syllabi and examination formats have been introduced as outlined earlier. Special programmes have also been devised and implemented for the mildly mentally handicapped pupils attending post-primary schools.

Perhaps nowhere is the continuous nature of curriculum reform and development better illustrated than in the area of new information technologies and in particular in the impact which computers have made at all educational levels, especially is post-primary education.

But not in exams.

Their introduction into post-primary schools in the eighties is bringing about a quiet revolution in educational processes and practices. Computers are being used as educational aids in the teaching of many subjects as a diagnostic tool to identify and eliminate, where possible, barriers to learning in pupils and by school managers and principals to assist them in their administrative tasks. Pupils are now able at both junior and senior cycles to take optional programmes in computer studies. Indeed, Deputy Hussey is to be complimented for the innovations she introduced to this area while she was Minister for Education.

It is important that a sustained effort be made to reassess the needs of all pupils and to develop more effective and more efficient ways of catering for these diverse needs. It is necessary to make greater efforts to achieve equality of outcome and to ensure that every individual has a right to benefit from education in the sense of his or her meeting their own particular needs and aptitudes. It has become evident in this country and indeed in other countries also that despite the egalitarian and comprehensive system with co-ordinated remedial and counselling services, pupils from lower socio-economic groupings have fared much less than pupils from other groupings at all levels of the educational system. Many reasons have been suggested for this including the cultural gap between the pupil and teacher, the apparent dichotomy between home and school environments, the lack of adequate resources due to economic constraints, inadequate commitment on the part of school authorities, social interests and so on. However, there is no conclusive evidence to indicate what were the causes of failure in this regard in the past. Nevertheless, it is necessary to evolve strategies to rectify this imbalance, as strategies which will be effective during primary and junior second level cycles, as many pupils from the lower socio-economic groupings leave the formal educational system after completing compulsory schooling.

Despite the broadening of the school curriculum by the inclusion of additional subjects many post-primary schools are even today modelled on the elitist academic schools of the past and offer rather limited programmes. Of course, there are a number of pressures on post-primary school authorities to offer mainly academic programmes during compulsory schooling. The demands of the senior cycle and of the tertiary level institutions ——

Acting Chairman:

I do not wish to interrupt the Minister of State but he has one minute left in which to conclude.

——percolate downwards with the result that there is often a bias in the academic direction even in the junior cycle.

This Bill does not do justice to our excellent educational system and its proposed structure for curriculum development and reform would not in any way accelerate but would rather retard the process of educational reform in the primary and post-primary schools. As I have stated on a number of occasions, curriculum reform is one of the priorities of the Minister for Education and a priority of this Government. The curriculum council which has been established will have streamlined, cost effective and efficient structures. I have no doubt that the curriculum council will provide a practical and dynamic method of operation which will structure reform and identify those stages which are capable of being put into effect immediately as well as producing phased developments for the continual improvement in the effectiveness and efficiency of the eduction service within the limits of available resources. The Bill before the House fails in many respects but in particular it fails to recognise the limits of existing resources, both human and fianancial.

I should like to begin by taking up some of the points which have been made by the Minister of State. One in particular strikes me as being a very dangerous, new, imported fallacious piece of rubbish from the United States. The Department of Education seem to have the notion which I have detected surfacing in their reports of recent years that the real reason children in the lower socio-economic group do not perform as well as children in the other socio-economic groupings is due to some reasons of culture. The Minister of State in his speech spoke about a cultural gap. I am very familiar with this argument. It had its origins in the United States, as I have said, among those people who argued that blacks had slower learning abilities than whites. It is as old and as bankrupt as that. Unfortunately, it has found a few people not very critical in their scholarship who have been anxious to purvey it. It is associated with the views of Burt and of a number of other people who argued that there are such things as innate learning abilities.

The Minister of State tonight and the Minister last night said they were opposing this Bill and in doing so they drew on the omniscience of the Minister of the day, supported by the Department of Education on all matters in relation to curriculum reform. This is not their first hairy opinion if I may put it like that. The Department of Education have held wonderful views about education and innate abilities. I want to be accurate about this matter. In 1960 the Department of Education published a report on education and learning. That report was drawn up by the Council of Education and contains the conclusion, for example, that there were three types of students — the slow, the average and the really bright. They dismissed the ideal of free secondary education for all by saying it was an untenable suggestion and they also argued, curiously, unlike the Minister and the Minister of State who argue that the reason for not bringing in curriculum reform is the absence of resources, that free secondary education would be extended to those with limited talents. They claimed that only a minority of pupils would be capable of profiting by secondary or grammar school education. There are other gems I could quote from, going back to the sixties, for example, the teachers' handbook which made reference to the fact ——

We are in the eighties, Deputy. Come forward.

I will bring you to the eighties. If the Minister of State reads the teachers' handbook, for which he has responsibility, he will find instructions relating to the teaching of singing. Lullabys are suitable for girls and martial airs for boys. The Minister or the Minister of State do not seem too bothered about that.

Do we need a statutory body to change that?

I will come to that but what I am saying is that you are opposed to an independent statutory body which could stand back from the Department of Education and develop good proposals for curriculum reform that would not be limited to the hobby-horses of the Minister of the day or this kind of antiquarianism that has been going on for so long. That is what they do not want——

Acting Chairman:

Order, Minister, please.

The Minister will bring about these changes. That is what we have set out to do.

The Minister of State had a whole half hour to speak about curriculum but I did not hear very much about it. Let us talk about the curriculum. Now I will touch on some more as well in so far as the Minister of State has encouraged me. I sometimes wonder whether we are talking about the curriculum and education in Mars or some planet other than the Republic of Ireland, such as it is. I find it interesting that people can for hours discuss the curriculum without adverting to the fact that what we have in this country is a denominational educational system. Perhaps the Minister is very happy — I am not saying I am unhappy or whatever — but I do say that it has an influence on the curriculum at primary level, that the good old Teacher's Handbook, rule 68, says that religious instruction is, therefore, a fundamental part of the school course and a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school, presumably also geography, history, nature, all these things, Irish, English. The same handbook goes on to say that teachers should encourage pupils to observe in their relations with God and with their neighbour the laws which God directly through the dictates of natural reason and through Revelation, and indirectly through the ordinance of lawful authority, imposes on mankind. I respect that tradition in the history of ideas but there is such a tradition also as rationalism, science and a more open view of the world.

I do not want to waste much more of my time except to use that example and say one cannot begin to discuss curriculum reform without discussing the issue of ideology. Effectively, curriculum is all about ideology. I remember in socialist circles people used say that if socialists ever got control of education they would poison the minds of young people. Indeed, the Minister of State's party one time won an election by printing on the front page of The Irish Press the suggestion that Jim Larkin, who had been educated in Leningrad, was going to become Minister for Education and that the Catholic schools of Ireland would be closed.

The Deputy discussed ideology for four years and did nothing about the curriculum. His party were in Government and nothing was done about curriculum, except to argue about ideologies.

Acting Chairman:

I want no more interruptions. I ask the Minister of State to refrain from interrupting.

I can assure the Minister of State that if I were Minister for Education I would not be proposing what he is doing.


Acting Chairman:

I ask the Minister of State to refrain from interrupting.

My apologies.

The points I want to make, very simply, are these. There were a few other little gems in the course of the Minister of State's remarks. He said he believed — and I believe he holds this view sincerely — that an individual should be free to develop his or her talents as best they can. Let me put it like this: it presumes what used to be regarded the purposes of education and these were raised, correctly, last evening. The question was posed: what is the purpose of education? Is it to be useful in society in a particular condition of the economy? Is it to be able to participate in leisure in any society that does not value work and wants to have a high level of unemployment, like the present one, so that people can be physically fit while they are unemployed, or whatever? Is it to be able to relate to others with respect? Is it to be able to live in a sufficient sense of fear that one will be stuck to the ground if one does not adhere to particular dictates?

There are assumptions in what is involved in education. Recently these were reviewed in a very fine paper by Dr. Kathleen Lynch of The Economic and Social Research Institute and published in The Economic and Social Review, Volume 18, No. 2, January 1987. I can but summarise some of her views. She suggested that, in Ireland, there were really three major ideologies governing education that has influenced educational thinking and ideas. One of these was kind of consensualism. This was the assumption that everybody was in agreement about the basic values of society. She teased out the origins of this. Another view was a kind of essentialism which is the view really of the Minister — that is what reminded me of it — the notion that each individual has some kind of innate talents and that is what the purpose of education is addressing.

Dr. Lynch's paper was reviewing the publications of the Department of Education and one finds that that is the predominant prejudice they have. That is what led them to say that we would be wasting resources on extending secondary education in their day. It is also the view that leads them to view with suspicion the notion of spending money or resources on developing education in a way that took account of the social setting of creativity. It is a highly personalised individual view of creativity. What it really assumes is rather like this: that the individual has a certain amount of capacity inherent in him or her and that it must be released into society. It reminds me of someone who would say, "she had it in her" or that "the piano would stand to them." It ignores the fact that creativity in the modern world world is a socially-negotiated experience, that it involves the use of symbols, that it involves taking the concerns and the reactions of others into account. That thinking is not present in any publication.

The last kind of dominant view the paper discussed was the notion of some kind of meritocratic individualism, that is, that individuals should be prepared, if you like, to take as much advantage as they can in an unequal society and that they should be prepared for it. I would add more of my own because, running through the education debate in recent times, I notice a certain kind of utilitarianism. It is as if one was picking out from the environment — no more than the Minister's reference to computers which reminds me of people being interested in dalek toys or whatever — but the fact of the matter is that it is useful that people be literate in electronics, computers and whatever. It is very important that the overall development of the individual child, adult or whoever, be placed as the preliminary, prior and purposeful aim of education.

In a way what I feel about all of this is that if I wanted to see changes taking place in the curriculum — and I have not the time to list all the changes I would like to see — I would like to see individual students and adults able to see themselves as collectively competent to participate in society, to be able to develop a critical awareness of their society. If I were to choose between the different philosophies in education, I do not believe in romantic views of education that would be entirely personal-centred or ones which would be strongly heavily dogmatic or whatever. I would always choose that it be a critical experience in which a person developed the capacity to raise the significant questions that will confront them in life and that will enable them to be open towards developing, through and with others, a responsible participation in life.

If that is my view, then, I must ask myself certain questions. Those questions are: in what kind of atmosphere will that develop? With the greatest respect in the world to the many friends I have in the Department of Education and those in the teaching professions wherever, the fact is I feel the handing back of decisions on the curriculum to a Minister who may or may not last — let us be charitable, anything from four days to four and a half years or whatever — is in itself not a good idea. Neither is it appropriate to lodge the whole responsibility for curriculum reform in the Department which is, of its nature, a more slow-moving, less innovative place than the independent statutory council.

The Minister of State posed a question in the course of his remarks — as he is putting so many more now — and I will answer one of them. He said: why make it statutory? There is a good answer to that — so as to make it more difficult to be abolished, as Alice in Wonderland might say. That is exactly that — so that it would be able to remain in existence, that it would not be able to be demolished due to the whim of the day or due to obstructions. There is a great merit in doing that. For example, it has been the way in which different professions have evolved historically. They have set up outside bodies to see what is required in relation to the content of the professions and so forth and they have sought statutory independence separate from practitioners and administrators.

I find this argument about resources very interesting. Some figures are never quoted. For example, the Minister mentions the proportion of GNP that has been spent on education. It has been wavering around 6.2 per cent for the last five or six years. Equally a good question to ask is who controls the expenditure in education? The top income quintile in Ireland, that is the top fifth of income earners, consume 30.6 per cent of all educational expenditure. The bottom 20 per cent of income earners consume 9.1 per cent. If you wanted to reduce inequality in society, not to speak of reducing inequality of experience in education, you would put resources into those areas of disadvantage and particularly the primary sector where large classes very often complicate other deprivation factors and lead to later dropouts and non-participation at third level. I ask the Minister of State and all the people working in the Department of Education not to visit on us, 20 years after it was debunked in the US, the notion that the poor are somehow innately less able to learn or achieve than people in the other socio-economic groups. That has been debunked so often and resurrected here from time to time that I feel often a great heaviness when I hear this argument.

Now we come to the questions and let me answer one of them. I and my party will support Deputy Hussey's Bill on Second Stage. I will propose some amendments later particularly in relation to the composition of the board and the definition of some terms and references in the Bill. The question arises about costing. The Minister last night and the Minister of State this evening made the case that it is all a matter of what the market can afford at present. How can, say, the average PAYE family go on accepting a kind of unusual citizenship? They universally qualify to pay their tax deducted at source, yet they know that people who are in the top quintile set of income spend on their children something like three to four times the amount that is taken in tax. They know that their children have a totally unequal opportunity of participating in education that they all pay for. This comes to the nub of the matter.

An independent, statutory curriculum board could be a very embarrassing board for a Minister who did not want really to implement their proposals or to explain how their proposals could not be implemented for cost reasons. That is not an argument for or against the board. If the Minister of State insists, I will refer to some remarks of his senior Minister from the booklet Disavantage, Learning and Young People — The Implications for Education and Training published in Dublin in July 1987. The present Minister, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, is recorded on page 1 as paying fulsome tribute to the members of the curriculum development unit who produced this tome just before she abolished them.

What are the requirements for implementing curriculum reform? It requires a particular philosophy in education which has to be made very clear. It is a clear choice at present. Is education to be an opportunity for a pluralistic approach towards society? Will it emphasise the values of egalitarianism? I have to place on record my admiration and recognition of the work of the former Minister, Deputy Hussey, in tackling the problem of sexism in education. These are all values. They are part of the philosophy of education. If you are going to say that you want to prosecute these, then you must decide on the appropriate institutional structure for advancing this new kind of thinking in education, and you have to take risks. I wonder if in the eighties it is not a very dangerous form of indoctrination to invite people to the sole view of the world represented in Revelation. People are watching TV. People see scientists even if they never study anything like science. We should be courageous, but courage is a commodity very thin in this country.

Let us see how this advisory body who are being proposed will work. The body will advise the Minister, the Minister will consult with her officials and her officials will draw from the long tradition I have quoted that is well documented as to their thinking in education, and then she will meet the advisory council and tell them that she is either giving consideration or deep consideration to their proposals, and that will be the end of that. The rejection on a statutory basis of the body means that the body will have no real power. It is returning the decision-making and all of the innovative work to the administration. Equally it is establishing an enormous rupture between the genuinely innovative work, first class work, that has gone on in relation to possible curriculum reform for several years. The initiative now to appoint a body on which people may or may not be willing to serve has undermined the work and the continuity of the work of the previous board. There will be celebration. The inspectors have won. Once they have won they will not lose another battle. The Minister has made sure that they will win. When I sat on committees they were the very people whom I could advise on the expenditure applications of curriculum reform. Let me give another one to sleep on overnight. In relation to physical education I had the honour of being chairman of the Galway-Mayo Regional Arts Committee for eight long years. We organised a seminar on movement. We suggested that we would have a weekend on dance and movement for people who were teaching physical education. We received a definitive answer from the Department of Education that physical education has nothing to do with dance and movement.

You will not get that today.


To follow that up it was decided that because people were interested in integrating physical jerks into dance and movement they would organise old-fashioned, real physical education in Wexford. They are the people who will now be in charge of curriculum reform and to whom the Minister has given back all the work. They were at that distance for these few years working in Trinity and in the different institutions and they were regarded with a distant, jaundiced and jealous eye by those who were administering what went there and were very happy with what went on.


We would swear we were all very old. This is the point. Some of us are showing our years more than the Minister of State is. Of course, we will not have curriculum reform because once the INTO suggested——


The Deputy, without interruption.

The INTO have a very interesting view on curriculum reform. They have said that they will implement it provided there are opportunities for in-service training, for discussion about the content of the curriculum, for consultation and so forth. Is the Minister telling me that the advisory council will now be asking the view of the INTO who are looking forward to a couple of thousand of their members losing their jobs on 1 January 1988? What would be the heady atmosphere of a curriculum reform meeting in Galway this evening were I to open it by telling them that 93 out of 950 teachers in the Galway City and County area could look forward to losing their jobs on 1 January 1988?

Debate adjourned.