That a sum not exceeding £46,478,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1989, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Education, for certain services administered by that office, and for payment of certain grants and grants-in-aid.
It is with pleasure that I am asking Dáil Éireann today to approve the four Votes, Nos. 26 to 29 which make up the group of Votes for which I am responsible as Minister for Education. The total gross provision in the four Votes sought for Education for the current year is £1,260.526 million which corresponds to almost 6.4 per cent of GNP. Appropriations-in-Aid will amount to £88.349 million. The net Exchequer provision is thus £1,172.177 million, corresponding to 18.4 per cent of net Exchequer expenditure. The net amount is approximately £58 million more than the provisional 1988 outturn.
Over the last two decades we have seen some significant developments in the education system in Ireland. For example, participation in second level education has doubled. The increase in the rate of participation in third level education has also been spectacular — from some 22,000 to 59,000. We have one of the highest rates of participation by young people in full-time education of the industrialised OECD countries.
However, while acknowledging the achievements of the past, we must now turn our attention to the many problems and challenges which face us today and to the corresponding opportunities which are open to us. There is already a general awareness and acceptance of these problems and challenges.
Pupil numbers at primary level have already started to fall. Numbers at second level will begin to fall by the middle of the next decade. The number of students seeking third level places will continue to increase for some time to come. We must continue to improve the quality, the relevance, the availability and the effectiveness of the programmes we offer. We must identify, and alleviate or remove, the disincentives which prevent some from benefiting as they should. Our education system must acknowledge and provide for students of different capacities from different backgrounds with different needs and aspirations. It must identify and meet the needs of our young people in a quickly changing world. It must take account of the continuing and accelerating developments in technology which now affect all our lives. It must take account of the social and economic changes that are taking place around us. All this must be done in a cost effective way.
My Department have already made considerable progress in addressing these problems. Action has already been taken on some fronts. On other fronts, a number of wide ranging reviews are currently under way with the active participation of the many interests involved in education. Many decisions will have to be taken before long which will have long lasting implications for the quality of education in Ireland well into the next century.
Although fertility rates have been falling from the beginning of the seventies, the largest number of births ever recorded since the State was founded occurred in 1980 when 74,000 children were born. In 1988, this number had fallen by approximately 20,000. The present projection is that the population in the age range 5-19, which covers most of primary and second level education, could fall from 1,032,000 in 1986 to 837,000 in 2001 — a fall of almost 200,000.
In the absence of major structural changes, enrolments in the compulsory school ages are almost entirely determined by demographic considerations and these considerations also influence enrolments in the post compulsory period. Significant changes in levels and patterns of enrolments are expected between now and the end of the century. Enrolment projections which are prepared annually in my Department suggest that, taking demographic and other factors into account, the peak of enrolments in primary education is already past and that enrolments will fall by about 20-25 per cent by the end of the century. We are already well into the planning process for these changes.
In the case of post-primary education, we believe that the levels of enrolments in the mid-nineties will be fairly close to current levels, though there will be short-term changes in the meantime.
Enrolments at third level are affected by a large number of factors, some of which can be influenced by policy and some not. I expect that within the next ten years there will be a different type of student and many more mature people seeking access to third level education. As in other countries, there will be changes in the nature and type of person wishing to enter third level.
Careful planning and rationalisation will be needed to ensure that the best use is made of resources and that falling numbers in individual schools do not create avoidable difficulties. Clearly, this will require the co-ordinated efforts of all of the partners in education and I intend to continue to ensure that a proper forum is provided for the necessary consultation and discussion.
Despite the very serious economic problems and financial difficulties which this country faces and the limited resources available for education services, I have been able, by having my Department adopt careful management strategies, to introduce a number of important initiatives. These initiatives have been taken to ensure that the Irish education system, which has served this country so well in the past, will continue to meet the needs of our young people and to prepare them to participate as active members of society well into the 21st century.
The potential of the information technologies to achieve greater administrative efficiency in the public sector and to provide improved services in the field of education is very great. I have arranged for additional funds to be available in 1989 to initiate the computerisation of the examination process in the examinations branch of my Department in Athlone.
In June 1989 I launched the first phase of the computerisation process. In the present year over 120,000 examination candidates will benefit from this initiative. The advantages accuring from this phase will include the production by computer of provisional statements of results for each candidate, certificates for candidates, computer readable data for external agencies and examination statistics.
Two significant reviews into primary education are currently under way. The Primary Curriculum Review Body are undertaking a comprehensive review of the curriculum, the first review since the "new curriculum" was introduced in 1971, they are examining the aims and objectives of the present curriculum and the extent to which they are being achieved. Specific attention is being given to the last two years of the primary school and their alignment to the post-primary curriculum. Consideration will be given to structures to ensure that the objectives of the curriculum can be evaluated as students progress through school. The review body have all existing relevant research data available to them. The second review, under the chairmanship of Dr. Thomas Murphy, former President of University College, Dublin, is taking a broader look at the primary education system. I expect to have the findings of both reviews before the end of the year. These will be presented to Government and their implementation will be a matter for decision.
There has been an increasing awareness over the past number of years of the need to take special measures to counteract the disadvantages experienced by pupils from certain socio-economic backgrounds. Particular reference to this was made in the Programme for National Recovery and in the present Government's programme, which states:
The new Government will consider in consultation with the Central Review Committee ways to recognise and assist the needs of pupils in disadvantaged areas, by providing extra teacher allocations including additional remedial teachers and the establishment of pilot projects for a schools psychological service for primary schools.
These measures will commence in September 1989. There are already a number of different schemes in place which are aimed at giving practical assistance to pupils attending schools in disadvantaged areas.
Funds are made available each year to schools to assist necessitous pupils with the purchase of school books. I am happy to say that the grant for 1989 has been increased by 18 per cent at primary level and 20 per cent at post-primary level.
A special fund was set up in 1984 to finance a series of special measures and this fund is being continued in 1989. So far, a total of £2.75 million has been provided, assisting nearly 50,000 pupils in 170 schools. I will be considering this entire area when the review of this whole matter has been completed. Extra measures for the disadvantaged in accordance with this Government's programme will be introduced and will take effect from September 1989.
The education of travellers' children is an area for which seperate provision has been made for some time. Last year, I had a survey carried out which showed that 4,000 travellers' children were being catered for in 375 national schools. One-third of these children are fully integrated into the schools they attend, one-third are partially integrated and receive special assistance and the remaining one-third is catered for in special classes. In addition, 41 pre-schools are now operating. At second level, there are 12 junior training centres for 12 to 15 year olds run by local management committees with the vocational education committees providing teachers and a grant towards overheads and class materials. There are 24 senior training centres for the 16 to 25 age group which are operated in association with FÁS and which qualify for ESF aid. Vocational education committees provide teachers and funding for these centres also.
Despite budgetary pressures, the special remedial teaching posts are being maintained. There are over 850 such posts in national schools. A special ex-quota provision for remedial teachers exists at second level. Guidelines aimed at changing the emphasis of the remedial programme from remediation to prevention have been issued to schools. Discussions have been arranged throughout the country on the aims and objectives of the guidelines.
Earlier this year, the Minister for Labour, Deputy Ahern, and myself jointly launched a new programme for early school leavers. This Youthreach programme is the first major initiative undertaken for the estimated 10 per cent of school leavers who, each year, drop out of school without gaining formal certification.
The programme has been launched in 11 VEC areas around the country which have been identified as having a relatively high number of early school leavers. It will give those young people who have dropped out of school for at least six months the opportunity of special education and training for up to two years. One thousand places have been made available and participants will receive a weekly allowance of between £20 and £25.
General studies, vocational studies and work experience will be three distinct elements of the scheme, which will essentially involve an integrated response by education, training, and community interests to the problems which motivate this group to drop out of school.
The adult literacy and community scheme was a response to the problem of illiteracy which is a major factor in inhibiting people from reaching their full potential.
The IVEA and my Department have looked at this with a view to further initiatives and a report will be presented to me within a number of weeks. In the meantime, I am very pleased to be able to increase this year's allocation to the scheme from £400,000 to £500,000, an increase of 25 per cent.
The educational opportunities scheme about which we have heard much of late and which is being run by my Department in conjunction with the Minister for Social Welfare was originally set up in Limerick and Tallaght. I am planning to extend this scheme to a further ten centres from this autumn.
Over a one year period, depending on their ability, participants follow a leaving certificate course in different subjects. During this time their social welfare benefits are discontinued, with equivalent payments being made from allowances paid through the Department of Education.
In the Tallaght scheme, there were 12 participants in 1986-87; 17 in 1987-88 and 17 in 1988-89. There have been no dropouts. It is an indication of the efficacy of the scheme that the people who went on it had such high motivation that they wanted to be in full-time education and at the same time be in receipt of their unemployment allowance. All those who have completed the course have achieved some measure of academic success varying with their abilities. None of the participants in the first year went back on the live register.
In the Limerick scheme, there were 37 participants in 1986-87; 35 in 1987-88 and 40 in 1988-89. There was only one dropout and only one of the participants went back on the live register. This proves, if proof were needed, that the longer one stays in the education system the better are one's chances in later life. I am glad to say that starting in September we will have 11 more centres for the equal opportunities scheme. Then, beginning in January with the application we have put into Europe for funding for those centres, we would be in a position within 12 months of being able to extend the scheme countrywide.
No consideration of the Irish education system would be complete without reference to the OECD report published in 1966. Officials from the OECD who were in Ireland some time ago have come back and are studying the whole Irish education scene. We expect their report some time later in the year.
The new junior certificate will mark the commencement of a phased programme of curricular development. The new curricula have been designed by a combination of the representatives of the teacher unions, the relevant subject associations, school management and the inspectorate and represents the best thinking available from the representative bodies at second level education. All are conducted under the NCCA.
The new junior certificate will replace the group and intermediate certificate examinations. Seven new syllabi will be introduced in the schools next September and examinations based on these new syllabi will commence in 1992.
A new subject, technology, will be added. This subject will be phased in gradually, starting with a cross section of second level schools in the coming school year. Some 62 schools will offer the programme from September 1989.
A substantial programme has been designed to prepare school managers and teachers for introduction of the new syllabi. In Autumn 1988, each second level school received copies of the seven new syllabi, an information brochure outlining the key issues involved in the junior certificate and a video illustrating the central developments in the new syllabi.
Representative inservice committees were established to outline a broad three-year plan for inservice provision, to identify the particular initiatives required for 1989 to prepare for the first-year section of the new syllabi.
Following two preparatory weekend seminars, over 140 teachers assisted the Department inspectorate in providing one-day courses for 14,000 teachers during last February and March. A further series of inservice courses is being planned for the next academic year.
In addition guidelines for teachers on the new syllabi are being issued to all post-primary schools as part of a programme of support for all teachers.
Full consultation with all interested groups has been a feature of the development of this programme to date and I will continue this consultative process. I personally have had a series of meetings with the various interests involved in this initiative — school authorities, teacher interests and parents — and I want to record my appreciation to all concerned for their commitment and for the welcome given to this great new development.