I expect that the Minister will receive widespread congratulations for his initiative. I suspect so but it is not something he will always be getting.
Status of History in the Framework for Junior Cycle: Statements
We always welcome a U-turn.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Our appetite to learn more about our past has grown since the decade of centenaries. A new interest has been awoken in people of all ages across the country in the struggle for Home Rule, the 1913 Lockout, the tens of thousands of Irish people who marched off to fight in the First World War, the events of Easter 1916 and the aftermath that led to the War of Independence and the Civil War. Deputies will be well aware of my strong interest in this matter, and how I feel that history offers an important window on our past. I also know from the many conversations that I have had over the past year with Oireachtas Members from all political shades across the Dáil and Seanad that I am not alone in this viewpoint.
I thank the Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, an Independent Member, who helped organise an initial meeting with Deirdre Mac Mathúna and Mary O'Dubháin of the History Teachers' Association of Ireland who are in attendance here this evening. Bhí Sean Delappe ag an chruinniú céanna ag an am sin. Tugaim aitheantas dó, agus gabhaim buíochas leis, as an chomhairle agus as an eolas a tugadh dom.
It is vital that we check in the rear-view mirror from time to time, so that we can learn how to avoid the mistakes of the past. I strongly believe that an understanding of history is vitally important for future generations, and failure to understand the past, or being misled about it, is a central factor in current controversies such as Brexit and rise of paranoid nationalism across the globe. There is a danger that history can be misused to provide a justification for words and actions that would otherwise be unacceptable.
In November of last year I asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, to carry out a review of the optional nature of history under the new framework for junior cycle. I also asked the NCCA to identify how we can best promote the study of history in our schools. Around this time I met a young man from St Michael's college in Enniskillen at a cross-Border event in Ballyshannon. He approached me with one question: "Why have you downgraded history in your schools?"
The significance of this was not lost on me. This came from a fellow Ulsterman from a town still coming to terms with the IRA’s 1987 Remembrance Day bombing and who was born after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
I received the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment's advisory report in July of this year. It is a detailed analysis and I am deeply grateful to the council for the work it has done. I gave careful consideration to the report, as well as taking on board the views of many people I meet every day who dedicate their lives and careers to education and to nurturing the minds of young people. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment report, published today, makes it clear that the new history specification under the framework for junior cycle offers a much better way to teach and learn history than in the past. The approach underpinning the framework allows for new ways of learning and a broader range of skills to be properly assessed. It can make the subject more engaging for young people and will allow it to move beyond chalk and talk. I also acknowledge the members of the Men’s Shed I met in Limerick last year who told me how involved they were with junior certificate students in Limerick. The opportunity to engage at local level, be it through historical societies or Men’s Sheds, is good. My desire is for all students to learn about history and to achieve this without losing the good progress made to date on the reform of the junior cycle. While I am aware the subject was due be reviewed in two years' time, I am keen to do something now.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment report, along with the wider public debate and the discussions I have had on the issue, led me to believe that it is not enough just to speak about history at junior cycle. We must look at promoting an interest in history at primary level where the love of a subject is born, as well as at senior level and beyond where the real in-depth study of any subject takes place. Having history as an optional subject in junior cycle puts this in doubt. Every student should be learning history. Exactly what form that takes and how that is taught will be determined in the coming months.
The education system is responsive and progressive enough to allow for the junior cycle framework to be structured in such a way that history can have a special core status. Accordingly, I have requested history is given this special core status. I will be requesting the support of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in working out how best this can be achieved. I also asked it last November, as part of its work, to identify measures to promote the study of history at both primary and post-primary levels.
The report contains some useful recommendations in this regard and I am keen to take these forward over the coming months. I have already expressed the need for a young historian competition to be developed. I am seeking the support of the education partners with others to establish this, along with a range of other initiatives, including introducing more supports to allow more schools visit historic sites such as Glasnevin Cemetery, Islandbridge, Béal na mBláth or Rathmullan, site of the Flight of the Earls in 1607. I saw the full benefit of students seeing their past in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. There they are encouraged to see the graves of soldiers from every war in which the US fought and the Kennedy family plot. It leaves a visual and emotional impact on young people.
We also have an obligation to teach our young people about the dark side of our history, including the mistreatment of women, including those confined to Magdalen laundries, our State’s discrimination against those who did not fit in because they were Travellers, gay, non-religious or unionist, as well as the shameful physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults and the cover-ups.
Knowledge of how we have brought our planet to a tipping point and plunged our climate into crisis may hold the key to finding a solution. This is a subject that excites the interest of an entire generation of young people and we cannot ignore it. In fact, we have a duty to engage with it.
Our island’s journey from conflict to peace is a turbulent one that must be understood. An entire generation has grown up now in an Ireland at peace. We must ensure this generation knows the truth about the conflict and the road to peace to ensure it is not misled into believing the lies of sinister groups thirsting for a return to the violence of the past. During the weeks ahead, it is important to remind ourselves that the peace achieved these past 21 years is still fragile, in its infancy and one we have a duty to take care of.
As someone who returned to learning our language as an adult, I was captivated by the rich and vibrant history of our language and how it has helped shape our history and the history of the spoken word in many countries. Ar an ábhar sin, tugaim aitheantas do na daoine, eagraíochtaí agus dreamanna uilig atá ag coimeád ár dteanga, ár gcultúr, agus ár n-oidhreacht beo. Dá mbeadh aon athrú eile maidir leis an bealach ina múintear an stair, bheadh an teanga Ghaeilge ceangailte leis an ábhar sin.
By seeking special core status for history and the associated promotion, my aim is to achieve three ultimate goals, namely, to increase the number of history students at senior cycle, to see every junior cycle student learn about history and to awaken a love of history at primary level. My ambition is to guarantee future generations of well-informed, active citizens, including future Deputies and Ministers, who understand the importance of history in shaping the future.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle agus leis an Teach as an díospóireacht anocht. Tugaim aitheantas do gach aon duine as an tiomantas tras-pháirtí. Tugaim aitheantas do cheannairí na bpáirtithe ach go háirithe as an tiomantas i leith na rudaí sin. Táim ag súil go mór leis an díospóireacht anocht.
I will be sharing time with Deputies Fiona O'Loughlin and Éamon Ó Cuív.
I welcome the Fine Gael Government’s U-turn on the status of history at junior cycle. It is a late but welcome U-turn. As the Minister for Education and Skills is aware, Fianna Fáil has consistently raised this issue since changes to history’s status in the junior cycle were announced by the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. These changes were defended to the hilt by the previous Government and the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Bruton, for many years causing disquiet among the educational community until this Minister took the initiative to change matters. The leader of our party, Deputy Micheál Martin, was one of the first to see the dangers the downgrading of the subject would hold for our young people and called for it to be changed. He was joined by many of our leading historians, Diarmaid Ferriter most prominent among them, and even the President, as well as history teachers who have fought a long and often lonely battle on this issue over many years. I pay tribute to the many history teachers and societies who have been in contact with me over the past several years on this matter.
I raised this issue with the Minister of the day on several occasions when the changes were announced. Fianna Fáil has consistently stated the position of history should be maintained. Arguably, if the Government had been willing to protect the subject, this debate would not have been necessary and such a regressive step would never have been taken. I have seen in some of the new secondary schools that history was not compulsory, despite various commentators telling us that students would study it. It was starting to lose its place in the education system at junior cycle.
History teaches vital skills in information literacy and critical evaluation of the past. In an era when these skills have never been more important, to downgrade the importance of history was a retrograde step that has, thankfully, been changed. The President, Michael D. Higgins, stated that history is essential to understanding who we are today and necessary to debunk the myths, challenge inaccuracies and expose deliberate amnesia or invented versions of the past.
There is no doubt that an examination of the past is essential to our understanding of the present. We need only to look at the current debate surrounding Brexit and the backstop for the lessons of history to make themselves clear. The conversations around the Good Friday Agreement, infrastructure and the Border all require a broader conversation defined by our shared history and shared knowledge of history. A broad agreement which exists in the House and in civil society is based on that shared understanding of history. Diarmaid Ferriter stated earlier this week, "Surely if we have learnt anything over the last three years it is that contemporary crises demand a proper knowledge of the history of statecraft, constitutional questions and the roads that lead to a dangerous level of political, economic and cultural dysfunction."
While the progress made today by the Minister’s announcement is positive - I welcome the U-turn - the exact nature of the changes which will take place on the subject have not been made clear, even in the Minister’s speech tonight. If he has an opportunity at the end of the debate, it would be welcome if he stated exactly what "special core status" means. He referred to increasing the number of history students at senior cycle.
That was certainly one of the big dangers of downgrading history at junior cycle. The Minister wants "to see every junior cycle student learn about history". The NCCA stated all junior cycle students would already do that. The Minister also said he wants "to awaken a love of history at primary level." While my party supports that view, what does it actually mean for junior cycle students who started last year or last month? How will this affect their curriculum? What are the detailed plans? A welcome announcement has been made but the details have not been fleshed out in any way. The question the Minister posed to the NCCA today to work out how these changes would happen may well have been better posed last November instead of this review. While I certainly acknowledge the work the NCCA has done, the review it produced in many ways restates what it has been saying for some time in other documents. It was certainly what its representatives told me when I met them to put forward the Fianna Fáil view during this process.
Special core status for the subject cannot mean that the downgrade continues in practice but that we are now paying lip-service. We need to flesh out exactly what is meant by "special core status". For Fianna Fáil, it means the full restoration of the subject of history to its former position and beyond because, technically, history was never compulsory in some of our schools. This fact was used to make an argument against restoring history or making it compulsory. It was never a strong argument because it was based on an outdated view of what vocational education was about.
While we understand that there is work to be done to make this change at junior cycle, it is incumbent on the Minister to provide clarity on what the actual change will be. We would, as I stated, welcome clarity from the Minister regarding students who started last year and this year.
Tá muidne ag fáiltiú roimh an méid atá ráite ag an Aire. Táimid ag lorg níos mó sonraí maidir leis. Tá súil agam gur míniú an fhógra seo ná go mbeidh an stair curtha ar ais mar ábhar atá ag croílár an churaclaim atá ag na scoileanna ag an teastas sóisearach agus ag an tsraith sóisearach
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Thomas Byrne.
I speak from the perspective of somebody who did not have the opportunity to learn history at leaving certificate level but went on to take it up in college for my degree. The world that was opened to me by taking up history was incredible, not only in terms of learning about this country and its place in the world but also in learning about inequalities in the world, human rights violations, power and people. These are the worlds that are opened to us when we have the opportunity to study history and learn more.
As mayor of Kildare, I became chair of the decade of commemorations committee and again the world opened to me, not only in terms of learning about my home county of Kildare but also in learning about where this country was 100 years ago. That was around the time talk about history being dropped from the junior certificate entered the ether. I thought it was incredibly ironic that we would even consider that possibility just as we were learning more about what happened 100 years ago and how formative those events were for the nation. Consider the popularity of the television programme "Who do you think you are?". I hear people talking about individuals, some of whom are well known, who feature on that series. We get to learn much more about the history of our country and the world.
As we discuss Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement and think about our young people who are sitting State examinations, junior certificate and leaving certificate, and were not born when the agreement was signed, we must realise how important history is to us. When President Higgins spoke of his "deep and profound concern" about history being demoted, he also spoke about history being the "inheritance of all our people" because we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. At a time of fake news and global turmoil, our young people need to have the skills they acquire through learning history, including perspective, empathy and wisdom about what went on before us. We need to have a better understanding of the world, its traditions and the decisions that were made.
I welcome the Minister's announcement that history is to be given special status at junior cycle but, as Deputy Thomas Byrne stated, we need further clarity about the nature of this special status. I am glad that while the Government of which he is a member stated that history would be demoted, the Minister has shown the courage of his convictions by saying that decision was wrong and the position of history in the curriculum will be restored.
Ní bheidh agam ach soundbite. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil mé buartha faoin bhfoclaíocht mar nuair a thagann foclaíocht chun cinn atá faighte againn, bíonn amhras orainn mar gheall ar chéard atá ar bun. An bhfuil cleasaíocht ar bun? An bhfuil imeartas focal ar bun? Creidim go bhfuil oideachas, ag bailiú eolais agus oiliúint a chur ar dhaoine thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfaigheadh daoine eolas ar stair an domhain agus stair a dtíre agus go dtuigfeadh siad cárb as díobh. Cén chaoi gur féidir pleanáil don todhchaí muna dtuigtear an rud atá tarlaithe cheana féin? Caithfidh mé a rá go molaim an tAire as ucht dul in aghaidh na comhairle ach tá faitíos orm go bhfuil lúb ar lár éigin sa mhéid atá ráite aige. Sílim go mbeadh sé thar a bheith tábhachtach sa Teach anseo anocht go ndéanfadh sé soiléiriú beacht an mbeidh ar gach uile dalta staidéar a dhéanamh ar stair suas go leibhéal an teastais shóisearaigh. Sin í an cheist atá ag cur as do gach uile duine anseo anocht.
Beidh an Teachta Ó Laoghaire ag caint anois agus beidh seisean ag roinnt a chuid ama leis an Teachta Ó Snodaigh.
Ignorance of history, whether national or international, has real consequences. It leads to poor judgment and understanding and, as we have seen sadly too often in recent years in neighbouring countries and across the world, to flawed political decisions. The study of history is crucial to our sense of self, to understanding our history and who we are as a people, as well as to understanding the history of Europe and the world. History informs our judgment, values and ability to consider the world. At its basic level, history is part of a broad education about wisdom and understanding, one that goes far beyond education being merely a means of preparing children for industry and employment, which is often the emphasis in this day and age. While such preparation has a role, education must always be much broader than that.
Part of the NCCA's thinking is that history as the mere imparting of knowledge, which is the way it was sometimes taught in the past, is not what we need. History, properly taught, involves questioning and critically analysing our past and the past of other nations of the world and recognising the blemishes in our history as well as our achievements and how our nation and the world have changed.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an ráiteas atá tugtha ag an Aire go pointe áirithe. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil sé tar éis éisteacht. Tá go leor daoine tar éis a bheith glórach ar an ábhar seo agus atá tar éis aird a tharraingt air, Uachtarán na hÉireann, Cumann Múinteoirí Staire na hÉireann agus cuid mhaith de na múinteoirí agus staraithe éagsúla ar fud na tíre ina measc. The public in general was very supportive of the idea and the campaign to ensure that history was retained as a core subject.
What is special core status? That question has been asked by other Deputies already. I suppose there are two possibilities. It might be as good as core status and a special title is required to distinguish history from English, Irish and Mathematics, or it might not be a core subject at all. It could be either one of those possibilities, although perhaps there is a third possibility. Perhaps the Minister will outline the position.
We could go away from here and the new cycle will move on and we might find out later that special core status does not amount to a hill of beans. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.
Lessons need to be learned from this. The voice of the public, students and teachers was not properly heard until it was too late. The NCCA is looking at the senior cycle before we are fully finished with the reform of the junior cycle. Is it soon enough to know how the junior cycle has worked out or to start adjusting the senior cycle on foot of that? I have had conversations with teachers who are concerned that some of the consultations and questions seem to point in particular directions. Teachers have felt a bit led by some of the consultations. We need to be watchful for that and take it into consideration.
Any time the curriculum is discussed, the status of the Irish language comes up, at leaving certificate and junior certificate level. I want to state very clearly that I and my party believe it is essential that it remains core. In the same way as history, it is intrinsic to our sense of self and our understanding of ourselves and our history. It is closely tied in with our history but is much more than that. It is a form of communication and a living language. When future decisions are made and the process by which we reach such decisions is critically analysed, we need to take stock of how we arrive at those decisions. I hope that lessons will be learned from this.
Críochnóidh mé leis an méid sin. Tá súil agam go soiléireoidh an tAire cad atá i gceist leis an stádas core speisialta seo. Aontaím leis an tiomantas atá ag an Aire ó thaobh na staire agus an tábhacht atá léi, ach tá sé tábhachtach go mbeidh an próiseas agus an curaclam soiléir.
Tréaslaím leis an Aire faoin gcinneadh seo. Tá an chéim cheart tógtha aige, cé go bhfuil soiléiriú ag teastáil, mar a dúirt mo chomhghleacaí. Tréaslaím leis gur sheas sé suas ar son na staire sa chás seo. De réir an méid atá léite agam go dtí seo, is léir go mbeidh gá do pháistí atá ag déanamh an teastas sóisearaigh staidéar a dhéanamh ar an stair, rud atá ríthábhachtach.
Táim sáite leis an stair ó rugadh mé. D’oibrigh m’athair sa mhúsaem agus bhí máistreacht staire aige féin agus ag mo mháthair. Tógadh mé le leabhair agus stair timpeall orm. Staraí a bhí i mo sheanathair i Luimneach chomh maith. Is féidir staidéar a dhéanamh ar ghnéithe difriúla den saol sa stair, mar stair pholaitiúil nó stair áitiúil. Ní thuigeann daoine a bhíonn ag gearáin faoin stair go bhfuil réimse mór leathan i gceist. Caithfidh tuiscint éigin a bheith ag daoine ar an stair chun tuiscint cheart a bheith acu ar eolaíocht, ar theangacha difriúla, ar chultúir difriúil timpeall an domhain, nó fiú ar an ríomhaireacht. Tuigfidh siad cárbh as ar tháinig gach uile ghné den ábhar sin. Tá fréamhacha na staire i mbeagnach gach uile ábhar eile atá á mhúineadh ar scoil. Tá gach uile ábhar eile a theastóidh ó dhaoine agus iad ag plé leis an domhan mór nuair a fhágann siad an scoil gafa sa stair.
Is gá an t-ábhar a mhúineadh i gceart, áfach. Sa lá atá inniu ann, tá sé i bhfad níos éasca stair a mhúineadh i slí amháin nó slí eile toisc go bhfuil na foinsí beagnach ag barr na méara ag na múinteoirí agus ag na mic léinn. Tá sé i bhfad níos éasca féachaint ar phictiúir den ábhar atá i gceist ná mar a bhí nuair a bhí mise ar scoil. Bhraith na glúine a bhí romhainn ar théacsleabhar amháin, agus bhí orthu dátaí a fhoghlaim de ghlanmheabhair, gan tuiscint iomlán acu ar an ábhar. Tréaslaím leis an Aire faoin gcinneadh seo, agus faoi na cinntí eile a ghlac sé le déanaí maidir le Gaelscoileanna. D’fhéadfaí níos mó cinntí a ghlacadh ach tá an obair cheart á déanamh ag an Aire faoi láthair. Molaim sin.
Deirtear mura bhfuil fios ag daoine ar an stair, go ndéanfaidh siad athrá ar na botúin atá sa stair sin. Má thuigeann muid é, beimid in ann foghlaim ón stair. Ar ndóigh, tarlaíonn díospóireacht bhríomhar idir staraithe agus bíonn léamh difriúil ag daoine ar an stair. Ní gá ach féachaint timpeall an Tí seo chun tuiscint cé chomh tábhachtach atá an stair, fiú in Éirinn. Insíonn an stair dúinn cén fáth go bhfuil na páirtithe difriúla polaitiúla anseo, cárbh as ar tháinig muid, na polasaithe ar son a seasaimid, agus na daoine agus fáthanna a bhí leis na páirtithe sin ar an gcéad dul síos. Feictear aineolas sa Teach seo faoi stair na bpáirtithe ó am go ham. Ní thuigeann daoine cad as ar tháinig siad, nó an stair atá gafa leis na páirtithe sin.
An méid sin ráite, tá an cinneadh ceart déanta ag an Aire. Tá gá dúinn cinntiú anois nach dtarlaíonn aon íosghrádú sa stair, mar atá tarlaithe le blianta agus atá fós ag tarlú leis an Ghaeilge. Tugtar díolúintí do pháistí sa chaoi nach gá dóibh na scrúduithe a dhéanamh ar fháth amháin nó fáth eile. Caithfimid díriú isteach ar sin agus cinntiú nach dtarlóidh sé leis an stair chomh maith de bharr fadhb éigin a bheith ag duine. Ba chóir go mbeadh an stair múinte do gach uile pháiste, cuma má tháinig siad isteach sa tír i mbliana nó anuraidh. Má tá fadhbanna ann ó thaobh cur i láthair, déileálfaimid leo. Ba chóir go mbeadh na háiseanna ag gach uile scoil chun stair a mhúineadh sa treo ceart chun go dtiocfaidh mic léinn amach ón scoil le tuiscint acu ar an timpeallacht timpeall orthu, cárbh as ar tháinig siad féin, an baile, agus a gclann. Tuigfidh siad todhchaí na tíre seo agus a dtodhchaí féin de bharr an méid eolais atá acu ar a gcuid staire féin ar an gcéad dul síos.
I am sharing time with Deputy Broughan. It is strange having this debate this evening because up until this morning, we thought we would be bemoaning the continued demise, relegation or optional nature of the subject of history at junior cycle level.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an gcinneadh a chuala mé ar maidin. D’éist mé leis an agallamh a thug an tAire ar an raidió faoin ábhar seo inné, agus is cinnte go raibh áthas ar a lán daoine faoi, go háirithe múinteoirí staire. Tá Deirdre Mac Mathúna agus Mary O'Dubháin ón History Teachers' Association of Ireland linn sa Teach anocht.
It is rather ironic that history became an optional subject at the same time that we were commemorating so many historical events which had a profound impact on Ireland. It is very sad to imagine that young people could come out of our secondary schools without knowledge, insight and understanding of their country's history or that of Europe and the world. Certainly, as it was previously taught at junior cycle, history was also about European and world events. If ever we have proof of the importance of history as a core subject in our schools, we have seen it due to Brexit in the utter ignorance of Irish history, Irish-British history, the Troubles, the Good Friday Agreement, colonialism and imperialism on the part of so many British politicians and the British public. There will be serious questions around the teaching of history in British schools. That was certainly brought home to me when I met some master's students over from a university in England. I was quite incredulous when I listened to the kind of history they were being taught in British schools.
The question is always, why study history? I liked the Minister's analogy of looking in the rear-view mirror. How can we know where we are going or where we want to go unless we know where we have come from? Studying history gives us that insight into our country, into events, why they happened, what exactly happened and what those events led to, the causes and the consequences. It is a wonderful window into so much of what makes us who we are. It has to be taught warts and all, as the Minister said. We have to learn about our dark moments, the home-grown injustices and atrocities.
We cannot be afraid of doing this. All of it comes from the way history is taught. I acknowledge the different methodologies that are now in use compared to when I was being taught history, a long time ago.
From my own teaching of history, the great moments were those where young people were connecting the past and the present. Two examples really brought this home to me. One was teaching about the Industrial Revolution and the child labour used in those times, as well as the conditions in the factories and the mines, and then relating that to what goes on in our world today, where we have child labour and terrible conditions in factories and mines in other countries. The second was where students were being taught about the Holocaust and the barbarity of man to man, and we linked that to what is happening today in so many places in the world. History is about getting young people to think and to become more aware of what is going on in the world around them, and they get that from what they learn about the past.
History is about analysis, prioritising information and decision making. It brings an awareness of bias because students have to learn how to question the sources they are using. It is also about encouraging independent and critical thinking. It is helping us to learn from the past, those of us who are open to learning from the past. It is about diversity and also about understanding diversity and different cultures. All that adds up to life skills and transferable skills.
The Minister's words were that we learn about history and we learn from history. Of course, we are coming to the commemoration of one of those dark moments in our history, the Civil War. Young people need the opportunity to learn about this in an informed way. What is great today is that we have so much more source material available to us.
The bottom line is that history cannot be taught as a short course or as a learning experience. I would like to throw a spanner in the works by saying there is probably a need to look at geography as a core subject as well, because it is such a wide subject. When the junior cycle was being revamped, there was a danger that while the new broom swept clean, and that is fair enough, it also cleaned out a lot of what was very important. I know from my teaching friends that there are questions around the content of the English course and questions around science, for example, questions as to whether the content is sufficient and stimulating enough for young people. While there were things amiss with the previous system, there were also things that were very good and positive.
The decision the Minister has taken is very brave and is also building on that renewed interest in history that we see today. I acknowledge those local history groups that do so much work throughout the country. I also support the point the Minister made about the importance of visits to places of historical interest. With my students, I was at the Anne Frank Museum, Auschwitz and Dachau, the Coliseum in Rome, as well as Ferrycarrig, Lough Gur and Kilmainham here in Ireland. The list is endless and we have so many sites that we can visit, which makes such a difference.
The decision of the Minister is the start. I believe goodwill will sort out the details.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy McHugh’s decision to give history special core status in the junior cycle following the review of whether history should remain an optional subject. I am aware that the NCCA had warned that making history mandatory for study at junior level could undermine recent junior cycle curriculum developments. We know that while history was not a mandatory subject in secondary school, up to now, more than 90% of pupils at junior cycle studied history.
The Minister’s decision seems a reasonable response to the strong case made by historians and history teachers that the subject should remain a core element of the curriculum up to junior certificate at least. There is clearly great pressure on secondary schools to present the most useful and modern range of subjects to each cohort of Irish children. I have supported the call in the past to strengthen the STEM subjects throughout the second level curriculum. Science, technology, engineering and maths are vital subjects to support a modern economy and it is impressive that more children are now successfully taking higher maths at leaving certificate. I was also one of those who called for coding to become part of the junior and senior curricula at second level, given the great success of informal CoderDojo projects in communities around the country. Obviously, the promotion of Gaeilge, our native language, and English and some European languages is also central to equipping young people with the deep cultural background of our nation and the written and spoken fluency necessary for modern life. It was always striking that, up to recent years, musical education, especially the study and learning of instruments, was deficient across primary and second level schools. While Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and other organisations have tried to fill that void, it is an area we need to work on.
Despite all these pressures and caveats in regard to curriculum development, history is a uniquely valuable subject which deserves a key role in Irish education up to at least junior certificate level and beyond. It was James Joyce who wrote that history was a nightmare from which he was trying to awaken. Certainly, the history of the 20th century, with far more than 100 million people killed by wars and oppressive regimes, and the long suffering of ordinary families and people from social conditions under slavery, serfdom and brutal, unbridled capitalism, is generally very depressing. However, the long-standing development which seeks to research and document the lives of most people in the past, rather than learning the litany of emperors, popes, kings and plutocrats, and the machinations of European power politics, has been a very positive development in the education system. Every human being, family and community has a place in history and the huge interest among citizens in researching their own ancestors and how they lived in the past is testament to a great interest in the subject, and this should be cultivated at primary and secondary school.
It is certainly important to study the past as everything about ourselves and society has been influenced and determined by past events. The subject of history, therefore, helps children and adults to get a sense of their own place in time and the key influences which have shaped their lives. Studying history also helps greatly to develop analytical and writing skills as children research and assemble information, led by their teachers, and then present their findings and views in essays, projects and presentations. The Minister and Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan are right that visiting historic places is also vital in the education of children.
The rigorous study of history at third and fourth levels often profoundly enhances our understanding of the past and casts light on how modern societies address key modern problems from their historical development. In my own case, studying the work of G.R. Elton on the Tudor period, and Lewis Namier and A.J.P. Taylor on the 19th and 20th centuries, under the guidance of great historians like Professor Maureen Wall and Professor Art Cosgrove, gave me a powerful insight into the past. Historians, such as Herodotus, Tacitus and Livy, all the way down to Edward Gibbon and David Hume in modern Britain, have helped us understand the past since ancient times. Our own pre-colonial and medieval history was documented in the Annala Uladh, the great annals of our nation, and in the later works of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh and the Four Masters. Studying such works gives us a great insight into how we became what we are today.
I welcome the Minister's decision and commend him for it.
Very rarely has the Minister received so many compliments in one Dáil sitting, but I believe his decision to restore history to special core status in the junior cycle is correct and that the decision to remove it as a core subject was a mistake. The Minister has been very courageous in going against the advice and restoring it as a core subject.
The study of history is essential to understanding the world around us. It gives context to what we are and where we have come from, not only in our own history but world history. To paraphrase Diarmaid Ferriter's profound statement, to make sense of the present, we must know and respect the past. It is essential that children understand the evolution of nations and peoples, the flaws of history and its successes, in order that they understand their own origins, nationally, culturally, politically and economically. How else are children to understand the current intricacies of the Brexit debate, the significance of the backstop, the importance of the Good Friday Agreement, the background to the conflict in Northern Ireland and the foundation of the State coming out of the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War? It is extremely important that children understand that context, and that is just our national history. They must also understand the intricacies and the interaction of religion and politics, and the interaction of race and geography.
Knowledge of history allows children to be analytical and informed and to determine what is real news and what is fake news. That is important in our current era of digital history and digital news. A case in point is the denial of the Holocaust, which was a black mark on Europe. It occurred only 80 years ago, yet there are now people who deny that it happened. We therefore need to give children the ability to be analytical and to identify what is real and what is not. History is about far more than dates, battles and names, or tweets or Facebook; it is far more about human development, which was driven by philosophical thought and the evolution of civilisation and civilisations. History gives a sense of citizenship, perspective, belonging and identity. Today we in Ireland see ourselves as Irish but also European. We have decided to see our future as part of a supportive, inclusive European ideal rather than an isolationist, exclusive, inward-looking country. Knowledge of history has informed this enlightened way of thinking, and without that knowledge we would be diminished.
I thank the Minister for his decision to restore history to the core curriculum.
I, too, am delighted to speak about this important matter. I am aware that last November the Minister met officials from the NCCA and asked that it undertake a review of the optional nature of history in the junior cycle. The NCCA decided, as we know, that history be kept as an optional subject. The Minister has decided to go against that recommendation and has chosen instead to assign history "special core status" in the junior cycle, so maith an tAire. It is a wise step. I applaud the Minister on the decision but, of course, his former Government colleagues, some of whom I think are here, supported Ruairí Quinn in his crusade to get rid of the junior certificate.
As the Minister pointed out, 90% of students across all school types choose to study history. This shows a degree of interest in and curiosity about the subject that needed to be reflected in the retention of its core status, which, thankfully, he has kept. There has been much criticism of the idea of making any subject, including history, compulsory. This criticism is misguided and fails to appreciate adequately the importance of opening up children to the rich historical legacy we are proud to have in this country. The Minister's decision is a good one, and now he needs to ensure that sufficient provision is made to support the teaching of the subject in schools in a creative and imaginative way and to engage children and young people.
There is a sea change coming into the curriculum. I have grandchildren going to school and I am quite horrified by what they tell me and by the push to get rid of much of the ethos we had and believed in, whether conservative or Catholic. This must be dealt with sensibly in some way and we must have a pushback. I kept telling the former Minister, Ruairí Quinn, and his colleagues on the liberal left that they would not feed the people out there on this liberal agenda. That is why they have been consigned to history. Seven of them were elected back here. That is what they pushed and pushed, and they have left a legacy with Department officials, whom the Minister has stood up to. I appreciate him and applaud him for that because our history is vital. Without it we do not know where we came from or where we are going. I do not want to be backward-looking or anything, but we need a slowing down of this total push going on in education. I will talk to the Minister further about it. Some of the legislation coming forward here has been instigated by George Soros and other people from outside our State. What is going on is shameful. I do not know what we are turning ourselves into but it is not a good place.
I am glad to get the opportunity to talk about this very important subject. I thank the Minister for restoring history as a core subject on the junior curriculum. When will this happen? When will it be reintroduced? Will geography be restored as a core subject as well? This is a very important matter because, as many have said, if we do not know our history or how we got here, how do we know who we are? Then we need to know geography to find out where we are going. It is very important. The removal of history as a core subject would have been a very sinister move because it would have broken up our heritage, our culture and our identity. We have a great history, and our forefathers were great people. I refer to the people who got us to where we are today and all the generations since, as well as all the people who fought and died for our freedom and the people who tried over the centuries and ages to rid us of the shackles of another country. We fought for 800 years.
That is all nice for the young people coming up to know: how we arrived here and how we got our democracy and our freedom. It is also nice for other youngsters to know. We now have children of many denominations coming into our country. They need to know the country they are in and how we got to where we are. This is important for them as well. Likewise, it is very important our children know about European and international history. That is a great starting point. I know that the NCCA set up this initiative under the Minister's colleague, the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, but it was absolutely ridiculous to suggest that history should not be a core subject. Why would we educate teachers to teach history if they would not have classes to teach? It was absolutely ridiculous to listen to anyone calling for it not to be a core subject anymore. This is a forward step back to what we had. History was on the curriculum for years and years. It did not make any sense to remove it. I applaud the Minister for not doing so. I hope he does not meet any resistance from his Cabinet colleagues-----
-----because history is very important. I ask him again, when will it be back as a core subject?
Deputy, let us be fair to other Members.
I also ask him to ensure geography is a core subject as well.
Every Member must abide by the time slots.
Bhí mé sásta a léamh inniu go bhfuil sé i gceist ag an Aire an stair a chaomhnú mar ábhar. I welcome his decision to give history special core status as a subject for the junior certificate. I must ask, however, as other Members have, what exactly is special core status? I am sure the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify that. He said in his statement that one of his three ultimate goals is to see every junior cycle student learn about history. What exactly does that mean? Will history be a module that students learn in first and second years but not third year? Will it be protected and given the same number of hours as every other core subject in the junior cycle? I am looking for clarity on that before he gets the full céad míle fáilte from An Comhaontas Glas on his decision.
In this decade of commemorations, when we look back on the rich tapestry of our national history, I cannot think of any better time to confirm this subject as a core part of the junior cycle curriculum. This decision by the Minister will give every child the opportunity to learn about our shared past and the richness of human experience. It has been said that history is not only a doorway to the past but also a gateway to the future. Anyone who takes even a cursory look at what is happening now with Brexit on our island and the concerns we have will know the power of our past to influence our present. They will also know how vital a knowledge of our history can be in healing the wounds of the past and allowing the scars to fade. We owe it to our children to ensure they have an understanding of our past. History as a discipline is more than just a study of the past; it equips students with the skills to analyse critically and synthesise information from multiple sources and to develop their own robust opinions from the evidence available. It has never been easier for us to access information; at every moment we have an enormous amount of knowledge at our fingertips.
However, every source has a bias and every blog and website is infused with the perspectives and prejudices of the author who created it. History trains students to cast a critical eye on everything they read, to see the perspective from which information is being provided and to weigh it accordingly. This type of epistemology should be considered a basic foundation of the education system and it is why history deserves core status. I commend the Minister on making the decision to protect history, but I seek clarity on exactly what the special core status is.
I urge the Minister to re-examine the status of geography in the junior cycle. I understand that before he was elected to the Dáil he was a geography teacher in Donegal, so he does not need me to tell him that geography gives us an understanding not just of the physical, natural world around us but of the myriad people, cultures and ways of life across the globe. Geography is crucial to educating students on climate change, one of the most urgent issues facing us, although I am delighted that students across the world are educating many governments on climate change and urging them to act.
History and geography are at the core of our understanding of the world around us and both subjects should be core subjects in the junior cycle.
I am sharing time with Deputy Rock. Cuirim fáilte roimh an gcinneadh ón Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna inniu go mbeidh stair ina ábhar éigeantach ag leibhéal an teastais shóisearaigh. Tá an cinneadh ceart déanta aige agus déanaim comhghairdeas leis. Is dea-scéal é dóibh siúd a bhfuil suim acu sa stair mar ábhar. Is dea-scéal é do thodhchaí na tíre go mbeidh daoine óga ar an eolas faoi stair na tíre, stair na hEorpa agus stair an domhain.
When I was studying for the leaving certificate, my former religion teacher, Mr. Lyons, used to ask, when commenting on the low uptake of history at leaving certificate level, "How can one understand the present if one does not understand the past?". That is very true. History has a very important role in our lives and if it does not, it should have. That is why the decision by the Minister today is very welcome. At a time when the term "fake news" is used so often, our history should be fact and should not be in dispute. That is why it is important that all our people study and understand it. In the debate across the water about Brexit and what has happened, there was an absolute lack of understanding of the relationship between our two islands, the Border, the plantations and all that goes with that. I do not believe it is taught at any level in the UK. That is very important as it would give a greater understanding of the complexities we face at present with Brexit.
We are currently going through the decade of centenaries. They are important and the events are commemorated on a proud and factual basis. As we approach the centenary of a more difficult period of time, the War of Independence and the Civil War, it is even more important that we remember and have knowledge of the facts of that period on the island of Ireland. Therefore, I very much welcome this decision. It was the right one. I understand the pressures on students with all the other subjects they may be asked to study or may consider studying, but history enriches people's lives and gives them a good solid basis should they go on to study myriad subjects in universities or institutes of technology. It prepares them for life and grounds them in respect of where we are, how we got here and the complexities in this country, the European Union and throughout the world. I welcome this and, arís, déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Aire.
Everything has history and in this building and Chamber we are surrounded by it. We are surrounded by people who are passionate about history and by the urgent, pressing need to find the lessons from it for the challenges we face today. Like Deputy Thomas Byrne, I pay tribute to the many history teachers who raised this issue with me, including my former history teacher, Ms Brennan. Like Ms Brennan in St. Aidan's, there are many teachers who are as knowledgeable of history as they are passionate that it should be taught and be compulsory. I welcome this move by the Minister. He has shown leadership on this which should be noted and commended. Technically, of course, history was never strictly compulsory, so this is a welcome move in terms of enshrining its status and ensuring that everybody has the opportunity to learn our history and study it further in the leaving certificate, as I did.
Mark Twain said: "History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes". There is a great need, particularly today, to understand nuance and welcome critical thinking. History teaches us many things, not least of which is the ability to do that. As many Deputies have stated, it gives us a type of literacy, an ability to analyse, detect bias and divine truths from seemingly conflicting facts. In this era of fake news the ability to divine truths from seemingly conflicting facts is an important skill. I noted one of the recommendations in the report regarding promoting history in schools and society. While the Minister bravely deviated from the ultimate recommendation of the report and decided to make the subject compulsory, which I welcome, there are some things in the report that are worth considering, particularly on the possibility of involving other stakeholders, such as a decade of commemorations President's award or medal, a festival of history learning and third level history departments' outreach programmes to schools. These are useful suggestions which the Minister could implement to further enliven the course and make it more modern.
Speaking as somebody from an education-focused household - my other half works in higher education - I am of the view that education is never solely an economic good. It is a good in itself. It is an economic good but is also a societal and civic good. It is a good for the fulfilment of our ideals as a republic. Today's announcement and its implementation will be a welcome step forward. I am glad the Minister did it and I am glad to be part of the Government that did it. It will serve us well in the future.
I welcome the Minister's decision and I commend Deputy Thomas Byrne on keeping the pressure on him. It is essential. Students of history will know who Sir Humphrey is. "Special core status" sounds very Sir Humphrey-esque, but it is either core or it is not. The Minister must clarify for once and for all whether it is core. If it is core, we welcome that, but if it is not, the Minister should be honest, upfront, learn from history and spell it out. It has to be core because of the interest that exists. All Deputies toured national schools in 2016 and saw the interest of younger pupils. Once they were motivated by a topic they engaged with it online and with the multimedia aspect.
If we are to assume that it is core, the new curriculum must not just be wedged into the current course but embedded in it. It must not be an add-on, but timetabled properly. The content must be relevant. There must be core issues of content for every school in terms of our national history, European history and world history so that people will learn lessons from it and from the mistakes of history. There must also be local history. Students need to get an understanding of local history, local placenames and local legends. That will provide variety and generate an interest. It will give students a stake in the history of their communities, their families' history and the history of their settlement.
This is a very important decision. History is a foundation subject. It grounds all of us and the lack of an understanding of history and the lessons of history is a key reason for much of the discourse in politics around the world today. History teaches us a great deal, so this decision is welcome. I welcome the fact that the Minister stood up for it, but he should be upfront and straight about whether it is core or not.
I welcome the decision to reverse the previous decision to remove history as a core subject from the junior certificate curriculum.
We know that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. Indeed, we are seeing that happen in many countries, not least in latest round of happenings relating to the protracted Brexit saga. Many reasons have been eloquently articulated in the House over the last hour or more as to why it is key that we learn from history, that we learn history and are aware of it. We know that multiple versions of events can be put forward and that history is often written by the victors. This is very relevant in this country in the context of the decade of centenaries. While it has been an excellent programme to date, we know that we have difficult times ahead. There are differing versions of history and historical events but I am sure we will manage that in the sense of having a much more rounded and fuller understanding of it. In the USA, issues with the confederacy, on one hand, and the slave trade, on the other, are coming to a head. Differing view points are being contested head on but there is an understanding to be gained from that. Those who understand history are better placed to understand the current world.
The importance of history has been well ventilated tonight. What has been less obvious in this debate is the importance of an analytical subject and the ability to digest a body of information. We can all access a phenomenal amount of information on our smart phones and online via Google and so on. In that context, it is very important that we learn how to process information, apply hypotheses, weigh up competing accounts and draw our own conclusions. That is what history at second and third level enables us to do. It is important that all students have that basic grounding because that is a skill that will stand to them in many positions and walks of life and not just in the traditional arts and cultural disciplines.
I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. I welcome the Minister's decision. Fianna Fáil has consistently campaigned for the downgrading of history to be reversed. My daughter will sit her leaving certificate examination this year and history is the subject into which she puts most time and effort. Her history teacher, Ms Barry in Presentation secondary school in Tralee, has been very vocal in requesting a reversal of this decision. She is, along with all of the other history teachers throughout the country, delighted with the Minister's decision.
I take this opportunity to mention geography, which is also a very important subject. Given the importance of climate change, migration, studies of population, ice caps, glaciers melting and so on, which are central to the geography syllabus, the Minister should seek to reverse the decision to remove geography as a core subject. There is an old saying in politics that every good deed deserves the appropriate punishment. The Minister will be punished for today's decision. Many times I have approached him looking for an extra teacher or SNA or have called for the retention of a teacher who is in danger of being lost to a school and he has stated that he cannot go against the recommendation of the Department because it is not within his remit to do so. Today, the Minister has gone against the recommendation of the NCCA. As a result, I will be reminding him tomorrow of the three teachers that are needed in Kerry and will be giving him the details forthwith.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an gcinneadh an stair a choinneáil mar ábhar lárnach sa teastas sóisearach. Is mar gheall ar bhrú ón bpobal a tharla an t-athrú seo.
While I welcome the news that history is to be a designated core subject for the junior certificate, I want to commend the efforts of the many individuals and groups who campaigned to reverse the original decision. The importance of history and an understanding of our past was underscored by the wide variety of people who came forward in that regard. It was not only teachers and lecturers who called for a rethink but politicians, business and community leaders, as well as many of our older population who were keen to ensure that this and future generations are aware of the story of our past and of our place in this world and the stories and experiences of all peoples across the globe.
One need only look at the ridiculous suggestion that emerged last night regarding the imposition of a hard border in Ireland to see how a lack of historical perspective leads to awful policy decisions at the highest levels. It was very clear from several media interviews of British Tory politicians earlier today that they have no grasp of the painful and protracted imposition of the Border in Ireland, the work of the Boundary Commission and all the associated British duplicity.
We await more detail on what form this core subject status will take. Any core status must not mean a watered down or condensed course. History and the study of the past should nurture key skills such as questioning sources, evaluating evidence and placing all of this in the context of momentous contemporary changes in society, changes to which every citizen should be a party, whatever his or her stance or view.
Again, I welcome this decision and hope that it guarantees that the status of history and its role in the development of students is assured forever more.
Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí as a gcuid teachtaireachtaí éagsúla tábhachtacha anocht. Chuir Baill na Dála an-bhrú orm thar an bhliain seo thart maidir leis an gcinneadh seo. Ba mhaith liom mo aitheantas a thabhairt do na dreamanna agus na heagrais uilig as a dtiomantas thar na blianta. Labhair go leor Teachtaí anocht faoi na múinteoirí staire a bhí acu sna scoileanna éagsúla.
Let me be clear on the question of special core status. Prior to my announcement today the study of history at junior certificate level was optional but that is no longer the case. I have made the decision to remove the optional aspect and to give it core subject status to ensure that history is a subject for every single student entering the junior cycle. It will not be a watered down version of the subject. I take the point made by Deputy Ó Caoláin that there was a fear in that regard. People were afraid that history would be a short course but it will be a core subject. As Deputies will be aware, for English, Irish and mathematics, there is a minimum of 240 hours which will also now apply to history but schools will have discretion and can increase that if they wish, as they can with the existing core subjects.
I want to be really clear about a particular matter because Deputies posed very important questions about it.
The media was briefed otherwise last night which was why I asked the question.
Core status means core status. It means ensuring the importance of history as students progress and transition from primary to secondary school. It also means looking at more creative and innovative ways of ensuring that the percentage take up of history after the junior certificate increases. At the moment, nine out of ten students study history at junior certificate level and while that is a good statistic, we are going to work to ensure it improves. I made this decision because there was a worry that the figure would decrease. The statistic for junior certificate to leaving certificate is two out of nine. There is an acceptance by all involved in this debate that we can do more to ensure that we move to that level.
Deputy O'Loughlin spoke about how she studied history for her junior certificate, or perhaps it was her intermediate certificate - I do not want to get into controversy about when she studied it - but she did not study it for her leaving certificate. She went on to study it at third level and it opened a window for her.
I started learning Irish in 2014 and that gave me a window to the appreciation of history, a connection to culture, to heritage and to local places, as was raised here tonight, and to local history. Is é sin an comhthéacs ábhartha agus tábhachtach i gcás aon teanga nó aon ábhar. Any subject or any language has to have context. I am seeking, with this issue, to allow the NCCA to develop the new recognition that we are giving this and to give it space to come up with a formula. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked when this will come in. I want it to come in in September next year. Students who are in the junior cycle this year and who were in it last year will continue to complete their junior cycle. I note 97% of schools still offer history at junior certificate level. In the past couple of months, I have come across education and training board, ETB, schools that have seen natural progression into that sphere.
Ba mhaith liom m'aitheantas agus mo bhuíochas a ghabháil chuig gach aon duine as na moltaí agus na focail dearfacha - the positive words. I look forward to working with Deputies with regard to how this is designed in the future. I do not yet have the detail of that because the NCCA will be working on it. I will task the NCCA, in conjunction with my officials, to look at how we give history the special core status that it deserves, which means that it is on a par with English, Irish and mathematics.