I had hoped that Senator Brown would be here and that it would not have fallen on me to speak on this measure. Since this Bill passed through the Dáil much new evidence has come to our hands, which, I think, we should take into consideration. I have been reading the reports of the various inspectors. I think I will have the feeling of the Seanad with me when I say that we should not force the children into schools unless we have such assurance from the Government as will make us satisfied that these schools will be put into a fit condition to receive the children. I will read here the words of one of the inspectors: "There is a very considerable number of school buildings ill-adapted in the first case to serve as schools, and now in a bad state of repair, damp, uncomfortable, and often insanitary. A few are mere hovels, yet frequently overcrowded, a menace to the health of the children and teachers, an eyesore to the passers-by and a standing reflection on all responsible for their condition." That is an extract from the report by Mr. Tierney. He has reported on the general condition of the schools in his area. He is inspector for Mayo, part of Leinster, the whole of County Longford, and portions of Westmeath. You have practically in every inspector's report something of the same kind. A majority of the schools are not in this condition but evidently a very considerable minority of the schools are in this condition.
Speaking on this matter on the 11th June last the President said:
Before I leave this question of primary education, I should mention that there is one further matter— also an important matter in our quest for efficiency—with which the Minister for Education hopes to deal as soon as possible. This country has always suffered from the inadequacy of its school buildings. The disturbances of recent years have left us still more seriously in arrears in this important particular, and the operation of an effective School Attendance Act will increase still more the lack of proper accommodation for primary education. To meet this difficulty the Department of Education is having a thorough census made of the primary school-buildings of the Saorstát, and when this is complete, it may be necessary to ask you to make further provision in the Estimates to bring the primary school accommodation up to the level necessary for complete efficiency.
Now we have not had those further statistics as to the state of the schools. We do not know whether the Government will be able, whether it will get that necessary support to put all these schools right. But it should be our business to see that it gets that support. I should like also to suggest to the Seanad that the proper method of doing this is not under the Estimates. I hold that this should be done by a national loan. It is a non-recurrent expenditure, precisely the kind of expenditure that is usually met by a loan. One feels that if the vote is put on the Estimates that it will not be adequately and amply dealt with. I would like to do something further. I suggest to the Government that they should appoint a commission to consider the whole question of school buildings in the State. A great effort should be made to put these schools right, and that means that the attention of the country should be drawn to the matter. Furthermore, we should see that the right methods are taken and that the right form of school buildings is adopted. The Government has already a commission inquiring into the school curriculum, but they have not a commission set up for the purpose of inquiring into the school buildings. My suggestion is that it should be a point of honour to the Seanad not to ask the school children to enter those buildings until they are certain that these buildings are fit to receive the children.
To be able to do my duty as a Senator in relation to this question, I, myself, before this Government report was put into my hands, saw a number of the schools. I saw schools in Dublin and in the country. I was shocked by what I saw in the Dublin schools. I saw schools where the children were learning their lessons by artificial light at noon-day, because the windows were too small. I saw schools where two classes were being held side by side, because there was not room to give a separate class to each. That means wear and tear to the nerves of the children and to the temper of the teachers.
I also saw another thing to which I wish to draw the attention of the Government. Many of these schools are filthy. A minority of the children who come to them, I should say a substantial minority, are filthy. There are no adequate basins, sometimes no basins at all, in which the children could wash themselves. I have seen schools where the children are perfectly clean. I have seen one school in Dublin where the floors are washed once a week and brushed every day. Many of the country schools are never washed at all. I have seen a school lately in a South of Ireland town managed by the Sisters of Mercy, and it is a model to all schools. There the part of the house that is used frequently is washed once a week and brushed daily. The children are perfectly clean. What can be done there can be done elsewhere in Ireland. But you cannot have these things done unless the country is prepared to spend the money.
It should be a matter of honour to the State no matter how poor it may be, to spend that money. You must not, for instance, do what is almost always done—get this work done by the children. It must not be the business of the children to keep the school clean after they have done their day's work in the school. There must be properly appointed people to see that the school is clean and also to see that the children are clean and that they are sent to school clean. When the children are not clean they should be made wash themselves in a proper place provided in the school. If you do not do that you will not have a centre of civilisation in the schools and the children might as well remain at home. I think you cannot secure any of these things without more expense, and, of course, a more efficient system of inspection, than you have at present. The inspectors who come from the central authority will not be able to keep an eye on all these things. There is an obvions way out of the difficulty, a way which we cannot take, perhaps, but a way which the North of Ireland has taken, and that is to put the care of the school buildings in the hands of local committees.
One of the Government inspectors strongly urges that upon the Government. That is done practically all over Europe. It is done in Catholic Austria as it is done in Protestant Scandinavia. The committees differ from country to country. They are constituted in various ways, but I think these committees exist practically everywhere. I should like to add that the difficulty in appointing those committees does not come from one religion alone. It comes just as much, if I understand it, from the religion in which I was born as it comes from any other, but it is not to the credit of the State that no way can be found out of the difficulty. If we cannot have local inspection, which would mean inspection by inspectors who have local knowledge, then we must devise some equally efficient method.
There is one thing on which I feel strongly. As long as you carry on the present obsolete method of education in your schools you will have the usual strain between the master and the pupil. You will have the usual problem of children being punished by a master with a bad temper, and your only way to prevent that is when the so-called punishment books are regularly kept. Those are books in which the teacher is bound to record the punishment inflicted, and why it is inflicted. My experience is that those punishment books are not kept because there is not sufficiently adequate inspection. I do not say that the present inspectors are not most able men, but you want more numerous inspection or better local inspection to secure efficiency in those things. If the Government can convince me that it is able and willing to make these buildings suitable for the children, that is to say, to make them clean and sanitary—and many of them are not sanitary—to make the floor space sufficient and to make them reasonably cheerful, I am prepared to give my unimportant vote in favour of this Bill. If they do not, I cannot give it.
I am not asking anything extravagant. I think we ought to do whatever is done by other countries of the same wealth as this nation in order to ensure the welfare of our children. We should consider, for instance, that there are at present some arrangements, not I think always very wise, as to the feeding of school-children in the towns. There are none in the country, and judging by my own countryside, where I live during the summer months, it is needed. Children will start early in the morning. They will be the greater portion of the day in school and they will have no adequate meals. They come away hungry, and it seems, if not very necessary, at least very desirable that they should have food. Then, of course, many other countries, perhaps not richer than this, have found means of seeing that children are properly clothed and that they have proper books. These are all difficult but desirable things.
I have no desire to speak on the question of the curriculum. It is being considered by a Commission at this moment. I wish that the Government had introduced a comprehensive educational measure dealing with all the details before asking us to compel children, by law, to go into the schools. Whether it is good for the children or not depends not only on the building but on the nature of the system under which they are taught. I am sure for a child to spend all day in school with a stupid, ill-trained man under an ill-planned system, is less good for that child than that the child should be running through the fields and learning nothing. I should like to draw the attention of the Government to one nation which has reformed its educational system in the most suggestive and profound way; that is Italy. It has not produced a system unique to Italy. It has simply gathered together the results of experiments all over the world. They are now teaching a system of education adapted to an agricultural nation like this or Italy, a system of education that will not turn out clerks only, but will turn out efficient men and women who can manage to do all the work of the nation. This system has been tried in Ireland. There are some schools carrying it out. There is one large primary school managed by nuns in the South of Ireland which has adopted practically the entire Italian system and which is carrying it out with great effect, and has found that it is applicable, and that its teachers do not need special training to carry it out. The Italian Minister who adopted that policy was warned by everyone that it would not be possible to get this elaborate system carried out by partly educated people. It has been proved possible and of great benefit to the children.
In order to give an intelligent vote —at one time I thought it would be a silent one—on this question I have kept two clear principles in my mind. One is that we ought to be able to give the child of the poor as good an education as we give to the child of the rich. Of course the rich man's child remains longer at school. I have consulted teachers and people accustomed to the latest methods of education, and they are all clear that there is no reason why the education of the children of the poor should not be as good, while it lasts, as the education of the children of the rich. I would like to suggest another principle, that the child itself must be the end in education. It is a curious thing how many times the education of Europe has drifted into error. For two or three centuries people thought that their various religious systems were more important than the child. In the modern world the tendency is to think of the nation; that it is more important than the child. In Japan, I understand, the child is sacrificed to patriotism. I have seen education unified in America, so that the child is sacrificed to that of unified Americanism, and the human mind is codified. We are bound to go through the same passion ourselves. There is a tendency to subordinate the child to the idea of the nation. I suggest that whether we teach either Irish history, Anglo-Irish literature or Gaelic, we should always see that the child is the object and not any of our special purposes.