Before the adjournment last night I had referred to the fact that the important scheme for more post-primary education, which would give equality of opportunity to all children, should be dealt with in the true sense of politics and the efforts made, the bold step taken by the Minister should have the support of all thinking and well-disposed people in Ireland. His scheme may not be perfect; people can see faults in it but, at least, the principle which he has enunciated should be supported.
I referred also to the fact that education is a basic service and on the efficiency of that basic service will depend the efficiency of all other services above it. I made reference to the lack of co-ordination between our three branches of education over the years, pointing out that this led to an immense loss of educational power. I criticised the neglect of the branches, mainly the primary branch, in the matter of visual aids, research support and in the guidance of children on leaving the primary sector. I criticised the fact that children were allowed to drift into the post-primary schools without any guidance, without any clear indication of their aptitudes and ability. I criticised the primary sector also, inasmuch as the teachers were asked to carry higher class loads than their colleagues, the teachers in the primary schools in Northern Ireland and in Britain.
I welcomed the fact there was a development of a better parent-teacher relationship. I deplored the fact that we had not faced up to the raising of the school-leaving age prior to this and I moved the adjournment after a criticism of the primary certificate examination, which I said led to a distortion of teaching in the senior classes of the national schools. This certificate is useless as a co-ordinating factor between the primary sector and the post-primary sectors. It had lost its value to an employer as an indication of a child's ability, in view of the amendment of the Apprenticeship Act which is before the House at the present time. I pointed out that preparation for the primary certificate examination led to a restriction in the curriculum in the sixth class particularly, because the examination covered three subjects only. I criticised this examination also because it is a written examination.
Senator Sheehy Skeffington pointed out the importance of the development of the oral aspects of teaching language. He quoted the late Deputy Seán Moylan in 1956 but I go back further to a famous Renaissance scholar who spoke on this aspect of language teaching in the year 1466, over 500 years ago. His name was Erasmus and he spoke as follows:
I have no patience with the stupidity of the average teacher of grammar who wastes precious years in hammering rules into children's heads. For it is not by learning rules that we acquire the power of speaking a language, but by daily intercourse with those accustomed to express themselves with exactness and refinement, and by a copious reading of the best authors.
The fact that there is concentration on the written aspect of teaching Irish and English in the sixth class, in preparation for the primary certificate, leads to a distortion of language teaching. For that one reason alone I think the primary certificate should go. We think it should be replaced by what exists in other countries—record cards which would be a clear indication, over a long span, of a child's ability; there would not be a doomsday effort—one single examination which will decide whether or not a child is able. Certain children do not make good subjects for examinations; they are nervous and, particularly, the dull and slow-learning child is made more inferior by a failure experience. The fact also that this examination is a compulsory one must be criticised. All children who have spent 100 days in attendance in sixth class in a national school must sit for the examination. Though the teacher knows certain children must fail, their parents know they must fail and the children themselves realise they will fail, yet they must prove officially they can fail. They are coerced into sitting for the examination. Many leave at the important stage of adolescence with the mark of failure upon them. We think this has a traumatic effect on a child's character.
Reference was made yesterday to the teaching profession. I want to point out that we have, particularly in the primary sector, some of the finest material that is available in any country. It requires four or five honours on average to get into a training college, yet the universities set down that honours in one subject is required to get into a university. This will later be set at two.
We have the finest material going into our primary training colleges but we find that teachers, on leaving training, do not have sufficient confidence in their own qualifications, and they are consistently asking that there should be some link between the training colleges and the universities. We think this is important. Knowing that the calibre is good, teachers should be the last to criticise their own qualifications. We would expect them to say: "We are good going into training, and we are good leaving training. We reject all criticism of our qualifications", but such is not the case. For years national teachers have criticised their qualifications leaving the training colleges. The final examination standard is very good. Yet teachers over the years have lacked confidence in their qualifications. They would like a link with the universities.
In 1908 it was recommended in a paper read to the Maynooth Union that there should be a liaison between the training colleges and the universities. In 1923, shortly after the Treaty, at a joint conference of the National Universities of Dublin, Cork and Galway it was recommended:
That on and after a certain date to be hereafter determined, a professional degree shall be a necessary qualification for first recognition of a National Teacher.
In 1923 the Right Reverend Monsignor O'Rahilly read a paper to the Congress of Irish National Teachers in which he called for university training for teachers, and he repeated that call 30 years afterwards at another teachers' congress in Killarney in 1953.
Teachers have consistently asked for unification of the teaching profession. There is only one art of teaching. This art is based on the principles of imparting and the acquisition of knowledge. The teacher of the very young must have certain techniques to inspire involuntary attention by a change of voice, by the colour of presentation. Young children are incapable of voluntary attention and of acts of will. Later he has to withdraw that type of technique and create in the child's mind voluntary attention and acts of will. There should be one common training in the art of teaching.
With regard to the nature of our schools, we see every other day reference to the changing function of the school. That has been highlighted within the past few weeks by the Plowden Report, a magnificient work which puts the primary school back in the picture again. To demonstrate the changing function of the schools I want to read this quotation from "To be a Teacher"
The raison d'être of the school has utterly changed. It is no longer primarily a place for instruction in certain traditional fields of knowledge and skill, but a place where children may experience a rich and many-sided life, and, through experiencing this, may gradually form habits, develop attitudes, acquire knowledge and learn skills which will enable them to live happily, successfully and creatively both at the time and in the future.
The rigidity of our system at present in Ireland does not allow teachers to engage in creative activities: there is little flexibility in schools to produce the best results. The time has come when we must examine carefully the functions of the schools in the developing educational scene. Side by side with the changing attitudes to the schools there are changing attitudes to the teachers. The teacher should be given more independence and more liberty to employ his own techniques and inspire his pupils.
In my experience as a teacher, the greatest factor in teaching is the power to inspire children. A teacher who has not the facility to inspire children is only blighting them. They wither before him. The child remains uninspired if the teacher just moves in a pedestrian way from page to page. However, it is very difficult for the teacher to keep up that inspiration in view of the neglect of our schools, in view of the fact that they are losing confidence in their final qualifications, in view of the class loads they have to carry, in view of the lack of visual aids, in view of the lack of support by research, in view of the fact that there is very little promotion in the teaching profession. Many teachers start as assistants and after 45 years service they leave as assistants. We think this is deplorable. There is no profession in which one can get into a rut more quickly than in the teaching profession. When there is no incentive ahead of the teacher he often loses interest. He loses inspiration. The rewards and the availability of promotion in the teaching profession are very meagre indeed. I shall just give the House a few points to illustrate that. In the entire profession, as far as national schools are concerned, there are only 265 vice-principalships available. The value of a vice-principalship is a mere £95 a year and of the 4,379 classification schools manned by lay teachers, 1,788 of them carry a principalship reward of £95 a year.
In 1,835 cases the reward is £125. Therefore, adding those two figures, the House will see that of the 4,379 schools 3,623 of them carry a reward of £125 or less a year for principalship. The opportunities for promotion are greater in Northern Ireland where the block in promotion is met by the creation of posts of responsibility for various teachers. As to how those posts will be allocated is a matter for discussion. There are various points of view regarding this. Some say it should be on the basis of seniority, others on the teachers' qualifications. The mechanics of the allocation of those posts is not a matter under discussion here today. However, the fact remains that those posts are not available to teachers in the Republic.
Yesterday I said that I was going to make a statement on the heating, cleaning and upkeep of our schools in the Republic. Senator Sheehy Skeffington reminded us that Dr. T.J. O'Connell, in the Seanad in 1942, referred to the question of heating and cleaning in the schools. I am making a statement here today on the same matter but along different lines. I want to say calmly and coldly, in fairness to all concerned, that on and after 1st November of this year, in any school where there is a complaint about inadequacy of heating or that children are being taught in substandard conditions, the complaint will be investigated by two members of the executive of the Teachers' Organisation. If the complaint can be supported the teachers in that school will be withdrawn. I want to say that categorically. I say it because I think this question of the inadequacy of heating and the continuance of substandard conditions has gone on long enough. It has led to criticism of the managerial system in this House yesterday.
This INTO action is not to weaken the managerial system. It is to strengthen it and remove the source of criticism which was referred to by many Senators. I say this in the presence of the Minister because undoubtedly it is the Minister and his Department who must be held utimately responsible. I am not referring particularly to this Minister but Ministers for Education over the years. Under Rule 15 (2) it is the Minister who gives recognition to a manager. Under Rule 15 (9) the Minister has power to withdraw the recognition of a manager. Managers are appointed to manage not to mismanage. If they are mismanaging they should go. If previous Ministers and the Department of Education had taken a stand in this matter there would be no mismanagement. Action by the Minister would remove a menace to the managerial system.
Somebody must take a stand. I happen to be in a position where I cannot, in the general interest, tolerate a situation which has continued for so long. Five weeks ago a report came to me of a school where the water from a leaking roof had to be collected in buckets and where six children and two members of the staff had over a period got rheumatic fever and also where the principal had to be screened for tuberculosis following pleurisy. Children came into school in sodden clothes and had to sit in the cold.
Those affected children are a source of worry to their parents, a burden to the community, will be rejected for all public services following medical examination and are unable to undertake hard work physically. That is the type of situation we have at present. We cannot tolerate it any longer.