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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Apr 1984

Vol. 103 No. 9

Education Initiatives: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Seanad Éireann welcomes and supports the recent initiatives taken in relation to education, in particular the publication of the Action Programme for Education 1984-1987 and the establishment of the Curriculum and Examinations Board."
—(Senator Burke.)

I put my name to this motion together with Senator Ulick Burke because it is a very important matter and because I hold the view that it is right that this House should give some time to discussing a matter of such great importance. My only regret is that we are limited to a three hour discussion on the establishment of a Curriculum and Examinations Board and an Action Programme for Education.

I congratulate the Minister on her initiative in getting this work done after such a relatively short time in office. The five people who already spoke on this matter, Senators Burke, Howlin, Mullooly, Higgins and Fallon welcomed the introduction of this action programme and the establishment of a Curriculum and Examinations Board. I read their contributions this morning and each was well worth while. It is a pity that more Senators will not have the opportunity to contribute although even those who did found themselves limited to time.

It has been obvious for some time that changes in the curriculum are necessary and, because of the changes in technological advance and so on, it has become even more necessary. For some years the transition from one level to another caused upset. There was a difficulty in the transition from first level to second level and probably an even greater difficulty in the transition from second level to third level. Careful planning of the curricula of the different levels should have resulted in a transition from first level to second level being as easy as a transition from fifth standard to sixth standard or from second standard to third standard. A transition from leaving certificate level to third level — university or otherwise — should be as easy to accomplish as the transition from intermediate certificate level to leaving certificate level. Failure rates at third level and the huge drop out numbers clearly indicate that these transitions present great problems. That is a question that has been with us for some time and, regrettably, we did not solve it earlier.

Changes in the world and technological advances mean there is an even greater need for the examination of the school curriculum. If it achieves no other purpose than that the Minister would be entitled to congratulations.

I am sure members of the House will have read a statement in yesterday's evening papers and again in this morning's papers by the Chairman of AnCO when he said that many young people leave school today with few marketable skills or qualifications to show for their ten years in the educational system. Many of them would not be accepted in most of AnCO's mainline training courses. A number of 40,000 trained this year will get special training to bring them up to the levels needed for mainline training. The number leaving the system with few marketable skills present a problem to educationalists and trainees alike and calls for serious thought.

A few years ago the Chairman of the FUE listed about 20 skills that were in short supply. He went on to say that it became necessary for industrialists to recruit people from England where they had acquired these skills. I hope it happens again that we can call on the services of emigrants who have acquired skills in England to help us develop our industries and businesses. At the same time it is a reflection on us that we were not turning out people with skills to meet the requirements for the age we live in.

In order to present a balanced view it would be wrong to maintain that this shortcoming was confined solely to us. A couple of years ago I heard a former British Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, say on television that the educational system in Britain was not turning out young people with the qualifications which industrialists and business people needed. He went on to say that he thought it was absolutely necessary — in the interests of the people and of maintaining a foremost place in industrial development — that the school curriculum should be altered in order to meet the challenges and needs of the time. Currently, the Minister for Education, Sir Keith Joseph, is engaged in the matter.

Further afield I read quite recently that in the Soviet Union the late leader, Mr. Andropov, decided that the education system was not turning out the type of young people able to meet the requirements of the present day industralist. He ordered a changeover in the curriculum. According to The Irish Times today his successor, Mr. Chernenko, has decided to continue with the same policy. It is a deficiency that is not confined to this country. It is good to see a curriculum board set up which will give serious thought to these points

It is true too that in the past we have had too much emphasis on academic subjects rather than on technical skills. The ratio between academics and technicians is wrong compared with the ratio which exists in West Germany, Japan, the United States and other countries in the forefront of industrial development. Because we are on the perimeter of Europe and our shortage of raw materials, it is necessary for us to develop great skills. We should model ourselves on the Swiss who some years ago realised that importation of heavy raw materials was out of the question if they were to be competitive. They confined themselves to the importation of small amounts of raw materials that demanded great technical skills which led to the production of watches, barometers and so on.

Some approaches which we adopted in the past, even in the academic line have been proved wrong. We did not make a success of reviving Irish as the spoken language. Part of the reason for that was an over-emphasis on the written language and an over-insistence on correctness of usage and so on. If the approach had been to develop the spoken language first we would have made greater headway. However, we should learn from our mistakes and realise that it is necessary to get away from the approach of teaching living languages in the same way as dead languages are taught. I know that there have been changes in that regard but the pace of change is not rapid enough. I understand that the Minister's approach will be to speed up the changes and give more marks for proficiency in oral language rather than the written language.

The more haste she can make in that field, the better.

Leaving certificate results in mathematics, physics and chemistry are disappointing as they will be essential subjects in the years ahead. That is something to which the curriculum board will have to give attention. I do not want to be overcritical of the system because it did a great deal of good too, but at a time of review and embarking on change it is right to draw attention to deficiencies in the past. Our educational system does little or nothing to generate initiative. There is a tendency to develop memory and there is no scope for the promotion of initiative. The greatest single contributor to the recovery taking place in the United States of America is due to the small industrialist not to the big international complex. The man who left school with skill and initiative successfully set up small industries.

We had a tendency, perhaps arising from our history and the difficulties that confronted our people in the past in earning a living and getting into a secure job——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

You have gone over your time.

I will be as brief as possible. Probably for historical reasons and poverty we had a tendency to send the best brains in the country into secure jobs, like the Civil Service, banking, CIE and so on, when they should have been in fields which would provide greater challenge. Now we find that much of the work these people do is being taken over by computers. We will have to provide new channels for people's ability and this Curriculum and Examinations Board will help to achieve that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

You are now four minutes over your time.

An intermediate certificate examination report was issued in 1974. In the summary on page 5 there is much material to which I referred. It will serve as a useful guideline to the new Curriculum and Examinations Board when they get into action.

The Programme for Action in Education which is the subject of this debate identifies many problems and needs in our educational system but I am afraid it goes virtually no way in acting on them. The cost implications of the programme are, of course, vital and I do not think they are realistically faced.

The programme affords an opportunity to discuss our educational system and my remarks will be concerned in the main with university education where I work and which of course is discussed in the chapter on third level education.

I share the view expressed in the programme that the greatest demand for increased places will arise in third level education in the coming decade. It is a matter of fact that costs of third level are greater than either first or second level.

A comparison of unit costs between the different levels will show of course that costs are greater in third level. This is not surprising when we consider the objectives and requirements of the different levels although I want to say something quite specific about unit costs as they apply to university education. Paragraph 6.3 of the programme says that it is recognised that the system must become more cost effective and that productivity must be improved. I agree with this statement and higher education institutions should, of course, be publicly accountable. However, the figure for unit cost of university education which are quoted from time to time seriously distort the picture. In addition to teaching, universities provide research and community services, the costs of which should be subtracted before unit teaching costs are computed. Research, of course, is a vital part of university work which not alone preserves the quality of the courses being taught but, in addition, contributes directly to the benefit of the community. For example, existing products can be improved and produced at lower cost by using the most advanced research findings in technology with the obvious contribution to our competitiveness. Furthermore, new products are developed through research with the potential to improve exports which are vital to our small, open economy. Research is also very relevant to policy-making. Policy-makers, including public policy-makers, are too often constrained by short-term decision making and are forced to rely to a great extent on intuition. The use of research is a cost-effective means of guiding and correcting decision-making and policy rather than the all too prevalent tendency to learn in the school of mistakes.

As I have said already, due account should be taken of the value of university research in computing unit costs. On the question of costs, the contribution of universities to community service is very relevant. University personnel carry out applied research in, for example, engineering and agriculture. They produce studies in economics and sociology for the State. These community services, together with research per se, make a very significant contribution to Ireland's economic and social development and must be taken into account when university unit costs are being computed.

On the question of national manpower projections which was raised in paragraph 6.1 of the programme, it must be noted that, unlike several other countries of the European Community who have to struggle with an ageing labour force becoming redundant, half of our population in Ireland is under 25 years of age. Our population is growing by one and a half per cent per year. Within the next 20 years, it is likely that the EEC countries will be turning to Ireland for graduates. Any manpower planning, therefore, should take population trends in the EEC as a whole into account. In the same European context, the Minister's personal commitment to the further development of modern languages in our schools is to be commended.

I warmly support the view expressed in the programme that access to university education should be provided to all those who have the will and the ability to benefit from it. A source of concern in this connection, however, is the low participation rate at third level by students from lower socio-economic groups. The increases in fees in recent years from 13 per cent of total cost in 1979-80 to 17 per cent in 1982-83 reduce even further the prospect for participation at third level by students from the lower socio-economic groups. A means test obviously has a place in the grant system for universities but it is no substitute for an equitable taxation structure which, of course, is the responsibility of the Minister for Finance.

While I welcome the promise in the programme to provide third level education to all those who are willing and able to benefit from it, however, I feel that additional places should be made available in universities only if existing standards can be preserved. It is most likely that additional resources, for example, more academic staff and extra library facilities, would be needed if additional university places were made available and academic standards were preserved at the same time.

On the question of academic standards, extern examiners from the United Kingdom universities are the norm at Irish universities. For example, the current extern examiner to my own Department of Industrial Relations in UCD is from Oxford University. These United Kingdom examiners consistently confirm that we, in Ireland, maintain comparable standards with universities in the United Kingdom. I hasten to point out however that Irish universities compared with UK universities cost very substantially less and have substantially poorer staff student ratios. Irish universities, therefore, are providing far better value for money than their British counterparts.

Paragraph 6.7 of the programme states that the academic year in third level is short. What I now have to say about the staff load and calendar in UCD in connection with this very point should not in any way be construed as a defensive approach but rather as an objective description of the situation. The staff annual calendar in UCD is organised as follows. The first term runs from October to Christmas, the second term from January to Easter, then there is an Easter break for conferences and research. The months of April and May constitute term three. The months of June and September are both devoted to examinations in most departments. There is a holiday period in the months of July and August but these months provide the opportunity to engage in research which is vital to the university. As I have said, in most Departments the months of June and September are taken up with the marking of scripts, and the marking of dissertations for honours and repeat examinations.

Board meetings are a requirement in university life. This year in UCD, for example, the boards will not be completed until 11 July. Many staff, furthermore, are involved during July in marking the matriculation examination. University staff conduct research which is vital to the function of the university and which contributes in a very significant way to our economic and social development in Ireland. For example the report of the President of UCD for the year 1981-82 shows that 571 papers were published. This is, of course, an impressive research output by any standards.

In concluding these points about the staff load and calendar, I hope that due account will be taken of the load factor and the constraints that prevail on university staff.

I would now like to refer briefly to a few aspects of primary education. Clearly the key to improving primary education, especially for the disadvantaged, is a substantial improvement in the teacher pupil ratio. There are 70,000 primary pupils in classes of 40 or over, and 75 per cent of all primary pupils are in classes of 30 to 44. While the programme states that the funding of national schools will be a major priority of the Minister and the Government, I find it very disappointing that the tackling of the poor pupil teacher ratio is not seen as a major priority. I would also urge that a mandatory upper limit be placed on class size.

The programme correctly points out that it is at age eight or nine that the problems of those pupils who fall behind the normal level of development in respect of literacy and numeracy should be identified. It is at that stage that remedial action should be taken. Remedial teachers are obviously required. There is, however, no formal psychological service for primary schools. Surely such a service would be of great assistance in identifying problems at this early, critical stage.

I now want to turn to the question of in-service training which gets considerable attention in the programme. Clearly in-service training courses for teachers are of crucial importance in a period of rapid social change such as we have been experiencing for many years past. Casual summer in-service courses are quite inadequate. The present in-service arrangements are of the hit and miss variety. It seems to be bordering on the crazy to have teachers 15, 20 and 25 years trained, who have never had in-service training and therefore have never had any real opportunity to get on top of the new curriculum or to formally develop the range of skills so necessary today. The costs are substantial if in-service programmes are to be conducted properly. Teacher release is necessary and, therefore, replacement teachers are necessary. This will cost money but it will be money well spent. I would like to know if it is the Minister's intention to provide funds for replacement teachers, especially school principals, who play such a vital role in our primary schools? I would point out that capital cost does not really arise, because there is scope in the colleges of education at present to provide in-service training without any capital outlay in new buildings and so forth.

My last point on primary education relates to educational broadcasting. The Educational Broadcasting Committee, which presented a copy of their report to the Minister for Education in March 1983 concluded unanimously that educational broadcasting had enormous potential for enhancing the scope and the effectiveness of Irish education. The report also concluded that even in difficult economic times — we have such times at present — money spent on educational broadcasting was a cost effective investment in the context of the educational budget as a whole. About half a million children are in primary schools and a further half million are in full-time education. My information is that for as little as £5 million, which is a tiny sum in the context of the total educational budget, an educational broadcasting programme could be set up. It is scarcely necessary to emphasise the value of the impact of radio and, in particular, television. Could I ask the Minister what her attitude is now to investment in broadcasting education?

I wish to raise an issue in relation to Senator Ulick Burke's contribution last week. I regret that Senator Burke used the privilege of the House to denigrate a fellow member of his own union. This person was very careful to wait until her term of office was completed before expressing her political interests.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion which welcomes the recent initiatives in education, that is, the Programme for Action and the establishment of the Curriculum and Examinations Board. It is very important that this House should debate these initiatives and developments. All of those who are involved in our education system will find themselves involved in a national debate on education, because a great deal of interest has been stimulated and generated by the publication of the four year plan and by the setting up of the Curriculum and Examinations Board.

It is a good idea that education, and all of those involved in it, should be debated publicly and with vigour over the next year or two. For far too long education has been a victim of ad hoc decision making and stop start policy making. At last we have something cogent and progressive and a clearly charted action plan for education which the Minister stated can and will be acted upon in the next four years. It is significant, and it must be noted that the plan represents the culmination of much work and a great deal of consultation. It has been welcomed by various educational bodies in this country and it has generated and will continue to generate much debate.

There is so much in the plan and there is so much to say about so many diverse elements which affect education that those of us who have the opportunity of speaking on this find ourselves somewhat constrained, because each item in the programme represents enough material for an entire debate in itself. I propose, in my small contribution, to make a few observations on certain aspects of the programme which need highlighting and which have a particular interest for me.

When the new curriculum was introduced for primary schools it was a great pity that it was not possible at the same time to introduce a new curriculum for secondary schools. The new curriculum for the primary schools did its own thing very well. The fact that it had been introduced and taken root in the primary school system gives us an opportunity to examine how it fared and how teachers coped with it. Some teachers, many of whom are still in service, found it difficult. Nobody likes change. Some of us find it very difficult to adapt to it. Some of these teachers probably found the changes unacceptable and extremely difficult to cope with. Most of them demonstrated good-will and enthusiasm and made the necessary adaptations.

It is true that most of our children in primary schools are happy and enjoy the new curriculum. That is important. Children should be happy in school and happy in a learning situation, and we do not stress that often enough. Learning and the whole process of education should be a joyous experience for children. Children are now more inquiring and more worldlywise. Sometimes they are a little too much so for their parents, which is a cause for anxiety. It is true to say that children's horizons have widened.

There is a caution here. It is important to make the point that in the vast majority of our primary schools the three Rs, the very basis for education, have in some way been neglected. Recent surveys show that two-thirds of children going into our secondary school curriculum read poorly, write badly and their spelling is very often deplorable. One interesting statistic has emerged for me. I am privileged to be a member of the Committee on Marriage Breakdown, and that has received up to 500 submissions from the general public. I am perhaps a bit of a pedant in the area of spelling, but I have noticed that over and over again two words are constantly misspelled by the Irish public. One is "marital" which tends to emerge over and over again as "martial", which may or may not be a Freudian slip. The other is "separate" and "separated". A lot of people do not seem to be able to cope with either of those two words. It is intriguing, and it is a little sideline, but it is indicative of the fact that spelling in Ireland badly needs a good shake up. Sentence construction has also suffered. The old disciplines of Latin and Greek, which had a great deal to recommend them in this area, in making people aware of sentence construction, have disappeared and nothing seems to have taken their place.

In our secondary school system our pupils are feeling a sense of despair because the depression, the micro-chip and the technology, which makes employment more daunting and challenging, give the impression to young people that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We are faced with overcoming this feeling of despondency which is in the air.

Second level education is the beginning of a new system instead of the continuation of the primary systems. It is a great pity that there is not a smooth transition between primary and second level systems. This has been referred to by Senator O'Brien. A gradual transition is essential between primary and secondary but of course this is only effective if the primary system is sufficient and good. I feel a deep look at the primary system of education is essential.

It interests me that industry will be harnassed in our second school system. A feature of the four year plan which I welcome recognises the need to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship. This has been frowned upon in the past by classical educators. I feel that the spirit of entrepreneurship has been depressed in our school system. Ireland has produced very few entrepreneurs, and those who have been produced have been extremely good and extremely talented. There are a lot of would-be entrepreneurs in our second level and third level systems.

Perhaps the traditional teacher is not the best person to spot the budding entrepreneur and to give that person the necessary encouragement. Ireland needs these people as it never needed them before. Our future in great part depends on them. We have frowned on them in the past and we have failed them. We should have an open mind on this, and we should expose this talent to leading business people while our pupils are in school. The youngster of independent mind has ample opportunities in literature, the Arts and creativity. I say give the potential entrepreneur the same opportunity in the classroom. I welcome links between industry and school and all that that means in terms of contact and in terms of stimulating children.

I am pleased to see that the Department of Education in this programme will take action on the proposals contained in Bord na Gaeilge's plan gniomhaíochta don Gaeilge, that a task force will be set up to identify areas for action in relation to the teaching of Irish. Ten years ago a Coalition Government abolished the need to pass Irish to obtain a pass in the leaving certificate. This also applied to the intermediate certificate. That was a brave step and it was welcomed at the time. We must ask ourselves has the language benefited as a result? Do more people speak it? Do more pupils enjoy learning it? I am not so sure that the answer to those questions is `yes'.

Who is to blame and how can the damage be repaired? The percentage number of our pupils who actually sit in the Irish class but do not take the examination, particularly in leaving certificate, continues to grow. I am not so sure that we are being honest in continuing with this system. It is interesting to note that the Shannon curriculum development has taken a very brave step in this area. It has developed a very realistic programme in relation to Irish for remedial pupils in 16 first year post-primary schools.

The emphasis in the Shannon curriculum development programme is on the spoken word. The teachers and the pupils participating in it are, I believe, very happy with the course. I have been told by those who have been fortunate enough to observe this that it is a delight to see pupils hurrying enthusiastically to Irish classes and enjoying their work. That is a far cry from what I experienced, both as a teacher and as a pupil. There is a message here. We must not overlook it. I hope, if this pilot scheme at the end of the day is deemed successful, that it will not be abandoned as has happened in other successful pilot schemes. It makes those who have taken part in them lose heart. I feel at the end of the day it is to the detriment of the language or whatever the pilot scheme has been set up to examine.

Something I found lacking in the programme, which is something I feel quite strongly about, is any reference to inter-denominational education. There may have been a small reference to it but I looked through it, and perhaps my eye did not light on it. I feel, of course, that inter-denominational education is an ideal. Perhaps it is more appropriate to the North of Ireland where the two communities are numerically more equal. We need it in this country, north and south, to dispel ignorance and prejudice. We have to be carefully taught to hate, and I feel we cannot soon enough get going on the business of bringing together people of all faiths and beliefs.

In many ways, because of our numerical imbalance in the Republic, to talk of inter-denominational education can very often be a pious platitude because the school-going population is probably about 2 to 3 per cent. It may be attractive in a few selected schools where a reasonable balance can be struck, but to talk of it in national terms is perhaps to do a great disservice to a dwindling minority where two out of every three marriages are already inter-church and where, sadly, the ne temere decree and all that that implies still remains. A few middle upper schools of Protestant tradition attract a fairly large percentage of Roman Catholic pupils but the reverse is not true. It is a great pity that many of our established Roman Catholic schools are not attracting Church of Ireland pupils.

It is true to say that the Republic has been very generous to its minorities. To continue to treat children of the nation equally, the minorities in Ireland need special consideration. I know that the Minister is very aware of this and that in the past she has been an enthusiastic supporter and, indeed, continues to be so, of the Dalkey and Bray school projects and indeed of a similar type project which I understand is active on the northside of Dublin.

I will leave that then and make a brief comment on the disadvantaged, which have been referred to in the action programme for education. I am very pleased to note that special resources will be made available for those national schools which cater for socially and economically disadvantaged children and that priority will be given in the area of allocation of additional teaching posts for these children, which I think will take care of some of the anxieties expressed by Senator Hillery in his contribution. Up to now pupils from the lower socio-economic groups have benefited much less than pupils from other groups, and strategies must be devised to rectify this imbalance.

I could not let my time for speaking pass without making reference to what have been called "the new poor" in educational terms. These are very often the middle income earners, especially the PAYE sector who are not eligible for any grants and do not live in a centre of third level education. I can quote a specific example of a family with three children. The eldest child has just completed university and the two younger ones are presently in university at a total cost of £7,500 per annum. Surely there is a case for some tax allowance against their education, taking into account the enormous expenditure which the PAYE earner — the father of this family — must bear. I know that third level education is very heavily subsidised, and I appreciate all that as do parents of third level students, but there must be a case for alleviating the burden or in any event allowing a system of deferred payment which would extend the burden and stretch it over a number of years.

I will conclude by once more welcoming the plan. It does not surprise me that our Minister has produced in a relatively short space of time a plan which is cogent, which is a plan for action, and I think we are going to see action. It is realistic in that it refers to the fact that these are only possible if the resources are there to enable them to be achieved. I welcome that kind of realism. I welcome the plan and I look forward to its implementation.

I am very pleased that the Seanad has had the opportunity to debate the recent initiatives which have been taken in education. It has been one of the major objectives of my policies that there should be widespread debate among interested parties with regard to educational development. It is thus most appropriate that this House should participate in this debate.

The motion before the House refers both to the publication of the Action Programme for Education 1984-1987 and to the establishment of the Curriculum and Examinations Board. These two items are, of course, directly related to one another. The need for major curriculum reform is recognised as one of the central issues addressed in the action programme. I am glad to see the general welcome which these initiatives have received in this House and I have noted carefully the different points which have been made in the course of the debate so far. I am very grateful to all the Senators who have contributed.

The action programme does not purport to be a statement of educational philosophy. It recognises, however, the importance of the educational system as a means for the transmission of a system of values. Although it is not a philosophical treatise as such many important issues of principle are raised in the programme and there is general support for the maintenance of the key traditions which are inherent in the system. Through the general promotion of what may be termed the pastoral side of education, and through the strong emphasis on the need for education to be a broad preparation for life, the importance of these traditions and of the underlying value system is implicit in many of the proposals. The educational system has an essential role in fostering virtues such as honesty, integrity, tolerance, justice and love. The desire of the vast majority of our people that the education system will reflect a rich Christian ethos is fully respected in the programme. It was felt that these matters would be generally understood and, therefore, it was not necessary to have them spelled out explicitly.

The first of the programme's principles states that:

The education system should, as far as possible, enable all citizens to have access to an education which is relevant to their needs and which will assist them in seeking to fulfil the potential of their abilities and talents.

This principle recognises the unique worth of each individual and seeks to ensure that talent is fostered to the greatest possible degree. It also implies that stumbling blocks which may stand in the way of participation in education must be removed. Furthermore it raises the issue that access to education alone is not what is required. Rather there must be a serious questioning of the relevance of educational courses which are on offer.

Over recent years the very face and character of education has changed. Thankfully, education is no longer seen as the preserve of the privileged but the right of all. If I may digress for a moment I should like to mention one of the references made by Senator Hillery to third level education where he discussed the rise in fees in recent years and concluded that this would lead to fewer people from the lower socio-economic background going to university. It is necessary to point out that 35 per cent of all students in third level education have their fees paid by the State and any increase in fees for those who are getting grants or scholarships is paid automatically by the State so that a fee increase does not affect them.

I might also point out that it is a general experience in European countries that despite very high levels of grants in some other European countries there remains the problem of the lower socio-economic groups not participating at third level. I believe that one of the problems there is inherent in the experience of the disadvantaged child at primary level.

Ideally we want all our children to have the opportunity of staying within the educational system for as long as it is useful and meaningful for them to do so. For those who for one reason or another are forced to or choose to drop out early we want to have the opportunity of `second-chance' access at a later stage in their lives. Aspirations to achieve equality of opportunity in education can only be realised where there is positive discrimination in favour of those who are disadvantaged or for whom access to education is difficult.

The principle of special aid for the disadvantaged features prominently among the pillars of the action programme. I am pleased to note that so many speakers have already referred to this point of the plan. Senator Howlin last week emphasised how important it is that this should be picked out for special emphasis. I am afraid I cannot accept Senator Fallon's contention that our actions do not bear out our commitment to the disadvantaged. In our estimates this year we have made specific provision for primary education in disadvantaged areas and through decisions we took in modifying the Fianna Fáil expenditure cuts which they planned for 1983 we demonstrated this commitment quite clearly. The fact is that we have proved our commitments and the actions we have taken stand in stark contrast to the lack of commitment shown by Senator Fallon's party when in Government.

It is recognised, as a recent research study has confirmed, that educational disadvantage occurs in the earliest years at school and, therefore, it is at this point that major interventions must be made. Emphasis must be placed on laying firm foundations in the primary school in basic skills of language, literacy and numeracy.

Problems must be detected in time and appropriate remedial action taken as necessary. This is, therefore, the approach adopted in the programme as far as the establishment of priorities is concerned. This is why it is recognised that primary education and, particularly, the crucial early years, must receive special attention.

Educational disadvantage is not, of course, an isolated thing. It is related to social and economic disadvantage. It must, therefore, be recognised that although education has a role to play, its work must be complemented by other agencies — those coming under other Departments such as Health, Social Welfare and Labour, for instance.

Some communities have very particular difficulties to overcome, especially those in the major urban centres with high rates of unemployment and other social problems. A fund of £500,000 has been created this year to provide special help for schools and in aid of the services which they provide for children in such areas.

It is my intention that this programme should be extended as quickly as circumstances allow, and I accept the fact mentioned by Senators Howlin, Mullooly, and Fallon that disadvantaged pupils can be found in all parts of the country. However, as a first step we will make interventions in the major urban centres in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

The second principle of the action programme states:

Education should be continuously updated to make it relevant to the modern world, to developments in technology, to changing employment opportunities and patterns as well as to increased leisure time.

This principle poses a major challenge to all involved in education. It stresses the need to adapt our educational programmes to ensure their relevance to an age of technology and to rapidly changing life styles and employment patterns. There are, of course, major implications here for the work of the Curriculum and Examinations Board, about which I will have more to say later.

There have been in recent times changes in approach to education and training adopted at EEC level, where as an expression of the social guarantee provisions, a new emphasis is being given to the 15-18 year old age group. The action programme indicates that proposals for new senior cycle courses are being presented for European Social Fund support which would give expression to the emphasis on courses linking the school more closely with the world of work, a concern which has been expressed by various Senators including Senator Bulbulia.

At third level, too, it is necessary to promote the development of technical and technological education. This will be crucial to our economic and industrial development and to increasing opportunities for our young people to gain employment. The programme also stresses the importance of links between education and industry, This is obvious in areas such as science and technology, but it is also important from the point of view of marketing Irish products abroad that the whole position of art and design education be strengthened.

Mention of third-level education brings me to one of the most complex and challenging areas of all: indeed the contribution of Senator Hillery illustrates some of those complexities and challenges. The scale of expansion in second-level education, which we witnessed throughout the seventies, has yet to make its full impact at third level. We can anticipate a very great increase in demand for third level places between now and the end of the decade. All of us who are Members of the Oireachtas, as indeed society at large, must face up to the major problems which this situation poses. We are talking of an area where the recurrent cost per student to the State is estimated to be of the order of £3,000 per annum. Thus, any expansion has major implications in cost terms. Yet it has been estimated that numbers could increase by 20,000 by the end of the decade, as mentioned by Senator Burke.

The action programme puts on record the Government's commitment to provide third level education for as many young people as possible. This is extremely important both from the point of view of the benefit to the community generally and also for the individuals concerned.

The extent of what is possible will be affected in large measure by the degree to which those engaged in third level education can find ways of increasing the throughput of students in existing facilities. I was glad to note Senator Howlin's comments in this regard. I would like to assure Senator Hillery that the research cost element and other factors which he mentioned will be taken into account.

This new look at third level may mean taking a radical look at some of the practices at present operated and demonstrating a willingness to be flexible in considering alternatives. For instance, the action programme suggests considering using third level facilities for four terms in each year. It has been suggested that one group of students might attend for one full term per year and supplement this by a combination of distance education and attendance for specific short-term periods throughout the year. I do not think that sort of idea is in conflict with what Senator Hillery was discussing.

Other suggestions in the action programme for meeting accommodation needs relate to various rationalisation proposals to achieve greater cost effectiveness. Such measures will be essential if the numbers are to be provided for, which provision will only be feasible if it can be achieved at less than full incremental cost. The scale of the problem can be appreciated when one realises that a capital programme to provide 20,000 additional places would cost in the region of £240 million at current price levels.

Clearly expenditure of this order is not feasible in present circumstances and thus there is is an onus on us all to face the alternatives of a restriction in numbers entering third level education or a means of achieving an increase in the use of existing facilities. This is the stark choice and one which must be faced up to. It is not a matter for me alone to decide. This is why it is particularly important that the debate be conducted on a wide plane. It must also be emphasised that we must be just as concerned about the qualitative aspects of education as about the quantitative.

Our situation of having such a young population makes us unique in Europe. We must not think of this situation as a problem although the financial implications pose difficulties. We should welcome the promise that it offers for the future and do all in our power to make our education system successful and relevant.

I have already mentioned two of the fundamental principles which underpin the programme for action. I would now like briefly to refer to a third. The programme states:

Responsibility and authority should be delegated as far as feasible, subject to necessary controls, with a view to achieving a full partnership between all the interests involved.

This principle is important because of its emphasis on partnership. In education we must always work to achieve consensus and the maximum degree of collaboration between the various agencies. There can be no place for a narrow protectionism of vested or sectional interests. There is a complex history of different school structures which have grown up over the years. In this lies one of the great virtues of our system — the richness of diversity.

The programme seeks to foster the harmonious and complementary development of the various school systems. This was emphasised by Senator Howlin. The aim is to draw on the best of experience from each. We do not aim to make all our schools the same any more than we want our children all to be the same. However, we must nurture trust and collaboration.

It is particularly important to give parents a full part in the formulation of policy. We must pay more than lip service to the constitutional guarantees of the primacy of the parents' role in the education of their children. There need be no conflict between the professional role of the teacher and the special role of the parent. They must combine for the ultimate benefit of the children. The proposal to facilitate the establishment of a parents' council is significant in that it aims to give a forum through which the voice of parents may be heard. Although there are some parent organisations already in existence, they each represent only a minority of parents. I am anxious that the new council to be established will represent parents as a whole.

The principle of delegated authority must go wider than just to give a greater role to parents, important as that is. A study will be undertaken of the extent to which decision-making can be delegated to the lowest institutional level at which it can be exercised effectively. Such delegation must of course be counterbalanced by appropriate procedures to ensure accountability.

Anyone concerned to improve the equality of education must look to the question of the professional development of teachers. This can be achieved in various ways. Principally, there is the very important matter of pre-service and in-service training. I consider that in the past there has been insufficient attention given to these aspects in educational policy making. However, any successful curriculum development or progressive change in schools will depend in large measure on the extent and quality of in-service training. In 1984, despite the major constraints on expenditure it has been possible to increase spending on in-service education by more than 100 per cent.

It is also recognised that practising teachers will benefit professionally from sharing more fully in the responsibilities of school management. To this end, the programme proposes a review of the system of posts of responsibility in schools. It also proposes that teacher representation be included on boards of management of comprehensive schools and in the membership of vocational education committees.

Another important dimension of enhancing the professional standing of teachers is seen in the establishment of the Curriculum and Examinations Board. One of the major aims in setting up the board is to allow a greater flexibility to teachers and schools in determining curricula which will be relevant to the needs of children. Teachers feature prominently in the board's membership and in the membership of the various committees which the board have set up.

I cannot accept Senator Mullooly's comments regarding the membership of the three sub-committees which the board have so far established. While the choice of members is a matter for the board, I am satisfied that they fully recognise the importance of having teachers prominently involved in their work.

An important debate was conducted in this House in November 1981 when Deputy John Boland, then Minister for Education, made a major speech suggesting the establishment of such a board. The dream became a reality in January last when 19 members of the board held their first meeting. The board have now embarked vigorously and enthusiastically on their work and are undertaking a major review of curricula and assessment systems. It spans both primary and post-primary education.

I was pleased to see such a wide degree of interest expressed in what the board are doing. Senator Burke and Senator Higgins in particular have addressed the subject in detail. Although Senator Mullooly and Senator Fallon have expressed anxieties about aspects of the board's operation I am glad that they, too, welcome their establishment in principle.

The members of the board have been appointed in their personal capacity and were selected on the basis of representation of a broad range of educational interests and expertise.

I have just announced a list of what are to be known as "designated bodies" who will work in close association with the board. Such bodies will be in a position to make a valuable input into the board's work. They will have a right of access to the board and will be consulted by the board on all major proposals which are being considered.

The recommendations which come from the board will of course be subject to the approval of the Minister for Education. However, it is intended that the board will have the greatest possible degree of operational freedom and be subject only to the ultimate authority of the Minister and Oireachtas. The Department of Education are represented on the board by two "advisers", who participate fully in the work of the board but do not have voting rights. The aim is to ensure that there is good communication between the board and my Department.

The intention is that the board, now established on an interim basis, will be set up statutorily in approximately two years time. Following that time the statutory board will assume responsibility for the operation of the State examinations at present conducted by the Department of Education's examinations branch. I can assure Senator Fallon that the staff of the examinations branch in Athlone need have no anxieties about their future working with the board and that they will be fully consulted about all developments.

In establishing the board one of the major aims in the long-term is to free the inspectorate from having to spend such a large proportion of their time on examination work. In this way inspectors will be enabled to spend more time in schools, acting as advisers to teachers and monitors of standards generally. They will also be able to provide information for the Curriculum and Examinations Board about what is actually going on at school level and in relation to the evaluation of curricular projects.

One important aspect of the Curriculum and Examinations Board's work is that the board will work in close association with other agencies such as curriculum development centres, the educational research centre at St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, the university departments of education and the colleges of education. The aim is to complement the work of these agencies and not to duplicate it. In this way the board can play an important co-ordinating role in education.

The Curriculum and Examinations Board have been given terms of reference which assign to them tasks of fundamental significance. In particular they have been asked to devise a new unified assessment system for the junior cycle to replace the present group and intermediate certificate examinations. They have been asked also to examine the role of the leaving certificate as a measure of general education with a view to broadening the range of skills and qualities measured. In this latter connection they will also consider the desirability and feasibility of introducing a national matriculation examination separate from the leaving certificate, to be used as the principal selection instrument for entry to third level degree courses.

A further part of the board's brief is to formulate proposals for alternative senior-cycle programmes, including programmes geared to preparation for work and those incorporating work experience and/or work simulation.

It can be seen from these assignments that the board have a serious, urgent and major job to do of a very fundamental nature. Over the years there has been much background work carried out relating to new curricula, and major reports have appeared on the need for reform in assessment procedures. The board can now draw on this wealth of experience and ideas.

I can assure Senator Burke, Senator Howlin and Senator Higgins that the points they made concerning the limitations of existing examination systems will be very much to the fore in the board's deliberations. The board will also consider the experience that can be drawn from programmes such as the transition year to which Senator Burke referred and, indeed, other Senators, including Senator O'Brien.

In considering their major tasks the board have been asked to take special account of several important issues, and I would like to refer briefly to some of them. Perhaps the overriding one is the need to ensure that school curricula make adequate provision for the personal development of the individual student. I fully agree with what Senator Higgins had to say about this. Whatever other goals we set ourselves, we must never lose sight of this one. We must tap all the talents and draw out hidden strengths and gifts. Any educational system which seeks to achieve mere conformity among its students will fail most seriously to meet the terms of these criteria.

Another important issue, as recognised by Senator Mullooly, is the need to achieve curricular continuity and harmony between the first and second levels. There can be major problems here. The full potential of the primary curriculum cannot be realised if it does not dovetail neatly with the work of the early years in the post-primary school. The board, whose membership includes representatives of both the primary and post-primary sectors, is in a good position to look at this problem and to take account of the findings of a special committee which examined this matter a few years ago.

A further item urges the board to consider:

...the importance of combining the transmission of received values with the development of a capacity for critical thought on the part of students and within this context, the importance for young people of acquiring a critical understanding of the political, social and economic system.

We want our young people to understand and be able to play a full part in the democratic processes of this country. They should see democracy at work in schools and, in the course of their schooling, be made fully aware of the political and social institutions which will play such an important part in their lives.

Then there is the question of sexism and sex-stereotyping in education and the steps which need to be taken to eliminate this. The board have been particularly asked to take account of the findings of the Hannon Report and of the recommendations of the Employment Equality Agency in this regard. This was referred to by Senator Higgins.

Finally, there is the need to ensure that through the school curriculum the highest educational standards and the pursuit of excellence are encouraged. Contrary to what is sometimes feared, curriculum development should not lower but rather raise standards generally. The value of study and learning in their own right is even more important today than ever before and must feature prominently in any curricular proposals.

The board's assignment offers to the whole educational system an opportunity to take major steps forward in educational progress. I believe that, if the job is properly and thoroughly done, the outcome will be greatly to the advantage of our young people. There is a widespread feeling abroad that for too many of our children the courses today are no longer relevant and need substantial revision.

This is not to discard or ignore the traditions and successes of the past. Here again we must retain all that is best from those traditions, but we must recognise that life in Ireland has changed dramatically over the last two decades and that our education system must reflect this. We are glad that education is highly valued and sought after by increasing numbers of young people. We must respond to this challenge and ensure that our system, our structures and our programmes are truly appropriate to the needs of Ireland in the eighties and also to the subsequent decade which will bring us up to the threshold of the 21st century.

It is vital, therefore, that we review our educational system with these needs in mind, recognising that the decisions we make now must not only meet today's needs but anticipate those of tomorrow and beyond. I believe that with our Curriculum and Examinations Board in place and with our Action Programme setting out our priorities for progress, we are extremely well placed to meet these challenges. While I hold this office as Minister for Education I have a particular role to play. The success of these ventures depends, however, in large measure on the extent to which others respond to what is now being done. I am confident that, with the extensive range of talent available, Irish education and all our children will surely benefit from the initiatives which we have taken and will continue to take.

None of the Independents has spoken. Would Senator Loughrey consider giving a few minutes to Senator Ryan?


I will take less than five minutes. I will leave out a number of matters I was going to mention. On the major references to the elimination of sexism in the Minister's programme, there is a need — and I do not know how you can do it within the employment equality legislation — to preserve some sort of balance of the sexes among the teachers in the primary schools sector, in that we are liable to shift from an overwhelmingly male national school system to an overwhelmingly female one. In the whole emphasis on sexism there is a considerable need to look at the manner of teaching in boys' secondary schools, the values inculcated in male secondary schools, and how they inculate a sexist approach which is nearly as objectionable as many of the categorisations of women which are usually referred to when people talk about sexism in education. I suggest to the Minister that, when we are talking, quite rightly, about eliminating sexism from educational work, we should look at this problem not just from the point of view of women but also from the point of view of the pretty painful sex stereotypes given to men.

I am glad the Minister made so much reference to under-privileged children in the document. While she has given a commitment, we are entitled to withhold our final approval until we see the scale of that commitment over a period of years. It would be wrong of me to be critical at this stage. There is a commitment there which was not there before, and I welcome it.

In regard to primary education in particular, there will have to be more than just resources. The whole fundamental question of the sort of curriculum used in primary schools where there is a high concentration of young people will have to be looked at in very pragmatic and practical terms. We are talking about trying to give children, who will otherwise leave the system functionally illiterate, basic literacy and basic skills which are relevant to the society in which they will grow up.

This may sound almost pessimistic on my part, but we have to consider where these children live, what they go through, the sort of social environment they come from, and the social background they come from, and devise a curriculum in which the text-books relate to the environment they come from and does not relate to the average middle class home where daddy goes out to work in his car and probably, as most text-books suggest works in an office, or else works on a farm. We should talk about it in terms of their cultural environment. Otherwise the whole educational process will be irrelevant. This is very important — not just resources, but also a whole re-assessment of the fact that there is more than one culture existing in this country. That would make an enormous difference.

On special education I should like to draw one thing to the Minister's attention. I heard some suggestions that a number of vocational schools which deal in particular with travellers have an extremely high proportion of part-time teachers. I am sure the Minister will agree with me that this is not satisfactory and is not the way to develop a proper philosophy or commitment in those areas.

I have a caveat about computers. We are liable to tie ourselves up in knots in our intention to get ourselves tangled up in computers and computing. Therefore, I should like to warn about that.

On the area of third level education, I have a number of things to say. In terms of working out who benefits from third level education, we must not forget that in large areas of third level education major manufacturing concerns are the ultimate beneficiaries. If they employ somebody and pay him £15,000 it is extremely likely that somebody else is making twice that. If we are talking about making those who benefit from third level education pay, we should look a little further than the individual who is benefiting from it.

Finally, speaking as a member of the board of management of a regional technical college, there is a lot to be said for many of the proposals for making use of equipment and facilities more efficiently. The Minister should look at some of the accounting procedures of her Department which positively discourage any form of initiative, say, on the part of my own board in Cork, to use their facilities commercially, because any income that we derive from such use of facilities would be subtracted from the following year's grant. We would be no better off and, therefore, the incentive is, in fact, to do nothing. There should be an incentive to all decentralised agencies in education to use the equipment they have to the maximum possible efficiency. That should represent not just a standing still but an increase in our ability to do things financially without having whatever extra revenue we generate deducted from the grant. That is the sort of decentralisation we need where we would have the flexibility to use our facilities. Thank you, Senator Loughrey.

First I should like to thank Senator Burke for allowing me some of his time as one of the two movers of the motion. On his behalf I should like to thank the Senators who contributed to the debate. Again on his behalf and on my own behalf I should like to thank the Minister and her Department for producing the document and to congratulate her on her critical analysis of her own document.

I welcome the programme, I believe it is excellent. The review of curricula and reform of the examination system are especially to be commended. As a former teacher I believe that the curriculum does not always lend itself towards the betterment of all our pupils. For many of the lower achievers the largely academic curriculum is irrelevant and gives them little preparation for the world around them. Years can be spent preparing for examinations which are beyond attainment for many and the frustration of constant failure must be damaging. We must reform the curricula with imagination and flexibility, allowing for regional differences and interests, and ensuring that the less able are catered for as well as the gifted.

In the reform of the examination system continuous assessment and project works should be carefully considered. In languages an even greater emphasis should be placed on oral work. An alternative terminal examination should be provided for those not wishing or able to proceed to third level. Heading for a terminal examination that will be of no use to them after spending five years in secondary education is damaging to young people. It is damaging in the sense that it is a non-achievement at the end of the five years and it is no preparation for what they are heading for.

As a former national teacher I think the curriculum and the examinations deserve more examination. I was trained in 1965-67 and some time later we were told about the introduction of the new curriculum. We did some in-service training — I may add at no expense to the State despite the fact that salaries were quite low at the time. We never really got down to thinking about what the new curriculum involved with regard to secondary education. I believe the new curriculum as an end in itself was preparing children for life, but was not preparing them for secondary education. We, as primary teachers, were using it as a continuing assessment. It was my experience in the area in which I taught, and in the secondary schools in that catchment area, that the teachers and the principals of those schools were deliberately not using the assessment from the primary schools in their schools. I believe, therefore, that from the point of view that they were preparing children for third level education, they would have preferred us to prepare children for second level education which in turn would prepare them for third level education. I do not believe that was to the benefit of the majority or, indeed, many of the children in the area in which I taught.

I welcome the proposal to discriminate positively in favour of the disadvantaged pupil. To attain any semblance of equality or of a just society, we must discriminate in this way. Any economies made here are false economies and will prove expensive to the State at a later date. Better facilities must be provided for special education. Children with learning difficulties must be identified as early as possible and remedial education provided. If basic literacy and numeracy skills are not acquired at primary level they will never be acquired. I note that the director of CERT said recently that a large proportion of applicants for CERT courses after the leaving certificate lack these basic skills. Many teachers, particularly at post-primary level and, indeed, in the senior strata of primary level, are not equipped to deal with literacy and numeracy problems. In-service training is needed, or the appointment of extra remedial teachers. A guidance and counselling service on a much more comprehensive basis should be provided. Many of today's social problems are reflected in the student body and trained personnel must be available to offer help. The psychological service of the Department should be extended, and I urge the Minister to be as generous as possible in this regard.

I welcome the decision to give special attention to primary education and to post-primary education up to the age of 15 years. This is the period of compulsory education for all and a period when good or bad foundations are laid. As resources become available, the pupil-teacher ratio must be improved, and I realise that funds are scarce at the moment. I believe that if this ratio is not improved and if the overall performance of our children leaving school is not improved as a result, the resultant cost to the State will be much more than the cost of reducing the ratio. There is need for greater liaison and consultation between primary and post-primary schools to facilitate the transfer of pupils from a child centred curriculum to a subject centred one.

I welcome the decision to develop the health education programme. It is necessary to devise a programme for all schools and at all levels, this programme to include training in hygiene, health hazards, road safety, drugs, relationships, sex education, and so on, and at senior cycle level training in citizenship, political awareness and our democratic institutions. At the moment there is a lack of understanding of and, therefore, sympathy for our political institutions. Teachers should be given special training for such courses. Such a programme, and I am proud of it, is already being offered in most post-primary schools in Donegal in association with the North Western Health Board. Class teachers who have volunteered for the course have had in-service training, and parents and school principals have been consulted. In some respects this is a difficult and sensitive area. It must be approached with caution but, in view of the many developments in our society, it must be approached with urgency also.

I note the reference to consultation with parents. Again as a former teacher and as a former secretary of a branch of the INTO, I welcome it. It must not be mere lip service to parents. One of the most regrettable trends in recent years has been the lack of communication between schools and parents. It is to be hoped that union policy in this area will soon be changed for the better. Union policy was always reasonably good but there was a fear, sometimes genuine, sometimes not, on the part of teachers — and this was shown through the unions — of parents over-interfering in education. The Constitution, as we know, makes reference to the special role of parents. With more consultation and understanding, parents will understand that their role is a big one but that, while the parent is the prime educator, the teacher is the trained educator. With the Minister's programme for action there may be a better understanding between parents and teachers that it will be for the betterment of the child if parents and teachers act together.

I welcome the decision to introduce more PE in schools and to put an emphasis on sport. In a two-teacher school in Donegal a school inspector — and that name is inappropriate — made reference to the programme I had prepared for that week or that month in which I had made no reference to physical education. He used an Irish term which I cannot recall at the moment. All I could reply in Irish was, "Ní fheiceann tú clós salach ach oiread." There was no mention in his notes of not only a dirty but a filthy yard. The Minister and her Department should ensure that proper training areas and training facilities are made available at all schools.

I welcome the provision in the budget this year of some moneys for the smaller disadvantaged schools, the two and three-teacher schools. Having welcomed that decision, I would ask the Minister and the Department to ensure that where bigger schools are being built and in particular where amalgamation is taking place, emphasis be placed on the provision of playing areas.

The decision to introduce religious studies as an optional subject for the leaving certificate is to be welcomed. This has been under discussion for far too long. In a Christian country, why should religion not be given the status of the other subjects? Like other subjects, it should be optional and it should in no way replace catechetics. If an amendment to the Intermediate Education Act is needed, then amend it.

I welcome the extension of the pre-employment course to secondary schools. These courses should be available in all post-primary schools that have open enrolment. Otherwise parents who exercise the right to choose, perhaps choosing a Catholic secondary school in preference to a vocational school, find that their children are disadvantaged in the area of job training. We hear a lot about the co-operation between vocational schools and secondary schools but I do not believe that this takes place at the level at which it should take place. Vocational schools in medium-sized or small towns are playing second fiddle to the secondary schools. Whether this is intentional, I cannot say, but the courses that are available in mechanics and woodwork are available, if necessary, to the secondary schools from the vocational schools. I am not so sure that the reverse applies also.

Regarding smaller towns that might be harbouring two to three not very big schools, if the catchment area would not result in too big a school then I think there is merit in what the Christian Brothers are doing in our area — I do not know the name of the town but the schools in it are amalgamating totally. Although there is a cost factor involved, this means that there is a general availability of all subjects to all pupils without the resultant loss of other subjects.

I welcome the decision regarding the extension of in-service courses for teachers. This is vital in a rapidly changing world with complex demands and in which once-off training is totally inadequate. There have been indications from some areas already that where in-service training is urgently required is in respect of remedial teaching, health education, computer training and use of new technology. As such teachers have frequently to act as clinical psychologists and social workers some training might be given in these areas.

Opportunities for adult education are to be extended. I welcome this. Adult education works towards the attainment of basic skills, towards the enrichment of the person and towards the availability of more leisure time. With increased demand for adult courses more use can be made of school buildings and facilities to serve the community in this area. Courses for parents could be organised in liaison with the schools. I would welcome further use, not only of school buildings but all buildings of a public nature. Our buildings are totally under-utilised. I would make reference to a town like Milford. It has a primary school, a vocational school and a secondary school. Rooms in those schools are closed from the end of school time until the following morning. Yet the town has been crying out for the past seven years for a library. More utilisation of the buildings would lead to the betterment of the community.

Much lip service is paid to the ideal of preserving our language, our heritage and our culture, but little is done about this at a practical level. Our education system has failed us miserably. I recall at Saint Patrick's Training College in 1967 where the person teaching me to be a teacher came in to view my teaching a lesson in geography. The lesson was on the mountains of Ireland. My preparation was not quite as good as his preparation. I needed an excuse and I thought of one quickly. I pointed out that the teacher in whose class I was giving my sample lesson was teaching geography through Irish. Then I heard the most serious thing that was ever said about Irish in my presence when the teacher who was my teacher said: "That teacher is not teaching geography through Irish, he is attempting to teach Irish through geography". I learned a lesson from that.

I can remember my own experience in St. Eunan's College, a very fine school. Its catchment area had both Gaeltacht and Galltacht. I came from a non-Gaeltacht area and I can remember how difficult it was for me as a person whose parents had sent me, deliberately and specifically, at the age of nine to a Gaeltacht to learn some more Irish than I might otherwise have learned in a Galltacht school. At St. Eunan's I found it almost insufferable to have to try to learn Latin or Greek, history or geography through the medium of Irish because I was not competent in Irish. There was a 10 per cent advantage at the time in doing subjects through the medium of Irish but these other subjects suffered and Irish did not benefit.

I must ask the Senator to conclude. He is well over his time.

Once again I thank the Minister and the Department for producing the document. I welcome it very much and I hope she will remain in her office to see the contents of the programme come to fruition.

Question put and agreed to.