That Seanad Éireann–
- recognises the role of history in promoting civil engagement and an understanding of the present through a knowledge of events in the past;
- recognises that public engagement and awareness of history has been enhanced following the centenary of the 1916 Rising which saw thousands of commemorative events take place all over the country;
- acknowledges the Government’s commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to nurture different ambitions through new subject choices, greater engagement with enterprise on future skills needs, and increased flexibility in the day to day management of schools in order to improve outcomes;
- recognises historical study as an important component in the education of students;
- recognises that reform and modernisation of junior cycle history is needed in order to align it coherently with the revised leaving certificate history syllabus;
- notes the convening, since early 2016, by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment of the History Development Group which will establish the new curriculum specification for junior cycle history and, in particular, notes its Background Paper and Brief for the Review of Junior Cycle History, September 2016;
- notes that all schools offer opportunities for historical study to all students;
- notes that students studying history as a subject in the new junior cycle specification will do so for a minimum of two hours per week which is in most cases as good as or better than what is currently provided in terms of class contact time;
- calls on the Minister for Education and Skills to consider further ways to support and promote the learning objectives of the new junior cycle history in order to inform students of their local, national and international heritage and assist in understanding the importance of the relationship between past and present; and
- calls on the Minister for Education and Skills to outline the implications for junior cycle history in the context of the junior cycle reforms and the establishment of the History Development Group by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, who is taking this important Private Members' motion. The backdrop to tabling it is the uncertainty over the teaching of history in the junior certificate cycle. Members of the House recognise the importance of history because we are elected to represent the citizens of the country. Each and every one of us, from all parties and none, is elected because we feel a sense of duty to our constituents, the citizens of the country, Ireland and those who created the Ireland we are fortunate to have inherited. We have a sense of our duty to pass on a better Ireland to the next generation. Most politicians I know have a deep sense of the historical traditions of this House, the country, the people and the world which I want to see passed on to the next generation. I want to see many young people aspiring to be politicians and serve in this House for the right reasons. I want them to be equipped with the facts and the knowledge of who we are, where we came from, what our place in the world is, what the world has stood for in the past and where it has evolved and overcome challenges. I want to see future generations understand that sense of nation, duty and civic responsibility.
I was fortunate to have a good history teacher at second level who instilled in me a deep sense of history and wanting to learn and understand more about it and, although I did not study history at college, I maintained an interest in it. Given the motion, it is fitting to pay tribute to Professor Ronan Fanning who was professor of history at UCD and acknowledge his great work. He inspired a love and understanding of history and an interest in it in generations of students and has left an indelible legacy. It is appropriate that the House pay tribute to this great historian on his passing.
There is another reason for my tabling the motion. We had a successful commemoration in 2016. However, it lacked in one way - the promotion and development of the teaching of history as a subject in secondary schools. However, parents and teachers still have an interest in persuading young people to study history and young people have an interest in pursuing it. The figures speak for themselves. In 2006 fewer students studied history at junior certificate level than there were studying it in 2016 and fewer students took history at higher level in the leaving certificate than were taking it in 2016. In real terms, the number of students taking history as a subject in second level education has increased. However - I am sorry to say it - there is a culture in the Department of Education and Skills that promotes ICT, science and mathematics, all of which are extremely important subjects for the country's development and competitiveness, over history. I fear that the Minister's officials and some of his predecessors were not as favourably disposed to the teaching of history as they should have been, but they had and have a duty to do everything in their power to ensure history will stand shoulder to shoulder with every other subject on the second level curriculum. It is not a poor relation. It is not a by-subject and should not be part of an overall course. It should be a stand-alone course.
I have to acknowledge that A Programme for a Partnership Government is very much a programme that wants to foster the development of education and all that is good about it. I note that there is a working group under the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, that is devising the new junior certificate curriculum, but I want to put that working group on notice that nothing less than full recognition, full autonomy and shoulder to shoulder positioning of history at second level will be acceptable to me, many citizens and certainly the people who are teaching history. How do we expect young people to engage and participate in our society unless they know their past? Are we going to have a situation in the future where large sections of the adult population will not have an understanding of what happened in Nazi Germany, during the Great Famine, in 1916, the Land League and people like James Connolly, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins and all of the others who played such an important role in the early stages of our democracy? Are we, as a nation, going to allow the understanding of our history to be diminished in favour of science, technology, computers, mathematics and foreign languages? I do not think we should allow that to happen.
This House has a great history. Many historical figures and academics who contributed to our society have been Members during the years. A clear message needs to go out from this House to the Government and the officials in the Department of Education and Skills that history should and must have its place as an equal with every other subject, both at junior certificate and leaving certificate level. We owe that to future generations because one will not be able to equip oneself for the future unless one has a knowledge of the past.
We have had great people who have played amazing roles in our history. Young people need to have an understanding of the sacrifices and contributions these people made. In the big bad world of Facebook, Twitter, computers and the Internet and taking account all of the wonderful advancements that have happened to counteract that big bad world, we cannot forget from where we came, our history and sense of nationhood. How are young people to become civically engaged and politically active? How are they to understand the importance and the fragility of democracy? How are they to understand any of this, unless they have an understanding of how democracy was formed and the absolute sacrifices people had to make in this country in the early part of our democracy post-1916, during the economic war and the economic devastation of the 1930s and 1940s? What about our social history? What about the history of Europe? Are we to entertain a situation where only a minority of young people will have an understanding of it? I hope not. I sincerely hope we are not such a nation.
Every nation is proud of its history and culture. There are elements of our history and culture of which we are not proud. We need to understand this. Young people also need to understand it. The message that needs to go out from Seanad Éireann is that history has to have an equal place, equal funding and equal support from the Department of Education and Skills, not just today and tomorrow but into the future. This debate should not be necessary. I should not have to make the case for why history should be an equal partner with other subjects. It is regrettable that in embracing all that is good about technologies and other subjects we seem to have forgotten about something very important.
I will finish my opening remarks by commending all of the history teachers who have engaged and supported me in this battle, in which I have been engaged for the past four or five years in this House. I have spoken about it on numerous occasions. I did not succeed in getting the learning and teaching of history the recognition for which I had hoped in 2016 during the commemorations. I regret that, but I will not give up the battle. I will continue to fight the good fight for the learning of history because we owe it to young people, those who come after us and after them. I hope that in 2017 I will have more success in my campaign. I commend one particular teacher who e-mailed me late last night and simply said to keep up the good fight because young people will not have a society, civic engagement and an understanding of democracy, unless they understand what happened in the past. There is nothing as wonderful as a love of history.
I commend the motion to the House and sincerely hope it will receive unanimous support.