Junior Cycle Reform: Motion

I move:

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.

I second the motion in the name of Senator Martin Conway and support the sentiments expressed in it. As a former teacher of history at both junior certificate and leaving certificate level for many years, I am very much behind the motion. It would be ironic in 2017, after the very dignified and respectful commemorations in 2016 and of the First World War, if we were to see any dilution or reduction of the priority given to history in schools and the education system. All of the ceremonies that took place were better understood by people of our generation and others who had history on the school curriculum as a central, core subject. It reminded them of the history they had learned in school and it brought back some wonderful memories, while others were sad. Everyone involved needs to be congratulated on the respectful way the events were held last year. There was a fear in advance that it would open old sores, but that did not happen. The events of the last couple of years will ignite and raise the interest of young people. We all know that nowadays it is very hard to gain their interest, but the recent events, ceremonies and commemorations will certainly raise the profile of the need to understand our history. We need to have a knowledge of our past in order to know how to shape of and guide our future.

Some of the best teachers I remember from my days as a student were history teachers. In St. Patrick's College, Maynooth Professor Tomás Ó Fiaich who later became a cardinal and Primate of all Ireland used to come in day after day and paint wonderful pictures which brought events to life for us. That was before there were PowerPoint presentations or anything else. It left an indelible mark and gave me and my fellow students a love of history.

I very much support the idea behind the motion to prioritise it on the new curriculum that has to be introduced. However, history should not be lost as a core subject in the education system.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo inniu.

Fianna Fáil supports the need to maintain history as a core subject in the junior certificate reforms. Let us hope it will continue to be essential to the three year curriculum and that it will be taken by as many children as possible. The small percentage of students - I understand it is between 5% and 8% - who do not take history should be encouraged to undertake some short history course, be it on local history or whatever esle, in order to acquire an understanding of our national heritage which is of the utmost importance, as is the need for it to be passed on to future generations.

Fianna Fáil's education policy, Securing the Future, outlines our commitment to protecting history as a core subject. History should be mandatory in schools at junior cycle and any downgrading of it would be an alarming move. Ensuring it will continue to be a core subject and that it will become a compulsory subject at junior certificate level in schools is essential to sharpen children's critical and analytic mindsets. Our knowledge of history allows us to understand past events, enables us to understand our identity and gives us the knowledge to deal with problems and crises in society as they arise.

Fianna Fáil does not believe it is appropriate that any political party should make a submission on the content of the history curriculum. We believe it should be kept non-political. However, a strong national policy on the teaching of history at junior certificate level is essential. Overall, Fianna Fáil promoted the need to reform and initiated a junior cycle reform process while it was in government. These reforms should be aimed at improving the learning experience of second level students.

It is clear from the rejection by the ASTI of proposed reforms to the junior cycle assessment process and curriculum that teachers had little faith in the then Minister for Education and Skills as a custodian of the education system. However, it is essential that the ASTI come back to the table to work towards an agreement and solution that is acceptable to both sides. There is an onus on all stakeholders to come to an agreement on junior certificate reform as soon as possible to ensure parents and students who are under enough pressure already in the pre-examination phase will not be subject to any further unnecessary stress. If the union's opposition to the reformed junior cycle continues, students in ASTI schools will miss out on potentially 10% of their final English marks next year. As Members will be aware, this refers to an assessment task that students are expected to complete before the written examinations. I am sure everybody agrees that this is totally unacceptable. Instead of postponing the commencement of the new English curriculum while negotiations continued, the then Minister pushed ahead with the new junior cycle reforms in the absence of any such agreement. It was at this point the teacher unions began balloting on strike action. I am sure all Members will agree that it is very regretful that we are in this position. I plead with the Minister not to continue to dismiss the teachers' concerns by ploughing on with reforms in the absence of consensus. If we have learned anything from our short past, it is that without consensus we are going nowhere. We should listen to the teachers and their representatives and if any necessary delay needs to occur, so be it. It is important that we bring everybody with us.

It appears that in its attempt at reform the previous Government sought to implement the new junior cycle programme on a shoestring budget. There are real concerns that the changes will not be properly resourced. On that basis alone, the Ministers should re-engage with teachers and their representatives. Teachers have raised the issue of inadequate training which they are to receive on the new assessment system. With the reforms, the Minister is attempting to put the cart before the horse. He needs to put adequate resources in place prior to undertaking such wide-ranging reform of the curriculum and systems of assessment at junior cycle.

I reiterate our total support for keeping history as a core subject and that any attempt to downgrade it will not be accepted. A strong national policy on the teaching of history at junior cycle is essential. I appeal to the Minister while he is in the House. Much of my criticism is not directed at him as he is only new in the post. However, I ask him to grasp the nettle and perhaps delay things until such a time as we get everybody singing from the same hymn sheet. We could then implement true reform with everybody fully supportive of it.

I welcome the Minister.

I congratulate my colleague, Senator Martin Conway, on introducing the motion. We should think back to the celebrations we had in 2016 to commemorate the events of 1916. The many organisations that organised events both for our young and not so young have been outstanding. It has been a way of highlighting our history. It is something that is very much to the forefront as we are not finished with our celebrations.

Looking at our history, the city charter for Limerick, where I am from, is older than the charter for the city of London. As a small country Ireland has so much history we can discuss. Tourists travel here from around the globe to see what we have on offer. They have come to look at the General Post Office, visit ancient structures and castles and take walking tours. The country has much to contribute. When I went to school, I studied history up to the leaving certificate. It is a subject that is very close to my heart.

A history competition under the aegis of the Department of Education and Skills is encouraging individuals or groups from both primary and secondary schools to participate. It is an all-Ireland competition and covers topics such as the revolutionary period, including the role of women, and Ireland's role in the First World War. This is to be commended. The more of these projects and competitions we can encourage students to get involved in will help to instil a love of history in them. We should look at doing more of this in the future.

We cannot let the celebration of the events of 1916 dissipate. They must be built on. We created a legacy in the past 12 months. There was cross-party and cross-county support for the celebrations. That is be welcomed, acknowledged and taken into account in the future development of history as a subject. History is one of the subjects being looked at in the junior cycle reform programme. As a subject, it provides students with a necessary introduction to analysing historical events and equips them with the knowledge of the work of the historian, how to identify sources and recognise bias. Students learn about ancient civilisations, the Renaissance, family lifestyles in the past and the plantation of Northern Ireland. These are just a few of the topics on the history syllabus.

Senator Martin Conway has pointed out that the number of students taking history increased in the period from 2006 to 2016. I am not sure if the celebration of the events of 1916 played a role in that regard. History is not a compulsory subject, but interest in it is fed by the many historical associations which operate outside the education system. They run lectures and so on in the universities, education institutes and public libraries. There should be greater encouragement of such events. For example, engaging with students by bringing them to libraries to attend history lectures would help.

I support the motion put forward by my colleague, Senator Mrtin Conway. I call on the Minister to consider additional ways of supporting the promotion of the subject of history, encourage successful learning objectives and outline the approach of the history development group.

I welcome the Minister. I compliment my colleague, Senator Martin Conway, on tabling the motion which has our support. It is a very important message. I thought the Senator was particularly articulate and passionate in how he spoke about history and suspect these thoughts are shared across the Chamber. I certainly hope so.

This is an important topic. I grew up in England and was educated through part-secondary level education. I was always baffled because in England we were never taught about Ireland. It was never mentioned. It always stuck with me that people were not taught history. For me, it must be a core subject. It is extremely important in building a nation of people, as opposed to a nation of automatons.

I express a concern respectfully to the Minister that in his haste to ensure the needs of industry are being served, I hope we can get an assurance that he is not going to downgrade history in any way. I would hate to see a situation where the needs of children were being subordinated to the needs of any particular section of industry. That is not to suggest technical skills are not important. Of course, they are, but broader education has served the country well. If we lose this in the process of the changes to which the Minister is working towards, it would be a tragedy for children and the country.

Senator Martin Conway has our support, but I am trying to be constructive when I say I would have liked the motion to have been a little stronger because we should be asking the Minister to commit clearly to retaining history as a core subject. I liked the phrase used by the Senator in mentioning equal place, equal funding and equal support. He said history should not be lost as a core subject. Again, as my colleague, Senator Maria Byrne, said, it is not actually a mandatory subject. My view and that of my party is that it should be. I hope the Minister will take a cross-party message of support for the motion and take that message on board. It would be a tragedy for the education system if that did not happen. Senator Martin Conway is right when he says there is a huge concern among the teaching profession about any further attempt to downgrade history as it stands.

Sinn Féin's view is that history is a very important subject and that in the new junior cycle any attempt to downgrade it would be a mistake. Our view is that the history syllabus should be updated to include events in Ireland's recent history. We would like to see students given a much more balanced education on what has happened in the North, for example, with civil rights marches, internment without trial, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and much more. Furthermore, the times we are in, with so many spurious media outlets providing alternative and false information, the so-called alternative facts, mean that history is all the more an invaluable subject. History students are asked to engage in critical analysis of historical documents, which is an excellent way in which young students build up their ability to critique news and information.

We also agree that it is very important that history be studied from a variety of perspectives. Take, for example, Ireland's involvement in the Spanish Civil War. There is never just one account of history. This should be reflected in how the syllabus is constructed and students consume and evaluate what they are studying. We fully support the motion and I hope the Minister will take these sentiments on board.

Clearly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the current issues involving the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI. I appeal to the Minister to take a fresh approach. On any objective view of the last year one would have to conclude that the Government did not have any real strength in how it dealt with industrial relations matters. To be honest, between the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, the Government has had a nightmare in union relations in the past year. As my colleague in Fianna Fail pointed out, it is students who will suffer. I ask the Minister to take a fresh approach and call in the ASTI. I think ordinary people can understand its concerns, particularly on the issue of the direct marking of papers. A lot of people understand why that is a core concern. I hope the Minister is not sleepwalking into another dispute. Perhaps he might be kind enough to give us some concrete actions which will be taken to ensure further industrial strife is avoided.

To return to the core principle, I commend Senator Martin Conway. It is a worthy motion. We must continually remind ourselves and the Minister that history is far too important to be relegated in any way in the coming reforms.

I very much welcome the motion which is very timely. As somebody who spent his time in school learning all aspects of history, a minimum of two hours per week should be a requirement. In most cases, this is the same or better than what is provided in terms of class time. I agree that we need to look at the way history is taught. When I was at school, we understood our history. I came from a very strong republican background. My grandfather, James Feighan, was a commander in north Roscommon, interned and a Sinn Féin councillor. I remember reading one aspect of our history, an aspect of which we were very proud.

In 1982 I travelled around Europe on a double decker bus with ten New Zealanders and ten Australians. We travelled through many countries, including Turkey and to the town of Gallipoli. It was an occasion of reflection and remembrance for all of the Australians and New Zealanders on the bus. We were there for two or three days and for the people concerned, it was their 1916 Easter Rising. I was on the sidelines, but little did I know at the time that more Irishmen had died in Gallipoli than Australians and New Zealanders. That was a part of history that had been denied to me. In Ireland, across the Border, Nationalist and republican history was denied to Unionists. We talk about the 300,000, 400,000 or 500,000 people who signed the Ulster Covenant. I was not aware of this at school and did not agree with it. It is something of which I was not aware. I was either looking out the window and dreaming of playing for Liverpool, or it was not on my curriculum. It was not on the curriculum. Thankfully, we are in an age in which we are open to all aspects of history. Sometimes it is rewritten by the victors and sometimes people want to rewrite it. I think we have to be open to try to get a balanced story. There are always two sides to a story. There are grey areas. There are areas into which we do not want to go.

I think the Government did a great job last year in the commemoration of the events of 1916. It was balanced and open and I know from my meetings with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the Joint Committee on the Good Friday Agreement that people are very happy that, as a state, we had put a lot of thought into the commemoration. Fifty years ago the commemorations were much more subjective, which was unfortunate, but they were the times and that was the way it was. We should take great pride in the fact that we commemorated and celebrated. It was very appropriate.

I agree with Senator Paul Gavan that we must remember internment.

I remember a great day in 1985 when the Anglo-Irish Agreement, a forerunner of the Good Friday Agreement, was signed. It was a seismic change in that the Republic of Ireland had a say in Northern Ireland affairs. It was not like the Good Friday Agreement, but it was a forerunner of it, which we must respect. We look at the Sunningdale agreement and all aspects of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. There is always a counterargument to all of these things. They are part of our history which needs to be balanced, open and fair, as I appreciate. Those who forget their history forget everything.

I congratulate Senator Martin Conway on putting the motion together. Those of us on the Opposition benches are at a terrible disadvantage whenever the Senator says anything, promotes anything or drafts a motion because it is very difficult to debate with somebody with whom one tends to agree most of the time on the stances he takes, his opinions and the effort he makes. I commend him again for the effort he put into the motion. I also welcome the Minister.

When the debate on history in the junior certificate cycle kicked off a number of years ago, it was like alternative facts, as one-liners became instant conversations about the downgrading of history and it was said it would no longer be compulsory. As has been said by speakers across the House, it has never been officially compulsory. It is compulsory in approximately 50% of schools. I will throw out some statistics which might be of interest to those taking part in the debate. They were given to the education committee when the topic came up a number of years ago.

An official from the Department gave the following statistics. Approximately 54,000 students per year study junior certificate history and junior certificate geography, but when it comes to the leaving certificate, approximately 23,000 continue to study leaving certificate geography, whereas 13,002 study leaving certificate history. Approximately 20% of those who study junior certificate history will continue to study leaving certificate history. We can plough on and do things as we have always done them and pretend everything is wonderful, or we can try to change them. Clearly, if one feels passionately about history and its importance and not repeating the mistakes of history, one should aspire to having more students take history to leaving certificate level. From these basic statistics for the numbers of students taking the subject at leaving certificate level, we have a major problem. Why are students being turned off the subject? Why does it not inspire them? Why are other subjects considered to be more important? This is something that deserves imagination and investigation.

There must be autonomy for schools in various parts of the country to teach history in various ways. In a primary school I taught the history of housing policy, tuberculosis and the heroin epidemic, which were much more relevant than they would be in another part of the country. In another part of the country the history of the islands, the Gaeltacht or farming policy might be much more relevant than other topics from an urban perspective. The junior certificate programme offers an opportunity to allow students to investigate something relevant to them and which they may not have not an opportunity to investigate previously and make obvious how history impacts on their day to day lives and how they can learn when debating and discussing contemporaneous issues that there is always an historical context to everything.

I was fascinated by what Senator Frank Feighan said about Gallipoli. As he rightly said, Gallipoli should be a term, battle, word and place that resonates with every Irish child and every Irish man or woman because 4,000 Irish men died there 100 years ago. One of them was my great grand-uncle. We did not know about it as children growing up. We were much more in tune with the republican side.

As has been said, history can be divisive. There are more than two sides to any historical discussion and generally the discussions have a shade of ten or 12 opinions. There are stories in Irish history which go untold. We have a very linear historical background, whereby one event happens and then another. Things have happened in this city - I have mentioned the heroin epidemic of the late 1970s - which are much more relevant to children today than the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland of the late 1960s. I am not saying they should be competing themes or discussions in the classroom, but children need to be aware of both. We should also not have divides such that people from one part of the country with no knowledge of the background to housing policy, drug policy or how tuberculosis was such a killer in the city in the 1940s will be exposed to it and discover an interest in it in order that when it comes to debating national policy perspectives and priorities, they will come to it with a much wider view. I am an urban-based politician and if I had gained in school a greater knowledge of rural sensitivities, I might have a better chance of having a more rounded opinion.

We are debating education. When we try to change how something has always happened in education, people get upset. We cannot touch Irish language policy without being called something akin to Cromwell. If we suggest we change the way Irish is taught or imposed on children who do not have any interest in it, we receive quite a number of cranky e-mails from people throughout the country. If we attempt to change any subject close to people's hearts such as history, accusations will be thrown around the place about one's motivations. I will say again - it is something to which the Minister should refer - if only 20% of students at leaving certificate level study a subject which the vast majority of pupils study at junior certificate level, clearly we are not doing the job we should be doing. It is not inspiring young people in the way it should. Perhaps it is not as relevant to them as it should be. If we allow autonomy for schools to focus part of their time on issues particularly relevant to their geographical areas, as well as opening the minds of the students to other points of view and other traditions in other parts of the country, we will have more rounded students and people with opinions based on fact and sensitivity regarding from where people come.

I am delighted to support the motion and be a co-signatory to it. I commend very warmly my colleague, Senator Martin Conway, as has everyone else, for drafting and tabling it. I look forward to listening to the Minister's reply in due course.

As the Acting Chairman will remember from our days on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, it is important to declare one's interests and I will declare mine. History was absolutely my favourite subject at school and Mr. Halliday was my favourite teacher. I studied history at third level; my sister studied history at third level and my brother studied history at third level and he now teaches history at second level. It is through this further learning that I knew how much more we could learn from history.

For once, I found myself agreeing with almost everything Senator Paul Gavan said. His remarks on the Spanish Civil War were very welcome. It is something I did not study in much detail at second level, but I did at third level. The Senator might find it amusing that my sister did her thesis on the great republican Bob Doyle and the International Brigades-----

I am impressed.

-----while I did mine on the Greenshirts and everything that went with them. Perhaps it did not decide my politics later in life; I just had a morbid interest in those actions.

To clarify, the Senator is referring to the Greenshirts.

Yes, the Greenshirts, not the Blueshirts. I went one further. The love and interest in the subject of history gave me a greater sense of my community and a greater interest in politics. It is probably one of the main reasons I joined a political party. I was not active in one until halfway through my degree. None of my family had ties to a political party. They voted for almost all of them, with a couple of exceptions in the Chamber.

They took a fairly strong interest, most importantly in their area. It was through that interest and my study of history that I felt a deeper connection with my local community, country and the world at large. It gave me crucial analytical skills. Studying society and right and wrong shows us that society goes much further than what is in front of our faces and what belongs to us. It is vital, therefore, that we recognise, as stated in the motion, the important role the subject of history plays in second level education and in creating early exposure to civic society and everything in it.

I concur with Senator Paul Gavan that the motion should go a little further. Perhaps the Minister might consider that view, given that it comes from this side of the House. History and geography should be mandatory subjects in the junior certificate examination. Not only must they continue to be mandatory subjects, they should also be expanded. I look forward to the civics and politics subject that will be added to the curriculum at leaving certificate level. Much more needs to be done in that regard and more support must be provided for non-curriculum programmes such as the Blue Star programme run by the European Movement Ireland which is available only in primary schools. This programme which encourages interest in and knowledge of the European project takes a critical position and is not propaganda. It teaches the history of Europe and the European institutions, the geography of Europe and how democracy functions in Europe. Perhaps it might be introduced as a pilot scheme in transition year, where applicable.

I will conclude as I am aware that many other Senators wish to speak. This is one of the rare occasions on which everyone in the Chamber is in broad agreement. I look forward to the motion receiving wide support. I hope the comments made by Senators and the deep and sincere conviction expressed by Senator Martin Conway and his co-signatories in the motion is taken on board, not only by the Minister but also by his officials who play a vital role in that regard. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion and commend it to the House.

I support this worthy and appropriate motion. When we think of where we are coming from and where we are going, the key issue is that we must look back to go forward. The commemoration of the events of 1916 was a look-back at the past that has been helpful to everyone. The emphasis on history at second level is very important. The motion is very important because we are trying to arrive at an understanding of what happened in the past. In my local area monuments have been erected, commemorations are held and books have been written. People have grown up with this and we must take these things on board when we look to the future. While my generation and the older generation take them on board, I fear whether the younger generation will carry on the tradition of having a love of history, Ireland and what Irish people have done.

Previous speakers referred to what was important for their local area. Every parish and community has a history and they all have people who drive on historical moments in their locality. We need the next generation to be informed in order that we can drive on this agenda and ensure everyone knows what happened. It is about informing minds. Like Senator Neale Richmond, I had a passion for history in school. It was a subject I enjoyed, got to grips with and loved. I picked up my political views through education. If we are to inform the youth, we must ensure history remains an important subject because it gives them a great insight into where they can go forward in life.

Senator Martin Conway has tabled an exceptional motion on an issue about which I have been thinking for a long time. The purpose of the motion is to try to maintain links with the past and inform the younger generation. My sister is ten or 12 years younger than me. A gap has emerged in the education system since I attended school and I am worried about it. That is why the motion is so important.

Senator Martin Conway is correct that the motion highlights the issue and that something better could be done. We need a greater focus on history, which is the reason the motion is important. I hope it will do what it is supposed to do, namely, enliven the debate and get people thinking about history. I also hope it will lead to a change in the system. Our history, across every parish in the country, needs to be driven on by the next generation. I have a great fear that the next generation does not have the same energy or enthusiasm as the generations that preceded it. We must have this enthusiasm to go forward.

I again compliment Senator Martin Conway on his fantastic motion. I hope it will highlight the issues and that we will see some significant movement on them.

It is rare to witness such unanimity across the Chamber or to have a ratio of two to one in Government and Opposition speakers in favour of the Government.

I thank Senator Martin Conway for tabling the motion and all of the Senators who contributed. This has been a valuable debate. Perhaps we do not step back often enough to think about the value and way in which we teach subjects that are important to us. There is no doubt that history is of major importance. It is formative in the skills it delivers, the appreciation of the passage of events and how we have been influenced by them.

I need to defend my Department because some speakers portrayed a very negative view of it. The assistant secretary with responsibility for this area is a history teacher and passionate about the importance of history in the education system. Senators may ask why we are undertaking the junior cycle reform which has been at the centre of this debate. It is all about improving the extent to which people can engage with the subject of history and the other subjects being taught in the new junior cycle because, regardless of whether we like it, we have been caught in the trap of excessive reliance on the final two and a half hour examination being the be all and end all of the way in which history is taught. The impact of this has been particularly damaging in the case of history because it has resulted in massive content overload at junior cycle level, a huge focus on the textbook and significant narrowing of the rich range of sources to which Senators referred. The method of inquiry, the evaluation of events from different perspectives and seeing issues as having different dimensions creates the excitement about and wonder for history, about which everyone has spoken.

It is worthwhile reading the interesting background paper on the junior cycle. It makes an interesting point about the tensions in history and its purpose. Is it about giving young people critical skills to hone and pull and drag and insist on assessing the evidence and sources or is it in some way trying to say we are all in one big community and that we should pretend we have a common history that is uniform and binds us together? That is a tension which is openly acknowledged in the paper. People have different views on history. Is it the critical skills that make us all uncomfortable, regardless of our perspective, or is it about creating a common purpose? It is clearly more of the former than the latter.

It is important that we understand and history helps us to develop tolerance. What was so exciting about the commemoration of the events of 1916 was that, for the first time, the camps from which people tended to view the events of 1916 were broken down and people recognised that different things were happening in that period and that it was a complex issue. President Michael D. Higgins described the events of 1916 as an extraordinary act of imagination. There were also other things happening. One of the things of I was very proud was the way in which people of all sides were able to share in the appreciation of the events from different perspectives.

I will return to the issue of the purpose of the junior cycle.

The intention is to move beyond that terminal examination and the cramming of the brain with stuff one can regurgitate in those two and a half hours and light the flame that history or science, about which one could say the very same, should light. It does allow for a variety of projects and achievements to be recognised such as visits to Newgrange, if that is the choice or the examination of some of the historical documents relating to the Famine, the incidence of tuberculosis or whatever other event. It is important to have these things recognised and for schools to have the flexibility to take on projects or run short courses that explore different dimensions and that they would be recognised.

I must correct Senator Paul Gavan; teachers are not being asked to mark the achievements students make in projects or mark papers in the junior cycle. All of the marking will be done by the State Examinations Commission, both the 10% and the 90%. What teachers are being asked to do is to look at the projects, encourage and support students and indicate whether it was a very high achievement. There is not a marking, rather there is a very broad approach and an indication is made if a project is exceptional. It is something the students carry with them. Who said education is what is left when what one has been taught has been forgotten? We will forget the date on which the Spanish Armada sailed, but if we get involved in a project, as Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said, for example, on TB in Ireland, someone involved in the project will still remember even at 90 years of age that he or she took in it. The student will have a permanent appreciation and impact. That is what the junior cycle is trying to do in terms of reform. It is unfortunate that it has been a source of dispute in terms of industrial relations, but, equally, it is encouraging because if the vote is accepted – I do not know whether that will be the case – one of the issues that will be resolved is the junior cycle. There have been hours of negotiations, not only on the junior cycle but on including it to make sure it will, I hope, be accepted.

The reason the junior cycle is being reformed is that it is completely out of synch with both the leaving certificate which is a better curriculum and allows more use of alternative sources and with the way the primary curriculum is taught. It is the last element that is being taught in a very narrow way. It is interesting that compulsion applies to just 52% of the student population, those who are in voluntary secondary schools, but the take-up is not 52%, it is 90%. We have a high take-up, even though there is no compulsion in the system. In the case of the junior cycle, I do not think the real argument is about whether we should try to push the figure of 90% to 100%. That is not what the junior cycle is about. It is about making sure the 90% who take it have an exciting engagement with history, come away with new critical skills that they can apply in other spheres and also gain an appreciation of how history has marked the present and I hope does not condemn us to repeat the mistakes again, or whatever the phrase is about history.

Work is being undertaken by the NCCA on the design of a new curriculum, for which we have received 232 submissions, which indicates a lot of interest, with a target of September 2018 for when the new offering will be available to students. The curriculum is very exciting and I hope it will be a legacy because, as outlined in the document, the NCCA has been very conscious of the 2016 celebrations and the way they have impacted on people's interest in history and wants to build on that platform. Equally, some of the fears expressed have probably been dealt with to an extent in that while the original intention was to examine students in eight subjects, that number has been expanded to ten. History will be a stand-alone subject. Up to now that was not the case as it was a combined history and geography module. The intention is that it will have a stand-alone curriculum, with 200 hours devoted to it and a more exciting variety of learning methods and environment for schools to take on.

A number of Senators have expressed concern that perhaps because I have come from the jobs ministry into the education ministry, I have a very narrow view of the functionality of education and that it is all about creating people who can make widgets. That is absolutely not my view of education. In my education action plan we sought to articulate how education was pivotal to virtually every ambition we had as a nation, whether it was to excel in science, the various cultural fields or being able to crack cycles of disadvantage. Education is the driver of the permanent and sustainable change we can make. We must ensure that, as a Department, we enable schools to be learning organisations, continually improve and have the flexibility to use subject curricula to excite and engage their students. That is something about which I am very passionate. Of course, I recognise that one of the bridges education must help to build is the one from the school into the world of enterprise, but it is also important to have a bridge into the world of public service, politics and community. Building these bridges is important, but I do not see it as just a one-string bridge into a very narrow view of what we are trying to achieve because that is not the case. The one heartening thing I can say, having come from the enterprise portfolio, which might also give people a little reassurance, is that increasingly what employers want is not people who can make widgets but people who have the critical skills and competences to challenge and innovate, the ability to work with others and evaluate material critically. Interestingly, history is one of the subjects that gives students these skills and capacities.

I thank Senator Martin Conway for tabling the motion and the many Senators who took part in the debate. Come September 2018 we will have a curriculum for junior cycle students to take on which and after three years in 2021 we will see them emerge from that syllabus. As Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said, I hope we will see more of those students opting to keep on history for the leaving certificate in order to further hone their critical skills. That would be an indication of success. The downside of the system which is evident in the inspection report is that a lot of students who took the examination displayed a low level of skill in answering the questions. They had not learned the skills with which history had been designed to equip them. It is not a case of just getting the numbers up and getting more students to sit the examination. If the examination does not equip students with the wonder, joy and competences history can give them, we are failing.

What is interesting when one looks at the issue is that the current system has failed a lot of young people who chose history but did not come out having been able to exhibit for an examiner what we hoped they would have been able to exhibit. The reform is about making a better environment for students to develop a love, appreciation and value for history. I am very enthusiastic about the work which is ongoing. It will be September 2018 before it hits the ground running. I presume I will be long gone from the Department by the time these young people are being examined in 2021, but I hope that whoever is in my position will be able to say in response to Senator Martin Conway's motion from seven or eight years previously that we have moved on and that we have young people who are better equipped having come through a junior cycle with an appreciation of what is important from the study of history.

On that optimistic note, I thank Senator Martin Conway for tabling the motion and offer my support for the sentiments expressed.

To echo the positive note, it will be a very good day for me and Seanad Éireann if part of my legacy in politics is that in 2021 some people in the Department of Education and Skills credit the motion with that fostering of learning and achievement.

The Senator might get into a history book.

You never know.

I agree more than I disagree with what the Minister said, but I would never have pigeonholed him in any way just because he came from the jobs portfolio. To be fair to him, he held the position of education spokesperson for Fine Gael for many years when it was in opposition. I have a deep interest in education because I believe it is one of the best ways to get people out of the poverty trap.

I thank all of my colleagues for their positive contributions which reflected my view that the importance of history is deeply embedded in this House and that it has a pivotal role to play. I agree with Senator Paul Gavan's observations on different perspectives. Unfortunately, for many years in the education system only one perspective of certain areas of history was given. We need to have a balance of perspectives.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin spoke about learning about the history of the heroin epidemic. That is critical because local, national and international history are equally important. The three are pillars in their own right. I remember doing a project on the west Clare railway for my leaving certificate examination. People in Dublin would not have any interest in it, but such projects very much form a part of our understanding of our communities and, as Senator Tim Lombard stated, our parishes. We develop a love of community, place, county and country through understanding what has happened before our time. I often equate this with the GAA. We develop a love of parish by being involved in the GAA which defines our sense of community more than any other organisation.

Having had the debate, I am more optimistic that the Minister and I are near enough to being on the same page. While I will not say I would have liked the motion to have been a lot more dramatic, I do have a reputation within my party for going outside the box and sailing close to the wind. I wanted the motion to be as consensual as possible. History has not been a compulsory subject and I believe it should be, but I I tend to promote the carrot rather than the stick. I salute the hundreds of history teachers who teach it daily to young people and equip them in the way we want them to be equipped.

I salute them for doing a wonderful job. There is a Dublin branch to the History Teachers Association of Ireland. I did not know that until today. These teachers are doing a wonderful job in imparting knowledge to young people. I commend teachers in general, but today is for the teachers of history, including retired history teachers who dedicated their lives to educating and equipping young people for the future. I hope they see Seanad Éireann as standing in solidarity with them and the work they do in order to remove the uncertainty. Some of it was fostered through ill-informed commentary, while some of it was caused by departmental officials and the Government. We are here to solve problems. If there were no problems, there would be no need for politicians. I hope that in moving forward the waters will be a lot calmer, that history will be considered to be a core part of the curriculum and that we will not have to come back here at any stage in the future to highlight the need for the teaching of history because it will just be considered to be a given.

It is timely and powerful that Seanad Éireann is unanimous in its clear support for the principles behind the motion. The message to the people of Ireland through Seanad Éireann to the Government, the Minister and his Department is that history is important. We believe it is not just important but also critical to the education system and the children in it. Take note that Seanad Éireann unanimously adopts the motion and expects its sentiments to be delivered on, not just by the Government but by future Governments also.

I think it is fairly clear-cut, but I do have to ask the question.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 26 January 2017.