Sílim gurab í an chuid ba thábhachtaí den ráiteas a thug an tAire uaidh an méid adubhairt sé linn ag a dheireadh. Sa chéad chuid rinne sé tagairt don méid airgid a chuirtear ar fáil anois le h-aghaidh bunoideachais, meánoideachais, ceárdoideachais agus eile. Sa chuid dheireanach dá ráiteas, thagair sé dona tuairimí atá aige maidir leis an saghas córais atá againn agus an saghas córais ba mhian leis d'fheiscint sa tír seo.
Is léir ón méid sin go bhfuil an tAire nua ag leanúint lorg an iar-Aire maidir le feabhas a chur ar an gcóras oideachais. Is é rud atá ar intinn ag gach éinne feabhas a chur ar an gcóras oideachais. Ní h-ionann sin is a rá go bhfuil an córas atá againn faoi láthair go dona ach go bhfuil gá le feabhas a chur air ar mhaithe leis na páistí. Ba chóir dúinn oiread stáidéir agus is féidir linn a dhéanamh féachaint an féidir linn dul ar aghaidh níos tapúla a dhéanamh ar mhaithe le páistí na tíre.
Ba cheart plean a cheapadh a bheadh oiriúnach d'oideachas na tíre seo — bunoideachas, meánoideachas, ceárdoideachas, agus fiú oideachas iolscoile. Bhíos ag súil go mbéadh rud éigin le rá ag an Aire tar éis an méid stáidéir a rinne sé cheana féin ar an dtuarascáil le h-aghaidh cúrsaí ardoideachas sa tír seo.
Bhí mé ag súil go mbeadh rud éigin le rá aige mar gheall ar leathnú na n-ollscoileanna mar is ceist í sin atá á plé ag mórán daoine faoi láthair. Ba chóir dúinn a chur in n-iúl don phobal cén seift atá beartaithe againn mar gheall ar sin. Is maith an rud é, mar sin, go bhfuil an t-Aire ag brath ar chomhoibriú leis na daoine go bhfuil baint acu le cúrsaí oideachais sa tír seo—na h-oifigí go bhfuil cúram na h-oibre seo orthu, na daoine sna bunscoileanna, iad siúd atá ag obair ins na scoileanna. Baineann an gnó seo ní h-amháin leis na páistí ach leis na tuismitheoirí freisin. Dá bhrí sin, is cúis áthais dom féin agus dona Teachtaí ar an dtaobh seo den Tí go bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Aire cainteanna a bheith aige leis na dreamanna a luaigh sé. Is soiléir anois agus is mithid go bhfuil síceolaithe á gcur ar fáil sa Roinn Oideachais. Scríobhadh a lán le déanaí mar gheall ar an gcúram atá ar dhaoine go bhfuil páistí acu nach bhfuil chomh cliste leis an gnáthpháiste. Tá páistí in áiteanna ar fud na tíre agus, go dtí seo, níl sáthach oibre déanta chun scolaíocht speisialta a chur ar fáil dóibh. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil tús curtha leis an dtriail oideachais seo.
Rinne an t-Aire tagairt dona scoileanna coimsitheacha úd. Sin rud a bhí ag déanamh tinnis dá lán. Tá buairt aigne orthu faoi cad tá beartaithe ag an Aire agus ag oifigí na Roinne ina dtaobh. San ráiteas a thug sé chuaigh an t-Aire cuid den bhóthar ag nochtadh na smaointe atá aige ar an ábhar so.
Maidir leis an úsáid a bhainfear as ag gcóras oideachais iar-bhunscoile atá ann faoi láthair, brathann sin ar na scoileanna beaga atá scaipthe ar fud na tíre. Tá roinnt mhaith acu ann. Chím sa ráiteas a chuir an t-Aire chugam go bhfaghann páistí meánoideachas i 336 dena scoileanna úd ina bhfuil 150 páistí nó níos lua. Tá 573 scoileanna den tsaghas sin ann ar fad. Os mar sin atá an scéal, is léir gur ar na scoileanna beaga sin a bhrathann an páiste chun oideachas níos fearr d'fháil. Agus an scéal amhlaidh, ba chóir don Aire pé cabhair is féidir leis a thabhairt i bhfoirm deontas dona scoileanna sin.
Ní ins na scoileanna cónaithe atá scaipthe ar fud na tíre a bhfaghann an chuid is mó dena páistí an iarscolaíocht is maith leo d'fháil. Maidir leis an saghas sin oideachais, sílim nár dearnadh an dul ar aghaidh ba chóir a bheith déanta roimh bhunú gairmscoileanna go flúirseach. Is eol dom go bhfuil ar choistí gairmoideachais pleananna a dhéanamh le h-aghaidh tógáil na scoileanna seo agus go dtógann sé roinnt mhaith aimsire. Sílim go bhfuil orainn é sin a dhéanamh gan mhoill. Ba chóir an cúram sin a bheith orainn. De réir mar a chloisimíd, amach anso beidh ár sá buartha orainn a thuilleadh scoileanna gairmoideachais a chur ar bun i dtreo go mbeidh deis níos fearr ag páistí na h-Éireann slí beatha a bhaint amach dóibh féin.
Tá rud eile fós ann agus is rud rí-thábhachtach é. Caithfimid sinn féin d'ullmhú le h-aghaidh na réime atá ag teacht, go h-áirithe nuair a thugaimid aghaidh ar an gComhargadh.
Is maith liom freisin nach bhfuil an t-Aire ag déanamh faillí ins na cúrsaí a chuirfear ar fáil insna scoileanna agus go bhfuil sé ag tabhairt aire don chaighdeán maidir leis na teastais éagsúla.
Tagradh do labhairt na teangan. Beidh a thuilleadh le rá agam mar gheall ar an gceist sin amach anseo. Tá áthas orm a chloisint go bhfuil an tAire ag iniúchadh na ceiste seo. Dubhairt sé gurab é rud a bhí uainn córas oideachais níos fearr a chur ar fáil. Ní h-ionann sin is a rá nach bhfuil an córas atá againn féin chomh maith leis an gcóras atá i bhfeidhm i dtíortha eile. Dar liomsa go bhfuil. Tá gá le plean iomlán. Caithfimid tosnú insna bunscoileanna agus deimhin a dhéanamh de go mbeidh deis ag ár gcuid páistí freastal ar na meánscoileanna, na ceardscoileanna agus na h-ollscoileanna de réir mar is mian leo. Beidh ar gach duine go bhfuil baint aige le cúrsaí oideachais comhoibriú san oibir thábhachtach seo i dtreó go mbeidh an toradh is fearr le fáil.
Tá sé ar intinn ag an Aire moltaí an Pháipéar Bháin a chur chun cinn. Faoi láthair cloistear tuairmí éagsúla i dtaobh na ceiste seo. Tá súil agam go mbéidh seans againn an Páipéar Bán sin a chíoradh agus go mbéidh caoi againn leis, ár dtuairimí féin agus ár gcuspóir féin a chuir faoi bhráid na tíre.
Tá rud amháin is fiú a rá anois. Táimíd i bhfábhar leathnú na Gaeilge ar fud na tíre. Ní hamháin go bhfuilimid fábharach dó ach tá suim mhór againn anois sa dul chun cinn sin. Bhí suim againn i gcónaí sa cheist gan trácht ar inniu. Má cheistimíd na módhanna a h-úsáideadh go dtí seo, ní h-ionann sin is a rá nach bhfuil suim againn i gceist na Gaeilge, i ndul chun cinn na Gaeilge agus i gcultúr na Gaeilge. Éinne a cheapann a mhalairt tá breall air. Is léir ón méid staidéir, ón méid cainte agus cómhrá a deineadh go bhfuil gá leis an staidéair seo. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil iarracht eile á déanamh chun an cuspóir a chur i gcrích.
It is appropriate that the debate on Education which the Minister initiated here this morning should take place at this time of the year. A large number of our young people are at the moment testing their educational abilities on the problems posed by examiners. At this time of the year the Minister has an opportunity, which he has availed of, at some of the functions that take place in our secondary schools, to reveal his intentions and express his admiration of the various things he has seen during his visits to the schools.
One of the things which the Minister's statement in this House ought to reveal is his aims in regard to education. Certainly, the House expects a review of education for the past year and when the Minister presents his Estimate here and asks for money for the various services, the House expects to get an account of his stewardship regarding moneys made available on the previous occasion. That has been done in his lengthy statement to the House this morning. The Minister has traced the growth of progress in regard to the various branches of education for which he is responsible.
I am especially glad to see in the second portion of his statement that the Minister has gone some way towards revealing what is in his mind in regard to education in this country. One of the important things, perhaps, the most important thing, in life at the moment and in the foreseeable future, is the education we give our young people to fit them for the type of life they will follow, be it materialistic, cultural or even spiritual. Certainly, any system of education which would ignore any of these is not a true system of education. I am glad, for that reason, to see that the Minister has, if I may say so, broken new ground in that respect. In presenting his views this morning he has given us and the country an opportunity for wider discussion on what our aims ought to be in this regard.
I think, briefly, we must envisage a comprehensive plan for education, a type of plan which will dovetail. The Minister referred to the situation whereby different systems of education existed, in more or less watertight compartments up to this. That will no longer prevail and we will get an integrated system whereby the child and his parents from the earliest stages will know the lines along which the child might proceed.
We have in this country a system of primary education which is compulsory from the age of six to 14 years. I think it will be accepted by everybody that the upper age limit ought to be raised, but the Minister points out there will be difficulties. The fact that there will be difficulties does not invalidate the argument that we ought to raise the school-leaving age. I should like at this stage to express the opinion that if we allow a gap to intervene, whereby children of 14 years and up to 15 and 16 become available for what you might call the labour market, it is not desirable. If we cannot fill the gap at the stage when children leaving the primary school have nowhere to go for some type of continuation education, whether in the vocational or secondary school, there is a danger they will be imposed on and children of that age may find themselves taking up a type of employment deemed unsuitable for them and which is certainly taking away from a child's life much too early.
It is bound to happen that these children will have to take on jobs involving labour of any kind, and this will create in the child a sense of frustrated childhood. I think, therefore, the Minister ought to give serious consideration to the raising of the school-leaving age in progressive stages, if not immediately, first and foremost to the age of 15. In that respect the Minister mentions a question of difficulty regarding trained staff. That will be a difficulty at any stage, whether it will come in 1970 or later. The Minister mentioned that we must prepare now. At all stages we must be prepared for what will happen in the years ahead. Might I suggest to the Minister that in the schools and under the system which we have at present there would not be any great difficulty, in this age of prefabs, in extending existing schools where children might obtain post-primary or, what one might call, ante-technical education? This would not involve great difficulty for the Department.
We had in the past, and still have, the travelling teacher who works under the aegis of the vocational education committee. There is, indeed, in this country a wealth of graduates leaving our universities every year who in many cases have to seek employment abroad. I think we might avail of their abilities and skills in providing a stop-gap, if you like, in the meantime. This would certainly provide an opportunity for many more children to avail of education at the vital age of 14. This is a time when the child is making his first contact with adult life. The Minister spoke about psychologists in the Department being available to advise. I think it would indeed be an opportune time if a teacher with the necessary skills were available to visit the schools in the capacity I have mentioned. They would be able to help children at that age and obviate what is now a growing problem.
The need for the extension of technical education is important and equally important is the need for higher technical education which should follow on the courses pursued in the technical schools, with logically after that an extension of university education. If we have a comprehensive plan like that, and if we follow it, we will be laying the foundation of a system of education which will be an improvement on the system we have at the moment.
I want to pay tribute to the system we have, lest anyone should think that in advocating that we should make advances in this respect, I am finding fault with the system we have. I do not want to give that impression because I think we have a good system of education, but we cannot afford to stand still. We cannot afford to be complacent. We must keep up with the times. Every country in the world today is seeking to improve its educational facilities, and with the competition in the world today there is no doubt that the skills we need can be obtained by educating the child to the best of its ability in the particular skills the child may have.
In the field of post-primary education, we have a number of smaller type schools which are providing secondary education for the pupils in their areas. The question of comprehensive schools has been mentioned. We should not lose sight of the fact that scattered throughout the country we have a large number of schools which have been providing a satisfactory type of education. We should build on the system we have at present. I should like to see specialisation, particularly where vocational schools are concerned. If the institution of the new certificate, and the mind searching which will go with it to assess the aptitude of the pupils, enables the pupils to proceed to more specialised courses it will be very well worth the effort.
I should like to deal now with primary education, which is the foundation stone on which all education is built. We should try to make the period in the primary schools more effective so far as the children are concerned. This would entail two things. It would entail raising the school-leaving age and a more punctual and effective attendance at school if parents could be induced to take the necessary interest in it. Efforts have been made for some years to reduce the number of pupils who fall to be dealt with by a teacher. That has helped very much in the cities in the larger schools. There is also the difficulty in the smaller schools to which the Minister referred, and to which I will refer at a later stage.
The lowering of the number of pupils in the care of a teacher will, I believe, lead to a better standard because there is a relationship between good teaching and the number of pupils to be taught by each teacher. There is a very direct link there. There is also the question of the amount of time which a teacher can give for individual attention to a pupil who may be finding it difficult to keep up. That problem has been referred to by the Commission on Mental Handicap. We have in our schools, and will have for years to come, children with different IQ ratings. The teacher has a responsibility not to neglect children who are retarded as against children who can advance more quickly. If he is to fulfil his vocation as a teacher, he must not neglect them just because he has brighter pupils who can go ahead more quickly.
The role of the schools in regard to the Irish language is very much spoken of at present. It is refreshing to find that it has become accepted that it is not the sole responsibility of the schools. In the schools we have been doing what we could over the years. The methods which we have used, and the traditional methods, have not perhaps achieved the desired results. The Minister will have to face up to the question of whether we are to insist on the spoken language, or continue with written Irish and the grammar and reading of the language. The Minister has had the advantage of seeing what was said recently by the President of the Congress of Primary Teachers at Galway. This question has been to the forefront in any discussions which have taken place. One of the essentials in teaching the language to children is to give them a vocabulary and that takes quite some time. It is a gradual growth, and consequently the amount of time spent in speaking the language is important.
We must accept that we have to murder a language to speak it. By that I mean that we must encourage the children to speak it even if they make grammatical mistakes. For that reason the cardinal principle must be to give primary importance to the oral expression of the language. At a later stage we can catch up with the grammar and reading of the language.
One of the things which have struck me over the years is the question of whether children must be taught all subjects through the medium of Irish in order to speak Irish. Anyone who has read the various statements issued from the Department knows that this is not an essential. I think it has always been recognised that the surest guide in this respect should be the teacher who is in close touch with the pupils and knows their abilities, and who knows whether the child is able to take subjects through Irish.
For quite a number of years I taught subjects through the medium of Irish and found that advance was not made either in the subjects being taught through Irish or in Irish itself. The advance made was not in keeping with the effort put into the teaching. Then we taught the language intensively with two school subjects and found we made far better progress. We found the pupils could speak Irish as well as in any other part of the country. They were quite capable of conducting conversations in Irish even at very high levels and they did not lose anything in the process.
The important thing is that the language itself be taught and that the children be helped to acquire fluency in it. If it is the restoration of the language we seek, our main object should be to avoid imposing difficulties associated with the teaching of strange subjects on a child through a medium to which the child is not accustomed. That is where the judgment of the teachers must come in. The Department should leave the matter to the good judgment of the teachers.
One other point to which I should like to refer in this context is that under the present system when we come to judge the child at the end of its primary school course in regard to progress in the Irish language, we do so through the medium of a written examination. I am glad to see the Minister is thinking of béal trialacha. How it will be done I do not know. One of the things which may frighten children off is the prospect of a written test which immediately faces the child with difficulties. If you insist on a written test, you are creating a difficulty for the child and at the same time for the people setting the written test.
In the recent paper set there were phrases used which all our children could not understand. That immediately created a difficulty for the child to express himself in a written test. It is one of the things we must try to avoid if we are to serve both the grammatical and the spoken end of Irish language teaching. If we continue with a written test, progress will be bad at the end of the year. I suggest the Minister have another look at this. Nobody is suggesting he should lower the standard but if he wants to get the spoken language advanced in the schools, he will have to reconsider the written test and, generally, the writing of Irish.
I know it will be difficult but I am looking now at this paper and find phrases used in it whose meaning would not be immediately apparent to children in different provinces where there are different communities using different phrases. It would be impossible to set a written paper which would not present difficulties for children unless we were to regionalise the papers presented.
As we move to the end of the primary school course, the Minister is considering the introduction of civics. Civics, as a formal subject, is not taught in the primary schools. Neither is it taught as a formal subject in the secondary schools which have, instead, a code taught by precept and example, without formality. Nobody will deny the need for instruction in civics but what I should like to get from the Minister is what he envisages in this respect. Does he consider the necessity for a longer school day, a larger and extended school programme?
If we extend the school programme to include civics—indeed people have been thinking of the introduction of other desirable subjects—where do we get? Do we think we can stretch the elastic and that it will not sag, that we shall not get a lessening somewhere if we try to extend effort too far? Undoubtedly there is a need for civics teaching and not alone for civics but other matters which will have to be faced as far as the training of young people is concerned. There is the general question of the conduct of pupils at that age.
It is becoming all too common nowadays to meet the situation where children reach adult life much faster than they should, where they are being brought in contact with adult life much faster, where they are learning quite a lot of things they should not learn. The growth of what one might call intemperance in the use of knives in schools is becoming quite a problem. Teachers are finding it difficult nowadays to deal with some influences in the lives of the children they have to teach.
If the introduction of civics in the school programme could remedy the situation, could improve that position, I am sure everybody concerned would make the effort but what is necessary— I have pleaded for it for it for many years— is something in the nature of guidance for children at this stage of their development. It is a healthy sign of animal spirits in a healthy child that he wants activity but the outlets nowadays bring him in conflict with what is good conduct, good civics, and the amount of minor destruction that can be caused in this way leads to a certain amount of suffering and it is one of the problems of the present day. It is something we must face in the immediate rather than the remote future.
The need to advise children leaving school is important. Because of the amount of advice available to pupils leaving primary schools, their efforts at facing life is a hit or miss matter. If there is a secondary school in the locality, they may be induced to go there. If there is a vocational school in the area, they may be induced to go there but if it happens, as it does at present throughout the country, that there are no vocational or secondary educational facilities available, then the child who is aged from 14 to 16 is open to all the influences which adult life brings to bear on children at a time when there is not the restraining influence of school. For that reason I would urge the Minister to consult the responsible authorities to see whether it would be possible to make available to children in the final year of primary school some kind of guidance or provide the type of room, of which I have spoken, for a year's continuation school. This would be a great benefit not only to the children but to the community as well.
In regard to primary schools, I am glad to note that the extension to the training college has been practically completed and that there will be an extra supply of teachers available not only for new schools as they fall to be filled but for a further lowering of the teacher-pupil ratio in the larger schools. Perhaps the Commission on Higher Education have referred to this—I hope they have—but I want to put to the Minister the necessity for extending the training course for teachers and linking it with the university. I do not think any complaint can be made against taking such a step. If we are to have, as the Minister envisages, a type of education whereby comprehensive schools will be located in different areas, does the Minister envisage that these will be filled by graduates or by people with technical qualifications in subjects peculiarly attached to the technical schools, or does he envisage that the primary teachers who at present have not had the advantage of a university year should not be available to carry on that type of work?
Not alone would I advocate the extension of the training college course to the third year but to the fourth-year and I would link that with the course for the higher diploma in education in the university. That is something that might be contemplated. Certainly the extension of the training course and linking it with the university course should loom large in any plans which the Minister may have for improving primary education.
In regard to the supply of teachers, I hope the Minister is bearing in mind the question of teachers who are still untrained. This question arose away back and I noticed recently that in a reply to a question the Minister did not feel able to make any comment on the position inasmuch as the matter is the subject of arbitration at present. However, the figures which the Minister gave revealed that we still have the problem of having to employ teachers who have not been trained. I know that this is linked with the question of teacher supply but I would suggest to the Minister that these people should get the opportunity of being trained. If they have worked in schools for some years—and some of them have worked for many years— then what they did not get in the training colleges they have got by experience. Those who are under the ten-year period in the schools and who have proved themselves suitable should get the opportunity of being trained and of obtaining their place in the educational system.
If the Minister were in a position, as was envisaged some years ago, to supply the schools with sufficient trained teachers, this problem would not arise, but for as long as it becomes necessary to employ people other than those who have been trained, we will have an obligation to them. If they take up employment in the schools, they should not be regarded as Cinderellas to be left without attaining their status in this profession or any other profession they might have taken up at the time they came into the schools. We should not deny to those who have been certified as suitable by the inspectors the scales applicable to the schools in which they work.
In regard to handicapped children, anything the Minister can do to speed the day when properly staffed schools will be available on a more widespread scale will be welcomed by the community who very laudably at present are doing a great amount of voluntary work to help these children. In some centres these children are being educated with encouraging results and it must be a great joy to their parents to find that where the veil of darkness had hung over them previously, something is now being done to educate and rehabilitate them as more useful members of the community to live more fruitful and more satisfying lives.
When we come to post-primary education, to which I have already referred, one of the needs at present is to give more status to the type of technical education which we are providing. Something which is lacking at present is a proper appreciation of how important it is that we should have a true respect for technical education. I often wonder if a snob value is not being attached to secondary education as against technical education. The outlook for the future is that if we are to enter the European Economic Community, we will be in competition with the native skills and traditions of the people with whom we will be brought into contact. That is going to apply equally to the skills and trades we traditionally practise in this country and consequently there will be a great necessity for trying to get our people to appreciate the value of and the necessity for technical education.
One of the things which the Apprenticeship Council has been doing is to lay down standards for the various trades. If we hope to compete in future, our people must have the higher technical skills they will need. The world is becoming very competitive at present and we cannot live in isolation. Our workers and technicians can survive only if the skills they demonstrate are of the highest order and for that reason we should try to attract the best possible teachers in this type of education. I was glad to see the Minister referred to this matter of whether more of our graduates could not be induced to specialise and perhaps take up this type of education.
I want to impress on the Minister the need to ask vocational education committees to speed up their plans to provide technical facilities. The higher technological colleges and institutes should follow that. That is a basic necessity. It will not be enough to take children up to a certain level in technical education. We must allow those who have the higher skills to proceed and specialise. That would be a distinct advantage to the country and the community. Giving status to technical education is important because, by some, it is at present regarded as being an inferior type of education. That mistake is being made at present and too many of our children are inclined to go on the basis of a secondary education and follow the more academic subjects whereas their latent skills should have determined that they would go through vocational or technical education. Anything the Minister can do in that regard is well worth doing.
On the other side, the spread of post-primary education must depend on secondary schools and therefore I should like to put to the Minister the question of the small school. He mentioned small schools already in the general context in regard to both primary schools and the concept of education generally, and in regard to putting pupils into larger schools. There is an advantage to be gained from a larger school which can afford more staff and greater diversity of subjects but what the Minister is putting up as a problem in regard to raising the school-leaving age will be equalled by the problem arising if we are to envisage the extension and advance of education as depending on larger schools. It is a fallacy to think that we cannot get from what we have at present that extension of education which is desirable.
The number of secondary schools in the country at large, according to the Minister's information, totals 573, both day schools and residential. There are 338 day schools as against 235 boarding schools. A most significant fact is that the schools catering for pupils numbering 150 or fewer number 336 secondary schools out of a total of 573. I plead for the same treatment for small schools as for large schools. The Minister must be aware that a majority of parents could not afford to send their children to residential schools and the larger day schools will only be available in the larger centres of the population. So far as rural areas are concerned, there must be a development based on the smaller type of school and we should do everything possible to encourage graduates to invest in education by setting up this type of school. We should make grants available to them and accept this as part of the educational fabric that we have at present and that we need to extend as one of our hopes for a quick expansion in education. If we were taking a long term view to secure that at the end of a certain time we would arrive at larger schools, the aims which the Minister set out in regard to the advance of larger schools would be valid, but if we are hoping for a rapid expansion of secondary education, we must not depend on the larger schools. Many generations of children will leave school without further advancing their education if we are to wait for the larger schools.
It may be appropriate to refer to the comprehensive schools. A certain amount of fear was created in the minds of those running existing schools in regard to what the comprehensive schools would mean and I was glad that the Minister today allayed those fears to a certain extent. The comprehensive schools will not compete with existing schools and they will be located where there is need for them at present, where secondary or vocational education is not available. I am sure the Minister and his Department will take due notice of views which are bound to be expressed locally in regard to these matters and also in regard to the location of the schools.
The small schools are providing education for a very small fee, education which would not otherwise be available. For that reason they are most valuable. In rural areas there is not the same fixed income for people who try to send their children to these schools and consequently fees are important for them. One thing the Department might consider is payment proportionate to the number of pupils and the number of teachers in these schools. If they consider the number of pupils, the number of teachers and the fees which are paid and if something could be done for the smaller schools, if only by giving some extra fee where teachers are employed, to meet this question of a basic salary, that would be useful. The Minister is aware that a certain basic figure is laid down and very often the small schools cannot meet that basic figure because they depend on small fees for their existence. It might be possible to do something in that way to encourage the retention of the teacher, to the advantage of the pupils and of the area concerned.
There is one thing which has struck me as requiring explanation. I do not understand it. Possibly the Minister may have a simple explanation. It arises out of the extension of the school year. Again, I am speaking, in the main, about the smaller schools because the position I refer to, naturally, will not arise in the case of residential schools. There is a minimum period of attendance for the purpose of the capitation grants. The extension by 30 days has sometimes meant that pupils in small schools qualify for a lower capitation grant. That happens in some cases, not by reason of the fact that the school is not operating but because of local circumstances. Weather or the season of the year are factors which may affect attendance. In the case of students who live in the country and who have to travel four or five miles to school by bicycle, the weather may affect attendance. In addition, the exigencies of work in the home, on the holding or farm may interfere with daily attendance at certain times. I wonder if these factors have been adverted to in regard to the raising of the number of days of attendance required for capitation grants.
In that respect I want to put a question to the Minister. The Department states that schools will be deemed to be in operation during the period of certain examinations. In future, the certificate examinations will not commence before 10th June. How does the Department envisage that schools will be kept in operation? How will a principal teacher be able to keep a school in operation and carry out house examinations of pupils who are not doing certificate examinations while at the same time some of his staff may be absent superintending examinations at other centres? These are some of the points that arise in relation to rural areas.
I understand that the rates being paid for attendances between 130 and 159 days are £15 for senior pupils, £11 for juniors and £8 for pupils under 12 years of age. That is reduced in the case of attendances being under 130 days to £13 for seniors, £9 for juniors and £6 for pupils under 12 years of age.
The raising of the school-leaving age creates a problem for smaller schools in rural areas. It must be remembered that the greatest struggle to obtain secondary education for their children is made by parents living in rural areas.
I wonder what role science is filling in the schools at the present time. Is it given more than its proportionate value? We realise that it is vitally important for the future of Ireland that science should be taught. Must every pupil of a secondary school be a scientist? Is science overweighted in the curriculum? We have scarcely reached the stage where vocal communication is less important than science. Certainly we could not teach science in the schools at the present time without teaching languages, say, Irish and English. Is there a sound basis for overweighting science?
It is absolutely necessary to have a review of the courses at present laid down. I am afraid our system of education tends to be one of cramming. There is quite an amount of talk and demand from time to time by various interests that this subject, that subject and the other subject ought to be included in the secondary school programme but I wonder how many people making these claims, among them parents, ever give thought to the problem as it affects their own child and the amount of time which the secondary school pupil spends in study. His life from 9 a.m. until 10.30 p.m. or later is a round of study, starting with his work at school and continuing late into the night with the homework which is necessary for the very extended courses being pursued. This is a matter that the Minister, in consultation with the teaching bodies, must discuss.
At present we are training children to remember details. That is largely indulged in. Many of these details are unnecessary. We do not train the children to think for themselves. We cannot do it if we are trying to do the two things. If there is insistence on children remembering details so as to answer examination questions then it is quite clear that we cannot afford to spend time in teaching them to think for themselves in regard to the problems that they will meet. We ought in the secondary schools give more time to debates. Teachers who have to contend with long courses cannot find time for debate. Even in the literature courses they cannot find time to deal with reading outside that prescribed. Public speaking is an important matter. It is still important to teach young people how to express themselves properly and to speak well. That is very necessary in any system of secondary education.
If a child's mind is crammed with facts, that is not much use if the child cannot express himself properly. In the facts with which the child's mind has been crammed we are in a number of cases storing up lumber which will be forgotten when the child leaves the secondary school.
As the Minister has said, education is a systematic training for life. We should ask ourselves if the system of secondary education that we have prepares children sufficiently for the life ahead of them. Decorum is still a hallmark of education. We must continually revise our ideas to move with the times.
There are a few points that strike one with regard to secondary education which might be worthy of consideration as between the Minister and his officials and the representatives of the teaching bodies. For instance, why should not a pass and honours paper be available to a student? Why should not a student be able to get on the day of examination the pass and honours paper? If he can get an Irish and an English version of a paper why should not he get a pass and honours paper and be entitled to take his choice on the day of examination? Very often a child in signing at an earlier stage for the paper which he will do is not fully aware of his own capabilities. That point should be considered.
Another point worthy of consideration is the question of history and geography. In the Intermediate Certificate examination, history and geography are made a single subject. Is there any reason why we could not make each of them a subject? In regard to history, more choice should be left to the teachers as to the courses which they will pursue. Generally speaking, the amount of time available for the study of history—and this again applies to the primary schools—is not sufficient to enable the child to form a proper appreciation of a period of history. For instance, in regard to the scholarship examination which takes place in the primary schools at Easter of each year, leaving out holidays there is only the period from September to Easter of the following year to do a course of history. If I am to judge by the history paper which was set for this year's scholarship examination, the children are expected in that rather restricted length of time to express opinions on periods in history. However, I intend to refer later on to the question of papers generally. I would prefer to see the courses shortened rather than that the children should forget much of what they have learned. A high standard of elocution is something at which we should also aim.
Our approach to modern languages, particularly French, is all wrong. I am sure the Minister will not like to hear me saying that but I believe it to be true. The usual time spent in studying French before a child sits for the Intermediate Certificate Examination is three years. After that period, the child is expected, for instance, to have an appreciation of French poetry, and very often the poems are ill-chosen. Many people, including French people, have been horrified at the choice of poems for our schools.
There are many authors whose work is simple and is suitable for study by children with such an elementary knowledge of the language. As in the case of Irish, the prime aim ought to be the acquisition of a working vocabulary. If they have a good vocabulary, they will develop a love for the literature of France and may decide later on to engage in further study of that literature. However, to force difficult texts upon them before they are capable of understanding them will only succeed in making the child hate the language. We ought to take note of the fact that there is a lack of suitable French texts, particularly in the junior classes.
Has any thought been given to the type of courses, in English, for instance, pursued in secondary schools? Students pursue courses in relation to which there is no time whatsoever allowed for general reading. There are boys and girls obtaining honours in Leaving Certificate examinations and if you were to ask them about some of the modern authors like O'Casey, Joyce, Frank O'Connor, Synge or Tolstoi, they would say they had never heard of them. There ought to be at least a half an hour a week for discussion on some book or play that has been read in free time by the class. The courses have been the same for a number of years. Instead of time being given to the reading of Bacon and Ruskin in archaic language, some study should be made of modern authors such as those I have mentioned.
Shakespeare is one of the great standbys of secondary education. However, we ought to drop the system of questions as to who said this and who said that. There are no standards for comprehension in regard to the texts concerned. It is a question of cramming. There ought to be more questions based on comprehension. We might look into the English system of specialising. Why could we not have in the 5th year in our secondary schools a good matriculation standard and then proceed in the 6th year to the leaving certificate with more specialisation. perhaps, in four subjects which would fit the student for any course at the university? In the 5th year in the secondary school, career guidance ought to be given. If students receive that type of guidance then, they should be able to determine the specialist courses to which they will proceed in 6th year. At present we are trying to do too much about too many subjects at too high a level, and the results are not good.
Might I suggest to the Minister in connection with what he has already said about the use being made of Telefis Éireann in the teaching of physics in the schools, that this medium could be used to further advantage in relation to other subjects taught in the secondary schools? It could be used in the teaching of geography, a subject which lends itself admirably to television. It could also help in regard to our native language, in regard to English, history, and so on. If it is intended to do that, discussions ought to be held with the group of people qualified in the particular branch that is to be dealt with.
Physical education is something about which we have not been able to do much. We are behind the other countries of Western Europe in this regard. Would the Minister consider making finance available for the erection of a gymnasium in schools and for the provision of equipment which would enable physical exercises to be carried out to the mental and physical advantage of the children?
The extension of libraries in the primary schools leads one to ask why not extend this service to secondary schools to enable the students to broaden their reading? In the 5th year some career guidance might be given to them and they might be advised as to the type of reading they should do in that year.
Nowadays the majority of parents, knowing the advantage of education, are trying to send their children to university. I was hoping that the Minister might have been able to give us some indication as to what extension of university facilities will be made available throughout the country and, if I mention Limerick in this context, I do so without any fear of being regarded as parochial. Limerick is eminently suited from the point of view of an extension of university education, particularly when one remembers the existence of the training college there for teachers. If the Minister envisages linking the training of teachers to university education, then Limerick ought to be a must. Apart from that, there are large numbers of students in the area and there would be no dearth of support for a university in Limerick. This matter has been raised before. I raise it again now to impress on the Minister that there is a legitimate claim and, in any extension of university education, the needs of Limerick should not be overlooked.
With regard to university education in general, in their first year, students are in need of some guidance and direction. Entering university is their introduction to adult life and I think it ought to be the duty of the university authorities to provide guidance for students in their first year. This is the year in which students suddenly find themselves on their own and very often this is the year in which, being on their own, they do not as readily appreciate the necessity for a continuance of study. Another point is that general knowledge should not be dropped. Students should not be segregated in their first year into specialised courses of study. Even if they intend to pursue a specialised course in medicine, law, or something else, they ought equally to pursue a general course in their first year. This is done in one of our universities. It is something that would be of great advantage to the students and the pursuing of such a course in the first year would relieve the boredom which often afflicts students.
I should also like to see a greater interest taken in their material comfort. We have not the advantage of having a residential university in which amenities are provided for students in their leisure hours. The provision of such amenities is very necessary. It could pay a dividend from the point of view of the students generally. If the Minister could encourage the university authorities to take a more active interest in the welfare of the students outside of the lecture rooms, it would be of great advantage to all concerned and ultimately to the advantage of the country generally.
The system of education is a good one but it does need to be kept under constant review. One of the things that should be avoided in both primary and secondary schools is any attempt at cramming. The standard of examination set to test the level of ability of students ought to be in keeping, as the Minister said, with their age group and their facility in expressing themselves. In that connection I fear a great many teachers must have been disappointed with the papers set in the primary schools this year. I refer in particular to the English paper. Five subjects were offered for a choice of essay. I mention them in the hope that there will be in future a more realistic approach and also in the hope that there will not be a repetition of the boredom from which examiners are bound to suffer in correcting these papers. The children were asked to write on a music festival. I wonder how many Deputies would like to write on a music festival.