I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It is an honour for me to introduce this Bill. The Fine Gael Party in promoting the Bill are the first major party in this country to have a comprehensive policy on adult education and to have such a policy enshrined in a Bill before Dáil Éireann. I should like to set out the background to the Bill and the reasons for it.
In Ireland, as in many other countries, many children leave school at the age of 15. They do so for genuine reasons such as the desire to take up an apprenticeship and to enter industry. They do very well, as do those who leave school when they are over the age of 15. There comes a time in every person's life to question whether one is doing enough and there is a need for a structure of adult education or recurrent education to enable people to continue their studies.
Many adults as workers are obliged to keep abreast of technological developments in their chosen careers. There is always a wish on the part of workers to better themselves and to seek promotion within the work place. The adult as a parent is concerned about his family, the education of his children, family health and various other matters. As a citizen an adult needs to understand and participate in the democratic processes of the State. I regard this aspect of education as very important. People have a right to be informed of their constitutional rights and they should understand the many intricate processes within a Government organisation. The adult is the user of leisure and should be able to avail of courses on how to plan the use of leisure. For instance, there might also be courses on how to enjoy one's retirement, something we lack to a great extent here.
Perhaps the most important aspect of continuing education, adult education or recurrent education, call it what you will, is that of using it as a social weapon in regard to people who, as children, were deprived of adequate and sound basic learning, perhaps through family circumstances. Indeed, it was acknowledged by the Minister to me that between ten per cent and 15 per cent of pupils leaving primary schools in Ireland have a basic lack of reading ability. A report was published recently on this matter and the Minister acknowledged the problem in the House on 15 May 1979 replying to Questions Nos. 24 and 25 when he said he was aware of the report referred to by Deputy Horgan and myself concerning a survey which found that between 12 per cent and 13 per cent of primary school leavers have reading or writing difficulties. The Minister went on to say that it was in fact accepted in most developed countries that ten to 15 per cent of the school-going population may be backward in basic literary skills. This is one of the problems confronting us, but not necessarily caused by the schools system.
It is the social aspect of adult education about which I am seriously concerned. To my mind there is an obligation on the State to provide every amenity for adults to catch up on or improve on their learning. There have been a number of major public statements on this matter. One that comes to mind immediately is the Murphy Report entitled "Adult Education in Ireland" which was submitted to the Minister, I think, in 1973. That report, which was comprehensive and certainly worthy of reading, recommended a number of proposals. Certainly in relation to the proposals contained in Chapter 6 my Bill meets quite a number. However, I hasten to add that the Murphy Report has not been acted on by successive Governments. The report became available on 21 November 1973. Seven years later, by and large, it has been pigeonholed like many others we have seen published and presented in this House.
The National Council for Educational Awards have published a very interesting paper entitled "Discussion Document on an NCEA Award Structure for Recurrent Education". It is noted in this NCEA report that the Murphy Report recommended:
that the NCEA be the official body to award accreditation to Adult Education programmes provided through radio and television if and when it is requested that such courses be offered as credit for a Degree, Diploma or Certificate Award by Accumulation.
That is one aspect raised recently by the NCEA. In their summary of main recommendations the NCEA recommended that a new award level should be introduced, to be called the Foundation Certificate, that the entry requirements would be geared very much to the needs of mature students and the recognition of the role of work experience as an entrance qualification to such a course. That is an interesting document to read. It forms part of an on-going attitude which I am pleased to note is coming about in official circles. That NCEA document is worthy of note and has made some very valid recommendations. Within the framework of the Bill now before the House I would hope that the NCEA would be able to advance further in this approach.
I should like to refer briefly to an address given by Paul H. Bertelsen, Chief, Adult Education Section, UNESCO to the ninth annual conference of Aontas in Wexford in May 1978. That conference was a very in-depth discussion of the responsibilities of governments in relation to the provision and implementation of life-long learning in our community. The paper delivered by Mr. Bertelsen was a very comprehensive and detailed one and shows up the Irish position in a rather poor light, which is most unfortunate.
There is a need—and this Bill establishes it beyond doubt—to put adult education on the same footing as primary and second level education. It should not be regarded as a minor appendage to our educational system. Because it has a vital social role to play in our society it should be given far greater recognition than it is at present. Indeed, I am completely dissatisfied with the present position of the Department of Education in relation to adult education. There is no section within the Department dealing specifically with adult education. That is a downright disgrace. This is stated in a reply by the Minister to me on Thursday, 22 March 1979:
Provision for the promotion and administration of adult education services is not made in my Department by the allocation of staff exclusively for this purpose.
I decry that situation as a basic starting point, that there is no section in the Department guiding the administration of adult education policy. Subject to correction, to my knowledge there is no civil servant whose full time occupation exclusively involves adult education. I think that is the substance of a reply the Minister gave me to a supplementary question.
On Wednesday, 1 November 1978, I asked the Minister for Education how the range and scope of adult education courses in the Irish Republic compared w other EEC countries. I also asked him how the structures governing adult education courses here compared with those in other EEC countries. The reply I received was:
Specific information of the type requested by the Deputy is not readily available in the case of all other EEC countries. I am satisfied, however, that, in general, the range, structure and scope of adult education courses provided in this country compare favourably with the position in those countries.
That was a very evasive answer. I suppose it had to be given because the fact is that there is no solid structure, no vertical or horizontal structure, in relation to the administration of adult education here.
It is impossible to ascertain, for instance, the amount of money spent on adult education by the Government. Granted moneys are spent by different Departments, even in the Department of Education expenditure on adult education is fractional. There has been no attempt to make available to the public or to Members proper statistics as regards who provides adult education courses, who attends them, what subventions the courses receive and there is no basic philosophy available in stated form as to the role the Department plays or wishes to play in the overall evolution of adult education. The lack of commitment by the Government to adult education is seen quite plainly when one looks at the moneys provided for teachers involved in adult education courses. Teachers who drive in the evenings to places to provide night classes in adult education on a part-time basis receive the royal sum of 5p per mile. That highlights the attitude and approach of the Department and the Minister to adult education. Very few civil servants would travel anywhere for 5p a mile and to offer teachers performing socio-educational duties which frequently involve going out at night in bad weather and perhaps along country roads, 5p per mile for that service is nothing less than insulting to the teachers concerned.
The rate of pay of these teachers is £4.10 for the general teacher taking part in such courses. The rate goes up, where various levels of courses are being offered, to £5.35 and £6.52 but, by and large, the basic is £4.10 per hour. I do not consider that an attractive rate taken in conjunction with the mileage allowance. I need not say much, although I could because these figures point out the low priority the Department places on the provision of adult education. The lack of statistics, the lack of manpower involved in the Department in adult education, the lack of separate subheads for votes in the budget—all these things paint the picture of adult education in Ireland far more adequately than I could.
Coming to the Bill itself, section 2 establishes the Council of Adult Education. The background to the Bill has been modelled to a certain extent on the NCEA Bill that has recently gone through the House. Obviously, that model should be used to a certain extent in that it deals with education. It was a very bad Bill but I was able to eliminate the mistakes in drafting this Bill and I was able to use the NCEA Bill as a framework. Also, the Bill is obviously up to date in that it takes into account current legislation.
Section 3 sets out the functions of the council which are to plan, organise, co-ordinate, encourage, facilitate, promote and develop adult education. I should like to make quite clear that there is no attempt in the Bill to give the council powers to establish policy. That can never be done because it is the Government of the day that has the responsibility of laying down policy on adult education and it is for the council to administer that policy. Section 3 (2) gives further powers and functions to the council to conduct and promote research and to publish material and to make submissions to the Minister and to engage and consult and seek advice, to recognise courses and awards of institutions, universities, colleges, professional bodies, trade bodies and other academic bodies, to award scholarships, to sub-educational institutions, assess standards and so on. The council has power under section 4, having consulted the Minister for Education and local interests, to establish regional committees and may also establish county committees in consultation with the Minister.
It has been brought to my attention that 50 adult education officers or organisers have been allocated to the vocational educational committees. It is proper to say that down the years these committees have played a good part in the provision of adult education throughout the country and there is no attempt on my part to deny them their right to participate in adult education. What I am trying to do in this Bill is to strengthen the structures of adult education with a view to harnessing existing resources.
Section 5 reads that the members of the council shall be a chairperson and 17 other members. Section 6 states that these members shall be appointed by the Minister and shall reflect the interests involved in adult education and that the Minister shall take into account the advice of the central executive of Aontas and such other bodies, statutory and voluntary, before making the appointments.
It is proper to note here that the Minister should be, and is, obliged in the Bill to consult with Aontas in this matter. The role of Aontas in adult education has been magnificent. This is a voluntary body which get a subvention from the State. I hope that in the coming years subventions to them from public and private sources will be increased substantially. They have pioneered the development of adult education and there is no attempt by me in this Bill to do anything other than to strengthen Aontas in their efforts and to recognise, as I have done in the section, their efforts in relation to adult education.
There is no need for me to discuss the method of appointment of the chairperson and vice-chairperson, the qualifications of members and their terms of office. These matters can be dealt with adequately if the Minister grants me the privilege of bringing the Bill to Committee Stage. Section 10 allows the council to appoint advisory boards to assist the council in their deliberations. The Bill provides that there shall be a director and other officers and servants. The council shall be funded by grants-in-aid payable by the Oireachtas through the Minister for Education and the council will be obliged to make a report to the Minister which shall be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Under section 17 the council may appoint a registrar who will be responsible for keeping records. The First Schedule deals with the council in relation to the chairperson voting, to have a quorum at a meeting, the position of the directorvis-a-vis the council and other legal matters which are normally dealt with in the council. The Second Schedule deals with advisory boards.
In this Bill I have laid down a proper framework for the development of adult education in Ireland. The adult education officers are welcome but a great deal of work has been done under the umbrella of Aontas and the Department by vocational educational committees, community and comprehensive schools, various rural bodies, such as the ICA. Macra na Tuaithe and so on and the trade union movement. I was glad to see the Minister set up a committee involving RTE. That is a step in the right direction. The Minister for Labour has also set up a committee to deal with education.
These matters are all central to this Bill. I am trying to set up an overall national organisation which will work with all those interested in adult education and which will form regional and local committees, taking into account the opinions of all those involved in adult education. It is only by having such a council that we can see how much of a national effort is being made promoting adult education. The position in relation to paid leave is very unsatisfactory. The whole matter is so fragmented as to be seriously unsatisfactory. I am not satisfied for the Minister to stand up and say that the position is satisfactory or to ask what Fine Gael did when they were in Government. I freely admit that the last Government may not have done very much in the very difficult economic period but what I am trying to do here—I hope I have the support of the Minister and the Labour Party—is to lay down once and for all a proper national council to deal with adult education, to set up a proper framework for the development of the council and for the channelling of funds in and out of the council. If this Bill is accepted we will have done a good day's work. The social forces in our society demand that adult education be available on a wider basis than at present and that this should be seen to be done. The only way that can happen is by the establishment of a council for adult education in Ireland. I recommend the Bill to the House.