I welcome everybody here today. I have been a teacher and I am a current member of a board of a VEC. I declare those interests in case they are relevant to the discussion. A third interest I have is that I am musician, so I am always warped in how I say things — I warn the delegates on that level.
I am happy that two words in the right order have emerged from this discussion, namely, that process is more important than product. For me, that is a vital sentence that was said not by one delegate but by a number of delegates. A word I missed in the presentations, which is very relevant in the economic climate apart from anything else, is "entrepreneurship".
If I were Minister for education for a day, what would I suggest to the delegates and on what areas would I seek their reactions? What would be the delegates' reactions to a proposal that we should halve the current curriculum content and that music and sport be made compulsory subjects? I will elaborate on why I put forward that proposal. I compiled a report for the Council of Europe on how to teach history in areas of recent conflict. Its focus was that people on every side of an argument have their idea of the single truth. The single truth is something the Soviets taught. To a large extent, we still teach it. The history curriculum has changed at second level, but my report stated one needed the version of it inThe Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Irish Examiner, the Derry Journal and the Belfast Telegraph and one still did not have the truth. There is no single truth. What one should do is develop a child’s or student’s ability to think critically and analyse what they see in front of them in order that when they see CNN, Fox News, the BBC World Service or RTE, they already know a little about media skills and that someone is trying to sell them a message for a particular reason. That would leave them more able to cope with real life.
Why do I refer to half of the curriculum content? There has been a reduction in the history content at leaving certificate level, but it is still absolutely over-burdened at junior certificate level. That does not change in the case of Irish, English, geography or any other subject. It should be about the process. It should not be about whether one can recite 45 poems but how a person creates a poem and why a poem is important.
With regard to entrepreneurs, I attended a Council of Europe event with the European Youth Forum yesterday in Budapest. We also met the chairman of the youth committee of the Hungarian Parliament. One of the issues for the committee members was the fact that the youth only accounted for 1% of entreneurship. They said this showed that despite students emerging from university with very good degrees, they still did not know what to do because the process had been, in effect, that if one learned something and regurgitated it, one was then fit for life. Everybody knows that is not the way life is.
I am from a region where fishing, farming, building and mechanics have been the traditional routes for those who are not particularly academic. What role is to be played by career guidance in order to intervene, prior to children making decisions on what they will do, to counteract the traditional routes and widen their horizons in order that they can explore outside the box?
I agree that the standard of teaching in Ireland is very high. However, is the Teaching Council happy with the level of recourse if the standard of teaching in particular instances is not what people want? Is the process too difficult to address serious issues in the classroom and schools?
I could say a great deal more. Project Maths has been good. I am aware that one can bring forward as many statistics to counter my point as to support it, but international research links musical ability with mathematical ability. If one studies music, one tends to do so to a higher level because one has done a great deal of work outside the classroom and-or one comes from a musical background. Certainly, if we were learning music from pre-school — this is why I talk about making mathematics, music and sports compulsory — we might have results with project maths that would transcend other areas.
I could speak forever on this issue. Irish has moved from being endangered to vulnerable in the latest UNESCO rating, which means something good is happening. However, I suggest we try to make it more usable. If people see a practical application in the outside world for what they are doing in school, it means more to them. That means getting people to speak and use Irish.