VISION FOR EDUCATION
In order to create a new vision for education in Ireland, I
that we break
the process down into three constituent parts:
- What we want in the future
- How we understand the present
- How we imagine we can go from what we have
These three components are part of any envisioning process.
tool to education, we might have the following questions:
I propose to use this approach to first look at our
education sytem as it is at present, and then to offer my own
alternative views, using these three components summarised under the
- What is the society, new or otherwise, that
want in the future?
- How do we understand the child as the
subject of this society?
- How can we prepare the child to create or
- Vision for society
- Philosophy of the Child
- Pedagogical approach.
PRESENT-DAY VISION FOR EDUCATION
Our Present-day Vision
With such an emphasis today on the economy, jobs and income,
seems to me that
our vision for our society has become narrowed to materialism. More and
seem to be content with the notion that schools and third level
colleges are places
that prepare people for employment, rather than for life.
When we say our education system is one of the best in the world, this
is what we
seem to mean — that our schools do a good job in preparing young people
to be producers
and consumers. We want to be one of the richest countries in the world,
employment and therefore everybody sharing in those riches. We want our
to grow up to be employable in the highest paid jobs possible for them.
This is a very narrow and a very materialist vision of education, but
it is almost
totally dominant at present.
Our Present-day Philosophy
Looking at the way learning is structured in present-day schools, it is
me that we view the child in the same way that we view raw material
through a factory system on a conveyor belt.
- The curriculum and the learning process is
independently of any individual child.
- The child is fed this curriculum, and put
this process, with minimal deference to the child’s individual
orientation, aptitudes, way of learning or ability to learn.
- The child is assessed, not according to his or
individual achievements in themselves, but in relation to his or her
peers within a narrow range of mostly academic subjects.
- This assessment sorts all children into one
line, with the highest scorers at the top, and the lowest at the
- The assessment system is similar to quality
- After school or college, the young person is
as a product ready for the open market with his or her quality labels —
Leaving Certificate Points, Third Level certificates, diplomas and
degrees — attached.
This is a materialist and market driven view of the young
a view which
is inbuilt in the structure of our education system.
Our Present-day Pedagogical
I am not talking here about the individual approaches of
good or bad,
but about the pedagogical structure within which all teachers are
forced to operate.
A teacher in a primary or secondary school, in normal circumstances, is
- a specified curriculum
- to a group of between 20 and 30
- children of the one age
- in a classroom.
This institutional and authoritarian structure fits the
approach but does not fit any of the more enlightened approaches to
In the 'mug and jug’ approach, the ‘mug’ is the learner awaiting being
with knowledge by the ‘jug’ who is the teacher.
This is a very inadequate model of how children learn. Because the
even timetable (by this I mean the number of hours each subject is to
be taught per
week) is controlled from on high by the Department, not only
students, but even
teachers, are locked into a certain way of doing things with little
more enlightened approaches and no room at all for an approach such as
which encourages the child to follow his or her own curriculum.
These three components need to encompass a
of Vision, Philosophy and Pedagogical Approach.
I would like the State to celebrate real diversity within the education
to allow and support many different models and approaches to learning.
MY ALTERNATIVE VISION FOR EDUCATION
My Vision for our Future
I want a society for my children where:
- they will find happiness and fulfillment.
- their potential as human and spiritual beings
be realised at every level
- the world is at peace
- there is participatory democracy
- justice and human rights prevail
- the natural environment is clean and unpolluted
- natural resources are preserved or renewed, so
future generations will have the same or better than we have
- all life forms, and the earth itself, is
- humans have a non-exploitative relationship
earth and its life-forms
- diversity is valued at every level — in nature
- my children will value their own Irish identity
celebrate in their lives the rich Irish traditions and heritage.
- my children, and every child on earth, will
of their human rights catered for
- they will have enough material things to live
My Philosophy of the Child
I think of my child as a unique creation of the universe with an
and destiny in life which none of us can know in advance or anticipate.
I want to give that child therefore the utmost respect. I want to place
in an environment where:
- his or her uniqueness and potential will be
- he or she will grow and develop healthily in
areas of his or her possibilities.
I do not want to direct the child in any predefined way other
broad goals of human endeavor — goodness, truth, beauty, love. I do
to encourage the child to develop the skills and tools for learning.
I want the child’s direction in life to develop from within the child,
and I want
to facilitate and resource that to the best of my ability.
I believe that if my children grow and develop in this way they will
not only have
the means to provide for themselves and their families, but they will
also have the
capability of growing healthily to their full potential, contributing
fully to life,
and achieving happiness.
My Pedagogical Approach
A child cannot learn or develop without an inner desire, either
conscious or unconscious,
to do so.
A child normally learns to walk and to talk without any formal teaching
There is an inner dynamism motivating the child in this direction.
In my view, the role of parents, teachers and society in general is to
this in-built developmental process, which is within every child, so
that the child
can find all that it needs, in terms of experience, resources, and
satisfy this inner motivation for learning and development.
For this to happen, each child must be respected as a unique
individual and his
or her own interests, abilities, style of learning, and rate of
This is an approach to education supported by many of the finest of
including Maria Montessori, A.S. Neill, Ivan Illich, John Holt, Paulo
others. It is not supported in any way by the present State system.
WHY I KEEP MY CHILDREN OUT OF
My wife and I have agreed that we will not send our children
we facilitate their learning and development outside the formal school
is our right according to the Irish Constitution.
I keep my children out of school because the present system of
education is alien
to my views at every level. Far from being a system unique to Ireland,
it is a system
that is being promoted all over the developed and developing world. Its
society, philosophy of the child and pedagogical approach is the same
Because of this, I must resist its global dominance, not just for the
sake of my
own children, but for the sake of children everywhere.
Whether my children fitted well into school or
would be damaged by being institutionalised into the system. This
includes the imposition of:
- an authoritarian structure
- compulsory subjects
- pre-selected teachers
- fixed content of schooling
- fixed curricula
- fixed timetables
- rules and regulations
- little or no freedom of choice
They could also be damaged by:
- bad teachers
- failure to achieve goals set
While I keep my children at home, I believe they benefit enormously
from the involvement
of wider society, and in particular the local community, in their
learning and development.
This happens at present in a non-institutional way because we parents
in the local
community are active in organising activities for children outside of
school – all
types of sport, classes, and events.
If there was no school, I believe these same parents would
for the children, and do so extremely well. This is the model I propose.
WHAT I PROPOSE
I propose a model of learning and
primary and secondary age, where the parents are in control.
In particular, I propose the following:
A Central and Controlling
- The hiring and firing of teachers will be done
groups of parents within the local community. This will control the
quality of teachers, require them to respond to the needs of the local
community, and allow the market to decide what teachers get work and
what teachers don’t.
- The local community of parents, with the help
teachers, will also decide the content. What is made available to
children will inevitably include skills based programmes, knowledge
based programmes, and programmes that offer broad holistic experiences
(e.g. travel, dramatic and musical productions, projects, events).
- Parents will be free to choose programmes
their individual children’s needs and will be under no obligation to
send their children to any programme.
A Supportive Role for the
The State will provide:
- material facilities and resources for
and development, to include what is presently available in most schools
and communities — spaces and furnishings suitable for gathering small
or large numbers in one place; specially equipped rooms such as
computer rooms, laboratories, gymnasia, kitchens, libraries, and
workshops. What we call school buildings at present will become
‘resource centres for human learning and development’.
- training for people to become teachers,
facilitators, administrators and caretakers.
- a system of financial support, for the
resources and for the material resources. The State will directly pay
salaries or will grant-aid parents for the hiring of human resources.
It will finance the material resources through State ownership or
through grants to parents.
- opportunities for young people to assess
achievements by assisting in the establishment of fixed levels of
achievement in an unlimited range of areas of learning or development,
where these are measurable.
- objective examinations or tests to
these levels of achievement.
- for the monitoring of entry requirements
all institutes of learning (third level colleges in particular) and the
requirements for all job applications, to ensure that there is no
discrimination against the applicant and that the requirements are
reasonable for the course or job being applied for. The State will be
the protector of the young applicant in these areas.
- non-discriminatory financial support for all
reasonable forms of learning, styles of teaching, and curricula,
without favour. Where the State has a particular stance, it will
make its views and interests known, and thereby attempt to influence
public opinion in a democratic way, without recourse to legal measures,
except where human rights are concerned.
STATE COULD TAKE
The State could begin to:
- release its control over the curriculum,
at present leaves little or no room for schools or teachers to
manoevre, and which controls the content of classroom activity down to
the minutest detail.
- concentrate on providing curricular options,
allowing schools and teachers to choose a pre-packaged curriculum that
suited them, or to create their own.
- support diversification, financially
supporting initiatives that come from schools and parents themselves,
and loosening the tight grip of control that it maintains. The State
already does this in supporting the Transition Year. All of school
could be organised in the same way as the Transition Year.
- support equally all reasonable attempts by
to provide learning and development opportunities for their children,
instead of just supporting mainstream and government controlled
schools. This should include private schools, alternative schools and
home learning. It could also include ‘grind’ schools, individual
‘grinds’, classes and tutorials, and extra curricular learning and
development activities. The State could do this by offering grants
and tax relief to parents. This should cover not just tuition but
also books and other material resources. By doing so, the State would
begin to put control back into the hands of parents, where it belongs.
It would also level the playing field between parents who are wealthy
and parents who are not.
- broaden its role in providing assessment.
role is at present limited to that of the Junior and Leaving
Certificate. These examinations channel all students into a narrow
funnel. The State could take the view that it valued all reasonable
achievements of young people, and could give expression to this by
making efforts to provide objective standards and levels to which young
people could aspire in a diverse and unlimited range of areas —
academic, linguistic, artistic, manual skills, sport, etc.. The State
could also provide, where necessary, the opportunities for assessment
in these areas, leaving it to the young person to decide when he or she
was ready to take this assessment. This would get rid of the Junior and
Leaving Certificate examinations, encouraging young people instead to
develop their own broad portfolio of achievements, at their own pace
and in their own time.
- monitor and correct the discriminatory and
use of the Leaving Certificate Points system in giving access to
third level courses and to employment. For example, a young person who
wants to become a medical doctor is accepted to third level medicine
solely on the points they have attained in the Leaving Certificate.
This is not an objective test of the young person’s suitability for
medicine, but a test which puts him or her in a pecking order of
academic achievement. It is not a true measure of the young person’s
suitability for medicine, takes no account of non-academic
requirements, and excludes many potentially suitable candidates who do
not reach the required arbitrary level of points. In the case of
applications for employment, the Government or its agency needs to be
vigilant against such discrimination as: “Apprentice hairdresser
required. Only those with Leaving Certificate will be considered.” I
suggest that the Government set up an agency to monitor and correct
WHICH TO BUILD
The Irish Constitution and the Easter Proclamation of 1916
principles on which we can build an exciting future in relation to
children and their
learning and development. These two principles are:
- that parents are the primary
educators of their children1
- that the State will cherish
children of the nation equally2
In the present education system in Ireland, neither of these
principles are visible
in action. Parents, who deliver their children over to the State
little or no role within that system. Parents who try to have a greater
role in their
children’s education by keeping them out of the State system, get
little or no support
from the State, and in fact get penalised because their taxes go to
support the State
The majority of parents are not, in reality, the primary
of their children,
and the State does not cherish all of the children equally because it
some of them.
Yet, parents who send their children to private schools, politicians
clearly believe that their children will do better this way. In the
case of home-schooling,
study after study in a number of countries has established that the
child does better, in all the measurable academic goals, and in other
goals, than the average normal school goer3
It is also clear that, where parents have the money and motivation for
additional opportunities for their children outside of school, such as
classes, and extra-curricular activities, these children will do better
The State could cherish all of the children equally in a
way by giving
equal financial support to all reasonable forms of learning
inside or outside a school structure, and in this way level the playing
My proposals may seem to imply an inordinate amount of
being spent by
the State, but I disagree.
At present there is huge wastage in the system because:
- many children who go to school are bored or
and therefore are not making the progress they could make
- teachers and pupils lose large amounts of
useful time by having to deal with disruptive children in the classroom
who have no choice but to be there
- the majority of children could spend much more
on their own in self-directed learning. Nowadays, the opportunities for
this are even greater than before, with computer and internet aided
- there are teachers in almost every school who
never good at their job, or who are now tired, burned out or
disillusioned and no longer teach well. Yet the State continues to pay
them and the children continue to suffer them.
Also, under my proposals, parents will have a greatly
role in their
childrens’ education, at no cost to the State.
A more flexible and diverse approach to
will distribute the available resources more efficiently and will, in
my view, give
a much higher return.
IRELAND AND OTHER EU STATES
There are a number of States within the EU that forbid by law the
of children (e.g. France and Germany), and others that will only
allow it where
one or both of the parents are qualified teachers (e.g. the United
Kingdom). In my
view, this is a denial of a human right — the right of parents to be
Ireland has the opportunity to champion this right for the sake of all
the world. It can do so by building a system of education that provides
for parents to be fully involved and in control of their children’s
Ireland, through its Constitution, has the
- champion the right of parents
the primary educators of their children, within the EU and throughout
the whole world
- confront the dominant model
education being promoted throughout the world
- present an alternative model
education that is flexible, celebrates diversity, and is parent
I have proposed a radical change to the way our society facilitates the
and development of children. There are two fundamentals to this
that the State:
- recognises, in a practical and supportive
that parents are the primary educators of their children, as is
enshrined in the Irish Constitution
- cherishes all of the children equally by
financial support equally to all reasonable forms of learning and
development, both inside and outside of schools, chosen by parents for
If my proposals are enacted, parents within the local
in controlling the content and structure of their children’s learning
The State will have a supportive rather than a controlling role in this.
In my view, this system will provide the best results for
for the State,
and even for those with a materialist perspective.
3 See, for
example, “The Academic
Achievement and Affective Development of Home-schooled Children” by
Brian D. Ray
and John Wartes in Home Schooling: Political, Historical and
Pedagogical Perspectives. Ablex Publishing, Norwood, NJ, 1992.