Educational Disadvantage

Last Thursday the Irish Times reported that teaching supports for special needs children have been cut by 10 per cent. This is another example of the most vulnerable in our society paying the price for the criminality of the bankers, politicians and developers.

The importance of education in the development of our young people, and therefore in the future development of our country, cannot be emphasised enough. It is with this in mind that the continued cuts to our educational budget must be resisted and the scandalous policy of subsidising private fee paying schools must be eliminated. At a time when the provision of special need teachers and assistants and language support teachers are being reduced and class sizes remain far too high, successive governments have given €530 million to private schools over the past five years.

It must be acknowledged that economic growth in Ireland is directly related to education. Education increases peoples potential as it equips them with skills and knowledge. The greater the skills and knowledge, the greater the effect on people's income and thus, on their health and lifestyle. Education, in simple terms, is the route we need to take to improve all our futures. As many studies have shown, educational development is needed to harness future technologies, an area in which Ireland must progress if we are to maintain or increase employment.

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed.
If you think in terms of 10 years, plant trees.
If you think in terms of 100 years, teach the people.
Confucius (551bc)

Of greater concern to me is the role in which education plays with regard to reducing social exclusion and poverty. Educational disadvantage plays a primary role in inhibiting the elimination of long term unemployment, poverty and inequality.

We need to expand the specifically targeted intervention programmes which can ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. High quality and targeted educational programmes are essential to achieve this. More must be done to support, encourage and reward exceptional teaching and leadership in schools. It is a proven fact that poor reading and writing scores at primary level are significantly associated with later low academic achievement.

We need to invest in the education of our youth to ensure equality of opportunity for all. The continuing subsidisation of private schools is of benefit to an elite few only.

It must also be accepted that educational performance is directly related to social factors outside the classroom. Therefore, educational improvements will need to be addressed as part of a general response to inequality. Parental education has a significant effect on the educational attainment of their children. Many parents, and to a certain extent pupils, feel an economic need to constrain their education. That is, for economic reasons, they have chosen to leave school early to seek employment or they cannot afford to continue their educational studies onto the next level. We must therefore seek to extend and enhance the school going period of young people so as to work towards the elimination of underachievement in future generations. We must break the cycle of inequality and exclusion.

The correlation between wealth and poverty in relation to third level attendance is a national disgrace. While those in the private schools subsidised by the tax payer achieve a third level attendance of almost 100%, undoubtedly aided by their greater pupil-teacher ratios, those in some working class areas see figures of only about 35% going on to university. The circle of wealth is maintained amongst the elite at the expense of the majority.

Finally, and in no way making the assertion that educational disadvantage and social exclusion automatically leads to anti-social and criminal behavior, I think it is important to accept the statistics which show that the majority of young people who have come to the attention of the criminal justice system have a lower level of education than their peers. There is a strong correlation between physical, emotional and educational disadvantage and crime.

"Jails and prisons are the complement of schools – So many less you
have of the latter, so many more you need of the former"
- Horace Mann (1796-1859)

Not alone has the new Government continued the same disastrous economic policies of the corrupt Fianna Fail Government, they have also continued to cut funding at all levels of the education system. These cuts in funding will be counterproductive in an economy desperate for investment. The building blocks for future economic success are based on a functioning equitable education system. With less than five months in power it is already obvious that this Fine Gael/Labour government does not have the ability to get this country out of the current economic mess.

Research Sources include OECD, Joseph Rowntree Trust, A Call to Action, Burkart,CSO.