Friday, 16 May 1930
Dáil Éireann Debate
Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £114,678 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1931, chun Costaisí Oifig an Aire Oideachais, maraon le Costas Riaracháin Cigireachta, etc.
That a sum not exceeding £114,678 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Education, including the costs of Administration, Inspection, etc.
As far as the actual Estimate is concerned there are not many changes calling for comment, and possibly the more practicable way would be, if Deputies require an explanation of any particular item, to raise the matter during the course of the discussion. Since my last review of the situation a few things have occurred to which I might call attention. As was indicated already, we held the primary certificate examinations for  pupils in the national schools. About 10,000 pupils presented themselves and, I think, something like 53 per cent. or 55 per cent. passed. Another matter is one which received a certain amount of attention. Information had been asked as to how far the Act of 1926 has been a success in bringing about better attendance of the pupils at the schools. In that connection I may give figures, because now it seems one can judge by the figures—I do not mean to be taken as indicating that our efforts, or the efforts of those who are the enforcing authority should be relayed; on the contrary, if possible, they might be increased—that have come almost to a state of equilibrium in the matter. It is, perhaps, too early to judge whether that is so or not, but I shall give some figures, and Deputies can form their own conclusions.
Take 1924 as being the year, as far as the schools are concerned, in which conditions were move or less normal. On December 31, 1924, the average on the rolls were 498,000 and the percentage of attendance 73.5. On June 30, 1926, when the School Attendance Act was having its effect, the average on the rolls was 518,000, and the average attendance 77 per cent. In the following year there was pretty much the same number of pupils on the rolls, and the average attendance was 79.7 per cent. In the next year there was a fall in the actual number of an average on the rolls to 512,000, but the percentage of actual attendance of those on the rolls increased to 82.7. The corresponding numbers on June 30, 1929, were 507,000 average on the rolls, and the percentage of attendance was 82.6. In the period of 9 years the percentage of attendance of those on the rolls increased from 73.5 per cent. to 82.6 per cent., or roughly an increase of 9 per cent. It is true there has been a falling off in the total number of students in the schools, but there are a variety of explanations for that. I think Deputy O'Connell, in a speech he delivered the day before yesterday, stated he had heard that was the fact, and said it was an unexpected  result of the introduction of the compulsory School Attendance Act.
There was a falling off last year and the year before, but I think I pointed out when the School Attendance Act was going through that that might be one of the results that could follow, that students might take up the line, when they were compelled to attend up to the age of 14, that they ought not to go to school after 14. But there are other explanations. The number who reach 6th Standard at the time they leave school has increased. The fact remains that the number of pupils who go to school before six and who stay there after fourteen has decreased, but there is much more regularity in the attendance between six and fourteen, the years to which the School Attendance Act applies. If you take the actual numbers in the schools between these ages you will find them practically steady now.
Of course there are places in which the average attendance is much higher than 82.6 per cent., which I have given as being the average attendance for the country as a whole. For instance, in County Kilkenny the average was 88.5; Waterford City, 88.1; Cork City, 87.8, and Dublin City 87.1, and in no county, except Leitrim, was it under 80. It was 79.1 in Leitrim. Again and again I hear figures quoted of countries where they get an average attendance of 95, 97 and 98 per cent. I wonder whether anybody who has children could understand how such a thing is possible. I do not know. I am not questioning the statistics. I often wonder what the interpretation of statistics of that kind ought to be. In education and other matters I have often heard statistics quoted from foreign lands, and I have come to the conclusion that you would have to inquire very carefully into what precisely the statistics purport to represent. For instance, I cannot understand how you could have an average attendance over each district of 95 per cent. or 96 per cent., considering the various illnesses to which children are subject. It is quite possible, of course, where  valid excuses are sent in that the children concerned may not be counted at all in calculating the average. That may be a possible explanation.
However, Deputies will notice that Act has been effective in bringing about a considerable improvement in the regularity of attendance of those who come under its scope. It has had another effect which has been noticed by the inspectors throughout the country; it has affected promotion in the different schools. There were considerable complaints that children were kept a long time in the lower standards. The explanation given—and it looks as if it were to a large extent the proper explanation, as can be gathered now—was generally that the irregularity of attendance of those who were on the rolls led to children being kept in lower standards longer than they would have been kept if they had attended regularly. It was pointed out on more than one occasion that the average age at which children left school in certain districts was between 11 and 12. There has been in that respect a noticeable improvement in the last two or three years. The percentage of children in the lower standards has decreased and there has been a substantial increase in the number of children in the upper standards. That, again, varies with the district. There will, of course, always be a difficulty, in a country with such distances as in ours and with the methods of getting to schools that the children have to put up with in many parts, in securing absolute regularity of attendance, even when there is no illness; but there has been, as I said, a noticeable advance in the promotions; there has been an increase in the percentage of children to be found in the 5th and 6th Standards. In that respect the year 1928 showed an increase of 7 per cent. over the previous year with regard to the 5th and 6th Standards, and the year 1929 showed an increase of 10 per cent. over the year 1926. You must remember this—and it is clearly recognised by those who are responsible for the supervision of the  schools—the inspectors—that the effect of the School Attendance Act on the matter that I am now discussing cannot be felt for six or seven years; that it will only be when the Act is in operation for that number of years that you can say that these schools have had a reasonably regular attendance and that we have reached the normal in that respect. Therefore we can look forward with some confidence to a further increase and a further improvement in the direction to which I have referred. But as an improvement in that respect had been showing itself we thought it advisable during the year to send out a query to the inspectors for information which would enable us to deal with that rather important matter. I have often referred to the question of the primary programme and to the changed outlook that occurs when a young person reaches the age of fourteen or so. That we have dealt with in another manner. Our view is that on the whole a change of school might be necessary. A similar problem probably arose in the last two years in the primary schools.
It has also been realised that that problem existed in other countries. Therefore, we asked our inspectors to report on, roughly speaking, two questions, namely, how far the programme supplied sufficient food, so to speak, for the pupil between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Is there sufficient meat in it? Has it sufficient variety? Is it sufficiently distinct from the programme up to twelve? The other question was as to how far under the existing arrangements, even if the programme itself were reported on as suitable, the staffs throughout the country were capable of making the most out of the programme. We have received the replies and we are giving them careful consideration.
On the whole, I think it has been acknowledged that the programme did supply sufficient matter for the pupil between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Of course, the difficulties in the actual carrying out of that  programme were pointed out, and I am not quite clear at the moment how these difficulties can be overcome with our present organisation. In the one-teacher school it is much more difficult, but in the average type of school that we have— namely, the two-teacher school—the question is as to how far the two teachers can give sufficient attention to pupils between twelve and fourteen. In connection with national schools I would like Deputies always to remember that the national schools here, and the practically corresponding schools in all other countries, are staffed on a very different system from that in the case of the secondary schools. For the number of students that attend you have—and the question of cost makes it necessary that you should continue to have—much smaller staffs, and, therefore, the classes cannot be dealt with in the same way; classes have to be grouped together in a way that does not always apply in the secondary schools. These difficulties that we always have were pointed out to us. Other countries, in which the population is concentrated more in the towns, have made efforts to deal with that problem in a different way. The extent to which we can deal with it is a matter that will have to engage our attention in the course of the next few years. These are some of the matters to which I wanted to refer so far as the primary system is concerned.
There has been an increase in the number of secondary schools that we recognise in the year 1929-30, and an increase in the number of pupils attending these schools. The number of schools has increased by four —from 290 to 294—and the total number of pupils on which we pay grants has increased from 26,700 to 27,600. Similar progress is to be marked in the case of technical education. One of the drawbacks from which that system suffered was that we had not in our training school for domestic teachers quite sufficient accommodation and we did not turn out a sufficient number of domestic  teachers to supply the demand. An important development for the teaching of domestic science has now taken place, that is, the conversion of the residential school of St. Catherine's at Blackrock into a training school for teachers. Two wings were added to the existing building, and modern equipment is being installed, so that now we will have two schools catering for that particular need. There is a shortage of teachers in what I consider is one of the most important subjects in post-primary education from the general point of view of the comfort and the economic prosperity of the country, but in that way we will be able to cope with the shortage of teachers that we actually train ourselves.
The matter of the attendance at the technical schools has received attention in various quarters. Here it will be necessary to go into a little more detail, not merely to state the total number of students attending technical schools, but also to indicate the groupings of the students in these schools. The variety of subjects taught and the relative importance of the different subjects are so considerable that a mere publication of the actual increase in the numbers attending would not indicate whether or not progress in the full sense of the word was being made.
Of course I am not suggesting that an increase in numbers itself is a criterion of advancement. It may not be the sole criterion, but at all events it is useful where we lack other definite criteria. Judged on this basis, the increase of numbers alone, there has been since 1924, and even since last year, a considerable increase to be noticed in the number of students attending technical schools in the country. By last year I mean the last year for which I have complete information, 1928-29. If you take 1928-29 there is an increase of 4,000 students over the previous year, an increase of 17 per cent., or an increase, roughly speaking, from 24,500 to 28,500. There has been an increase of 7,000 from the year 1924, an increase actually of 33 per cent., taking the year 1924  as the first normal year so far as the schools are concerned. I am giving the figures of attendance at the regular technical schools. There is, of course, other technical instruction in other centres besides the technical schools in the country, but the figures I am now giving are for technical schools in the strictest sense of the term.
In that connection it may be necessary to call Deputies' attention to an answer which I gave to Deputy Good on a previous occasion, and to elaborate it a little more now, comparing the numbers of students in the year 1928-29 with those in 1924-25. There was an increase in all the different courses. In the introductory course there was an increase of 42 per cent., in the commerce course 24 per cent., in science, pure and applied, of 63 per cent., in handicraft of 70 per cent., in domestic science of 49 per cent., in art 25 per cent., and in other subjects 30 per cent. We see, therefore, that not merely has there been an increase in the total number of students, but that that increase is most marked in the subjects connected with purely technical education, an advance which is of great importance. It is specially noticeable in the case of what I might call technology. There, if you take science pure and applied and handicraft together, you have an increase of 65 per cent. since 1924. I could also give the actual figure. There has been an increase similarly in most subjects in the various courses of lectures given at other centres besides technical schools. I shall not worry you with the figures. There has been a corresponding increase on more or less similar lines there as well.
Criticism has often been made—I have often made it myself—as to the amount of attention that is given to what is called commerce in the technical sense. If you look at the figures given in the census of employment, you will see that under the heading of commerce you get one of the largest groups. Shopkeepers and managers are given as 39,000, shop assistants and salesmen as  37,000, clerks 24,000 and typists about 4,500. That is about one of the biggest groups. I might suggest that what is wrong is not so much that too much commerce is done but that in proportion to other subjects, and the limited resources that are at present available, too much attention has been given to that particular subject. We are gradually getting into a healthier condition as will be seen from the figures I have given. If you compare that 24 per cent. increase you will find that it was the lowest on the whole list, much lower than in the strictly technological subjects. What I suggest is wrong is not that there are too many facilities for this particular type of education but that there is not enough of the other type and that money which would possibly be much better spent in other directions has been devoted too exclusively to this easier side of the matter. When you come to commerce itself and consider that clerks  are only 24,000 and typists only 4,000 and consider the amount of attention given to these subjects, I think it will be agreed that there is undoubtedly room for improvement in comparison with the other subjects.
These are the few introductory remarks I intended to make. As a rule it is complained that the statements of Ministers in introducing estimates are much too long but generally no matter how long they are one finds that Deputies complain that they do not mention subjects which particular Deputies wish to have dealt with. That complaint would be made in any case and I think I shall wait until these matters have been mentioned by Deputies themselves before dealing with them.
|Last Updated: 17/05/2011 20:37:28||Page of 6|