Wednesday, 21 October 1959
Dáil Éireann Debate
That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that the period of compulsory education should be extended to the age of 15 years, and that the child, having passed through Standard VI, should be given these three alternatives: (1) to enter a secondary school, (2) to undertake a whole-time course in a vocational school, (3) to remain on in a national school.
First of all, I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating Deputy Dr. Hillery on his promotion to the very high office of Minister for Education and of wishing him every success in that office. In putting down this motion we are anxious to establish a case for extending the principle of equal opportunity in regard to the most important facet of the life of an individual, his education.
We have seen the principle of free education, admittedly after a considerable struggle extended in relation to everyone in the State up to the age of 14 years. It seems to me that the time has now come when we should consider the whole question of the continuation of the education of the child after the age of 14 years. Once the principle of free education has been accepted up to 14 and once we can show, as I think we can, that education up to 14 years is relatively useless to a person trying to find his way in life or to make a success for himself in life, then I do not see why this same principle cannot be extended further to give a child an opportunity suitable to his particular demands, whether it is in relation to a craft, a skill, the intellect or the mind.
It is particularly perverse to suggest that a man who is unable to pay for primary education for his child, when the family is small, should be able to pay for education at a later time when the child would require vocational education, secondary education or education in a university, the stage when the family has grown bigger, when his responsibilities are much greater than they were and when the  difficulties and expenses of feeding, clothing and housing children have increased. To be logical on this question we must accept that if the parent requires help during the period up to the time that the child reaches 14 years of age, he needs considerable help later on for the fullest education of the child.
I do not think we should spend long discussing the adequacy of primary school education as fitting a child to play his part or make his way in life. It is accepted by everybody that primary school education is the basic education in the three Rs which fits a child to move on to some subsequent academic development of his physical attributes or of his intellect. The point is made in the Commission on Primary Education, which was set up in 1954, that the function of the primary school is to provide an educational foundation. Clearly, one does not provide a foundation without putting something on that foundation.
In another paragraph, it says that at the end of the primary school period, the child should be able to read intelligently simple prose and have acquired some acquaintance with literature. He should also be capable of writing legibly simple descriptions or a letter. Further, the primary school cannot be expected to provide the full minimum education which is regarded as necessary today. Therefore, I do not think we need to discuss that question, that none of us accepts or should accept that primary school education is sufficient for any child.
Consequently, one has to examine the alternatives open to the child at the end of its primary school phase of education. As far back as 1927, a Commission on Technical Education made certain recommendations as a result of which, I understand, the Vocational Education Act was passed. In Part V of that Act, the beginnings of the continuation of the primary school system were established, the system wherein it was recommended that something in the region of 180 hours in the year should be compulsory in certain areas. Up to date, the provision in that Act has been operated in three areas: Limerick, Cork County Borough and Waterford.  Obviously it was a step in the right direction, but it is obviously grossly inadequate as fulfilling what we think should be provided for a child in a modern society.
Later on, in 1935, an interdepartmental committee came to certain conclusions—which I think are as valid today as they were then— that a large proportion of the employment obtained by juveniles in nonagricultural occupations is blind-alley employment. They went on to say that it is difficult to see what better employment could be obtained by such juveniles by keeping them on at school for another year or so. I am inclined to agree with that.
I should like to say at the outset that we believe that it is really desirable for a child to stay on at school until the age of 15. We believe the child should be given the opportunity as soon as he passes the Primary Certificate to remain on in a national school, go to a vocational school or to keep on at some type of secondary school in order that he can move on, if possible, to the university at a later date.
The other conclusion which they arrived at was that the parents of juveniles who were in blind-alley employment were generally in very poor circumstances and would be unable to keep the children at school any longer. I am concerned with the view that the parents are in poor circumstances. That is as common today as it was then. There are other conclusions—that children who do not get education after 14 do not obtain employment, and that there is a great danger in their idleness which tends to make young people eventually unfit for employment. That is the environment which creates what are sneeringly called “the unemployable”. I think those conclusions are still valid and that the children who enter blind-alley occupations will never have any opportunity to marry and to rear families. Mostly, they are children whose parents are in poor circumstances and they usually end up as what is described as the “teddy boy” or the juvenile delinquent. These are products of their environment, the  environment which we create for them by denying them access to the higher education which some of us were very lucky to get.
Right from 1927, and 1935 and up to most recent times, it was agreed and is agreed that there should be better educational opportunities. There has been a fair amount of newspaper controversy in this regard in recent years. It is a very healthy and a very desirable controversy and shows that the people are becoming interested in the real issue of education. There is a general feeling that our educational services have made some progress, but that, unfortunately, taken in the context of the demands of modern industrial society, they are still seriously inadequate.
The Commission on Primary Education make the point that parents in a position to do so are eager to provide for their children's further education. The Commission on Youth Unemployment, in paragraphs 34 and 35, recommend that the school-leaving age should be raised ultimately to 16 and as a first stage, the school-leaving age should be raised to 15. They make the proviso that this should be done area by area, according as local conditions provide. I think it is logical to suggest that. Our objection is that this provision was made first in 1927, that, as local facilities become available, so-and-so should be done, but local facilities have not become available to anything like the extent to which they are required. That is why I think there is a demand for a very much more energetic and more revolutionary outlook in the Department of Education which I hope the Minister will supply.
The Commission on Youth Unemployment also said that the majority of the statements of evidence received by the Commission suggested the raising of the statutory school-leaving age. I think everybody agrees that that is a step to be desired, an inadequate step, but an advance on what is there already. I think that is the least we could ask the Minister to do, or agree to, in order to try to save the children from the serious situation of trying  to find their way through life with the basic education of the primary schools.
In discussing this matter, the question of the size of the problem arises and I have found it very difficult to get any accurate figures on this, even though I have asked the Minister a lot of questions. Perhaps he can enlighten us as to the actual size of the problem. The only figures I have were used on occasion but they were contradicted by the previous Minister for Education, Deputy J. Lynch. I do not know on what grounds he objected to them.
As recently as 1951, these figures showed that in the census of population that year, the proportion in the age group, 15 to 16, enrolled in courses of whole-time education for 1951-52 was 34.6 for boys and 38.5 for girls. The overall total was 36.5 per cent. and that left something like two-thirds of the children who, at that time, were not enrolled in whole-time educational courses. That, of course, is a very high proportion and I should like to know to what extent it has decreased, if it has decreased, since that time. It is lamentable to think that such a relatively short time ago nearly two-thirds of the children of this country were turned out to emigrate, or live at home, in that sadly neglected and dreadful state of semi-illiteracy, or whole-illiteracy, which was the state all of us were in when we finished our primary education. I sincerely hope the position is better now, but I do not think it is anything like as satisfactory as most people would like to see it, and I think that the problem obviously arises on this question of the ability to pay.
One of the extraordinary things is that one can compare the Department of Health—defective as it is, and critical as I am of that Department and of its appalling backward attitudes in some respects—and find it has at least got a dispensary service, a service whereby the people who by their own means—whatever the wording of the law or the section of the Act is—cannot provide the medical services they need, are provided with them, whilst there is no such service in relation to secondary school education or university education and also, I think I  should show, in relation to vocational education.
I believe it should be possible for persons in that group to have access to these higher forms of education in some sort of free educational service. The children of poor families and large families in the middle-income group—indeed, there are many of these white collar workers with large families who cannot afford further education for their children, —should have that chance. It is not just a problem of poor families alone. There are many people who have five, six or seven children, as they are exhorted to have in our society, and as a penalty for that, they are denied the opportunity of giving their children that start in life which a secondary school, and certainly a university education, gives anyone.
Therefore, I believe the problem resolves itself into a question of scholarships. I do not want to fill the universities with people who should not be there. I do not want to turn everybody into professional people, architects, lawyers, doctors, and so on. I know the agricultural background of our society and I know that the bias must be in an agricultural way towards agricultural technology of one kind or another, but certainly the opportunity should be made available to every child, irrespective of its origin, to get such education. To me, that is implicit in the undertaking of the democratic proclamation of the Republic—to cherish all children of the nation—and if I might remind the Minister, it is implicit also in the democratic programme which enshrines the fundamental principles of policy upon which his own Party is based.
That opportunity, according to the figures I have, is denied to a very high percentage of children at the moment, and it is denied because of lack of means, not lack of intelligence, lack of ability, or lack of brains. There are plenty of gifted, talented, intelligent children who are denied the opportunity to cultivate their talents and I think that is a scandalous thing. The difficulty in relation to scholarships is, I think, illustrated in  a few figures I got today concerning the scholarships available and the number of children who compete for them. The number of children who sit for scholarships is an illustration of the anxiety of their parents that they be better educated and it is also an illustration of the wonderful measure of self-sacrifice many parents are willing to make to provide education for their children.
In 1958-59, there were 1,382 entrants for scholarships to the universities and there were a meagre 147 scholarships available. In 1959-60, there were 1,480 entrants and 146 scholarships. In relation to figures for secondary schools, in 1958, 3,002 children sat for secondary scholarships, of which 690 were available, and in 1959, 3,126 sat for 636 scholarships. The number of entrants has grown from 2,400 in 1951 to 3,100 in 1959, an illustration of the great interest there is in, and the great demand that exists for, secondary school education amongst what essentially must be called the underprivileged, the people who cannot afford to pay and who feel they might be able to get their children through with a scholarship, even though a sacrifice is involved.
Similarly, there is another answer to a question in relation to the teacher-training scheme operated by the Department of Education. I should have thought that we are very short of teachers. In fact, I am certain that we are, particularly if we want to reduce the size of classes to 30, which is a recommendation of the Commission on Education. In order to be eligible for this scheme, children have to pass the Leaving Certificate examination with honours in Irish and a pass in four subjects, English, Mathematics, History and Geography, and the number of children who met those qualifications was 1,658, while the number of places available in training was only 329.
There are a large number who are perfectly eligible to become teachers but they cannot afford the training themselves. They try to get through on a scholarship but only 329 scholarships are available for the 1,600 odd applying. There is a great demand  for teachers and one would think it would be possible to increase the number of places available for children who are intellectually eligible for training. It will be said that there are scholarships available, but in that regard, from what I have seen of them, there were 36 scholarships for boys valued at £40 each, 36 at £20 each; 20 at £30 and 20 at £15 for girls, as a result of the intermediate examination. Those are miserably endowed scholarships, taking into consideration this further fact that there is a means test in relation to local authority scholarships anyway and that the person who is low enough in the scale for his child to get one has to pay in addition for the child's clothing, its food, housing, its maintenance, its books and equipment. In addition he is at the loss of the income that the child could earn if it went out to work between the age of 14 and 17, 18 or 19 or whatever age it might qualify in the university or the technical course.
When you talk about scholarships and the number available you must remember there is this very considerable sacrifice. Even if the child does win a few pounds in a State or local authority scholarship the father is still at a very considerable disadvantage in trying to educate the child in these circumstances. There can be no comparison between the white collar worker or the poor person trying to educate four or, perhaps, eight children and the wealthy person who is not concerned about fees and is able to send children to the Clongowes or Belvedere type of schools or wherever there are expensive private schools.
I think that is one of the reasons why so many children are denied educational opportunities. Clearly the average person with £7 or £9 a week, or the road worker or the unemployed man cannot afford to give his children a proper education and in denying them a more ready access to higher education you are perpetuating this system whereby the labourers continue to be labourers and the doctors can make their sons doctors, lawyers, architects and so on creating a class of permanently stratified society, the sort of thing that the late Deputy Seán  Moylan held was the intention of the present system when it was established by the British in the early days. That is something from which we must try to get away. We must try to devise an educational system which will, in fact, give equal opportunity in relation to education, the most important facility that can be provided.
One of the difficulties arising in regard to secondary schools—most of them are run by religions orders—is that in most cases they have to find the money themselves to provide the building. I do not see why this policy is persisted in. It would make matters very much easier for them if the Department would take the responsibility of providing money for buildings as they do, to a considerable extent, in providing money for vocational and primary schools at the moment. As it is, the secondary schools have very little alternative but to charge fees that are, perhaps, not high but even low fees, such as are charged by the Christian Brothers, the Marist Brothers and the other teaching Brothers.
As I have tried to point out, these small fees can be an insuperable obstacle to a labourer or a man with a small income or to a white collar worker with a large family, taking them with the cost of books, the loss of income, the food, the clothing, the housing and the slight entertainment that a child needs when growing up. It is too much of a responsibility and the child in one way or another is denied opportunities which it might be able to bring to fruition and so become a much more valuable member of society than the unskilled and untutored person necessarily is.
There are some comparative figures which I saw recently in a UNESCO survey of world education for expenditure on secondary education for, I think, 1955. In Russia, the figure was £7; in the U.S.A. £5; in Scotland, £2 5s., in England and Northern Ireland, £2. The Irish expenditure in relation to those figures was 10/-. That was the case at that time. Clearly, we have lagged very far behind in the provision of secondary education compared with other countries. We have lagged far behind in providing for secondary education the facilities  we provide for primary and vocational education, bad and all as they are. I would ask the Minister at least to consider making the burdens easier on these teaching Orders and so make it possible for them to get schools if they are willing to provide teachers and skilled technicians of various kinds to do the teaching. I do not see why the additional burden of providing buildings should be thrown on them and that they should have to provide the rather expensive equipment involved in science buildings in technical schools. There cannot be any advance unless that attitude to the provision of buildings for secondary schools is altered.
The former Minister for Education, Deputy Lynch, gave us an illustration of this question of cost in relation to vocational education. In his Estimate speech, he told us that the figure for 1955-56 jumped to 94,506 but it fell again in the following year to 88,624. These are figures for vocational schools and he said that this fall was due mainly to a decrease in the number of students attending evening classes following the 6 per cent. cut. I do not want to make more out of this than is there, but I think it is a pointer to the very sensitive re-action there is to an increase in costs. This re-action must follow and must show itself by a decrease in the number of people availing themselves of continuation or higher education.
I hope the present Minister will repudiate the utterly illogical suggestion which followed that the local vocational authorities should try to get a higher percentage of their costs in fees and contributions from the students. I know that what we would like to see cannot happen overnight. While we would like to have the education provided in the various spheres suggested—up to 15 as a basic requirement and then the alternative of the vocational school or the secondary school and the university— we feel that the Minister should also consider the standard of education which is being provided in these schools, vocational and secondary, and in the university.
There are some rather disquieting  figures to which I shall briefly refer. They may have a significance which I cannot see but I found them disturbing and I would like to refer to them. In regard to the primary certificate, it is no good providing free education unless it is of a sufficiently high standard to qualify the child to earn its living in reasonable surroundings and get good wages in later life. I suggest the figures here point to some serious fundamental disorder in our whole educational system.
In 1957, the number of children who took the primary certificate examination was 27,450 and 8,200 failed. There were 14,905 children between the ages of 13 and 14. I wonder why there is that high number of children in that age group—the primary certificate age group—who either did not or were not able to take the primary certificate? They had to wait until 15 instead to take an examination for which the primary curriculum is fitted for the age of 14. That would leave 23,000 but of 27,000 who either did not take or failed the primary certificate in that year. That shows the significance of the primary certificate or the value of education in the primary schools.
In relation to the secondary schools, a recent article by Dr. O'Meara, who is a considerable authority on education, was particularly damning in relation to the Leaving Certificate examination. I think that the charges he made should be considered by the Minister. He may have considered them and he may have answers for them. I think they are very serious charges. He charges that by the use of various devices, such as memorising essays in Irish, French and passages in different books which they are likely to get, children are put through the examination and, as he says, the certificate is thoroughly fraudulent as a process and quite illusory in its results. That is a very serious charge. I am not competent to decide whether it is true or not but I think that a person of his standing and authority would not make an irresponsible statement. He further says it is clear that the Leaving Certificate is no indication of either true knowledge or general ability.
 Later on, I found some figures relating to University College. I know it would be dangerous and wrong to generalise, but it is a significant fact, which possibly the Minister can explain, that Professor Tierney in University College, Dublin, in 1958, reported that of 1,556 subjects taken, first honours were won by only one per cent. and second honours were won by only five per cent. in these subjects. These are figures which require an explanation.
As to the vocational schools, I looked up a report of the Department of Education and I found the following figures. In relation to certificate examinations day vocational courses, technical school examinations and trained technological study and other examinations, a total of 45,524 persons entered for these tests and 17,897 failed. That is approximately 40 per cent. I think. That seems to me to be a very high percentage of failures but I may be wrong. Taking the primary school, Dr. O'Meara's remarks, the findings of University College, Dublin, which are no different from any of the other Universities, I understand, and the vocational schools—en passant, one could refer to the failure of the medical schools to live up to the inquiries made of them by the Americans recently—I think the figures require some examination from the point of view of the curriculum to see whether it is suitable, whether there is overcrowding, the influence of learning the language, the overcrowding of classrooms, bad school buildings, indifferent teaching methods and corporal punishment which, in my opinion, contributes to the general failure of the children to reach the standard of education required.
It would seem to me that there are plenty of intelligent children who, in my view, on the figures shown, are being denied an adequate opportunity to get a continuation education. It is quite clear from the most recent Estimates speeches by the previous Minister for Education, Deputy J. Lynch, that there is no apparent appreciation of the very radical changes which are required in the Department of Education.
 There is no Department in the State which is of greater importance. I think it is fair to say that there is no Department which has been so neglected. That sounds rather harsh in view of the schools which have been built, but at the same time we still have the overcrowded classrooms and the apparent failure to provide for the reduction of the size of classes to manageable numbers. We still have the difficulty consequent on the teaching as shown in the results of the examinations and the failure to provide an adequate number of scholarships to enable the underprivileged children in the middle and lower income groups to get an education which will fit the natural gifts which the child has.
I would ask the Minister to consider the desirability of taking such steps as are necessary to provide a plan over a reasonable period of five or ten years. I quite appreciate that the provision of school buildings or the provision of teachers cannot take place overnight. I also appreciate that possibly the money for scholarships cannot be provided overnight, but I think the problem is a serious and important one for the children and the nation. It is one which would well repay the outlay in time, energy and money.
Minister for Education (Dr. Hillery): I should like to say at the outset that, in the broad structure of our system of education, there is nothing to prevent expansion or adjustments to allow our system to cater for all our needs and it is on that basis that I would approach the motion. The picture of the actual situation in relation to post-primary education at present is much better than Deputy Dr. Browne thought. I think I can give a better idea of how much progress has been made and is being made within our present system to achieve the ends which the Deputy thought might be planned for now. These plans are already made and progress has been made along these  lines but if I present the picture in figures for schools and attendance it will be much clearer.
In the year 1924-25, there were 278 secondary schools attended by 22,897 pupils and 64 vocational schools at which there were very few whole-time pupils in attendance. By 1934-35, the figures had increased to 322 secondary schools and 33,577 pupils; 141 vocational schools and 11,809 whole-time pupils. In 1944-45, the number of secondary schools was 379, with 41,178 pupils, and the number of vocational schools was 197 with 14,102 whole-time pupils.
The rate of progress shown in those figures in the provision of increased facilities for post-primary education and the rate of increase in the number of pupils availing of the facilities have been very much accelerated in the last five years. Again, the figures will show the position. In the year 1954-55, the number of secondary schools was 458; 1955-56, 474; 1956-57, 480; 1957-58, 489; 1958-59, 494. The number of pupils in secondary schools in the same years were: 1954-55, 56,511; 1955-56, 59,306; 1956-57, 62,444; 1957-58, 66,221; 1958-59, 69,568. In 1954-55 there were 245 vocational schools; 1955-56, 252; 1956-57, 260; 1957-58, 267. The number of whole-time pupils attending vocational schools in those years were: 1954-55, 20,895; 1955-56, 21,336; 1956-57, 22,491; 1957-58, 23,816. The final figures for vocational education for this year are not available to me yet but I understand that there is an increase in the numbers again this year. Apart from the whole-time pupils, there are about 62,000 pupils in part-time attendance at vocational schools.
The facts that emerge from these figures are that post-primary courses have been increasing as the facilities have been expanded and that the facilities have been expanded at a rate which could be described as a good rate. The result of this expansion of facilities is that 50 per cent. of the 14 to 16 age group are at present in  whole-time attendance at either secondary schools or vocational schools and if the number of students in secondary tops, as they are called, in primary schools is included the result is that two-thirds of the children in the 14 to 16 age group receive whole-time instruction, that is, two-thirds receive whole-time instruction as against the Deputy's suggestion that two-thirds were excluded.
The question of the raising of the upper limit of compulsory education has been raised before and in many places it has been said that most other countries have raised the limit. That is not the fact. I find that very few countries in Europe or, indeed, in the world have a compulsory upper limit higher than 14 years of age. I make the statement now, Sir; it has been made before but it does not seem to have been accepted. If anybody doubts it, I would refer him to the World Survey of Education, Volume 2, prepared by UNESCO. Whilst it is my earnest wish that children should continue their schooling at least up to 15 years of age, our experience shows that the most fitting way to bring that about is to continue to increase the facilities for post-primary education and, if at all possible, to accelerate the rate of increase of those facilities. I would consider it one of my main functions as Minister for Education to speed up as far as possible the provision of facilities for this desirable development.
While the question appears to me to be a matter of providing facilities, the fact that the present facilities are being fully used would not suggest to me that the main question is the means of the parents. I should like to say that I intend to endeavour to broaden the scope of scholarships and I hope that, everything else permitting, we shall have a scheme of scholarships so that the poor boy or girl in the country who has the necessary talent will have the chance of getting post-primary education and, I think, a chance of university education also. These matters are often influenced by more than our desire to wave a magic wand.
The question of the amount of money spent per head of the population  in various countries has been mentioned by the Deputy and by other people recently. The figures given, which were that Russia spends £7, the United States of America £5, England £2, are not a fair comparison when you take the figure for Ireland as 10/- In those countries secondary education includes, in addition to grammar school education, a variety of post-primary educational facilities which would be included here under vocational education. If you want to make a fair comparison you have to take this into account and also the comparative wealth of the countries in the first instance. If you do so, the figure per head of the population would be nearer 29/- than 10/-, taking into account the amount spent on education. To this must be added the amount spent on fees. That would give you a picture showing that our position is better than those figures suggest.
Mr. Dillon: Would the Minister excuse me asking did I understand him to say that the comparative figure, if you give £2 per head for England, is about 29/- here, plus whatever private fees may be paid?
Dr. Hillery: Yes, that is the figure which should be compared. The overall picture is good. We have a system of education which can be expanded and which, given time, will be expanded. But we should acknowledge that it has been expanded rapidly in recent years to cater for our needs. We have every reason to be optimistic. Any success we will achieve or the speed at which we will do so, will depend to a great extent on the confidence we have in our own system and the confidence parents and teachers have.
May I be permitted to refer to criticisms of our system which may undermine our confidence in it and so delay any progress which is possible?  I welcome criticism and I am very glad of any interest people show. I want to deal with criticism not based on facts and criticism which is purely hostile. There are two types of critics. One is the man who is plainly hostile and does not know anything about what is going on in the schools, what our system is and most likely does not know anything about systems in other countries and yet makes sweeping statements that we have the worst system in the world. That critic is harmful.
There is another type of critic who probably does not interpret the statistics properly, or, as has happened in the case of that comparison of money expenditure, sometimes does not take the trouble to verify the statistics available to him. I am not worried about what both these types of critics think but their views are often widely publicised and that type of criticism tends to undermine the confidence of our people in our system.
The basis for advancement is there, but, first of all, we will have to settle that our system is a good system and suits us. I know it has virtues and also has defects. A number of our critics are, I think, tilting at windmills. They waste a lot of time on imaginary ills while the real defects are overlooked. I would appeal to those interested in education to be realistic. If we are realistic, look for the defects and make our best efforts to remedy them, we shall cater for the educational needs of our population in a much shorter time.
In a system which requires the functioning together with the State of minority and majority Churches we have the great advantage of harmonious co-operation. We are lucky to have teachers, clerical and lay, in our national, secondary and vocational schools who have a dedication and devotion to their work second to none anywhere. I am sure everybody will agree that, when all is said and done, a system of education is what the teachers make it. We are in the unique position of having trained teachers in greater proportion than any other country. As a body, our secondary teachers are as well qualified as any in the world and better  than most. The overall picture of our teaching profession is one of high qualifications and training.
Our school building programme has been excellent. Last year 92 new primary schools were opened and 50 were opened in the first six months of this year. These are both records. We have a very good relationship between the teaching organisations and the Department of Education. I should like to say to Deputy Browne that we have no shortage of trained teachers and we are, I think, almost unique in that position. We are not now recruiting untrained teachers for our schools. We are able to get trained teachers.
Dr. Browne: You only maintain that position by having a high average figure in the schools compared to the number that should be there. Reduce the number to that recommended and you will not have enough.
Dr. Hillery: I appreciate we shall have to improve the ratio but we are in a much better position. You could have the other position where you could have a school without a teacher. I was saying that one of the things about which we ought to be glad is the good relationship that exists between those concerned with the system. There is a good relationship between the teaching organisations and my Department. The changes made by my predecessor in the inspection system and the reformation wrought there has brought a change in the pattern that existed hitherto. Instead of grievances and complaints there is now a much more harmonious relationship between the inspectors and the teachers. Deputy Mulcahy as Minister for Education evolved a scheme whereby, instead of having public quarrelling and recrimination, problems could be discussed under certain machinery which was set up by him, problems relating  to salaries and emoluments generally. Very often, such problems are settled now without recourse to arbitration and without any of the disadvantages that sometimes attach to a public discussion.
The picture is very much better than many of our critics would appear to believe. We have a great deal for which to be grateful but there is still progress to be made. I believe we will make that progress, and we will make it much more rapidly if there is a spirit of goodwill on the part of our critics. From that point of view I hope they will accept my invitation to an open door for the purpose of ascertaining the facts before they venture into publication. Four times in as many weeks officers of my Department have had to contradict flatly published statements which were contrary to the facts.
In a good school, where good work is done, the teacher will be busy doing his work well. He will not be shooting to the headlines. He will not be seeking headlines. I sometimes think that it might be better from the point of view of inspiring confidence in our educational system if some of our very excellent teachers and educationalists took time off to seek the headlines, as so many others do. However, I think our time is better spent in making improvements and in expanding the system generally.
Mr. Ryan: I regret that many of the comments tonight, in my humble observation, have not been confined to the terms of the motion, interesting as the comments were by both contributors to the debate so far. We are asked in this motion to increase the school-leaving age from 14 to 15 years. I think most Deputies and the majority of the people would agree with that increase. It is desirable, of course, that we should so improve the economic circumstances of the families involved in such a proposal as to make it possible for them to permit their poverty that deters parents at the children to continue in school. It is  moment from continuing the children in school after 14 years. It is not the cost of school fees, the cost of post-primary education in the vocational schools or in the secondary schools. In many cases, it is due to the fact that the parents cannot afford the loss of earnings by children of 15 or 16 years of age. I know that is a matter which does not come within the ambit of the Department of Education. It is no function of the Department to remedy our economic and financial affairs. Nevertheless, it is something to which this House will have to bend its mind in order to improve the circumstances of those families needing improvement so that children will not be deprived of desirable educational facilities because of the poverty of their parents.
I was pleased with many of the figures quoted by the Minister. At the same time, in quoting them, I think the Minister was falling into a trap— a trap which has caught the Department of Education long ago. The Department is too satisfied with things as they are. Good as things are, they can be made very much better. In order to encourage parents to leave their children at school for another year, or two, I think the system of primary education and the primary certificate must be altered so that children will not take that examination until their last year at school. It is undesirable that children should work to a certain standard for the primary certificate and then, as it were, find themselves marking time before reaching the school-leaving age.
That is what is happening at the moment. The last year, or year-and-a-half, is in many cases regarded as marking time before leaving school. That is undesirable. Consideration should be given to the retention of children at school for another year and to concentrating in that year on an alteration in the curriculum by the introduction of certain subjects which will equip the children for adult life and their responsibilities as citizens. At the moment, they cannot, under the system as it is, get much notion of their responsibilities as future citizens.
In the first instance, of course, they  should get that education from their parents, but the schools can help. There should be less emphasis in that last year on the three Rs and a greater emphasis on civics, if only for the negative reason, perhaps, of reducing the rate of juvenile delinquency which occurs between 14 and 16 years of age. We must provide facilities at school in order to retain the children there and deprive them of those dangerous idle years through which many of them pass at the moment.
If the economic fabric were in a healthier state, many of the children leaving school at 14 years of age would secure immediate and permanent employment. Our economic situation is so bad that many of these children have no alternative but to idle around the streets for a number of years. That idleness inevitably leads them into trouble. Anyone who goes to the children's court in Dublin Castle will see there the tragic number of children who would not have got into trouble had they been provided with better educational facilities.
We all appreciate the wonderful work being done in secondary schools by religious orders. Without their help, we would not have today the large numbers of pupils we have in secondary schools. The number is close on 70,000. We would not have these children in secondary schools were it not for the charitable work of religious organisations. Excellent as that is, I do not think the Department of Education has a right to feel satisfied that it is sufficient. The Minister boasted that 50 per cent. of the children between 14 and 16 years of age were receiving whole-time instruction. That is so, but our concern in this House should be about the other 50 per cent. who are not receiving whole-time instruction, and most of whom are not receiving even partial instruction.
I do not believe they will obtain that instruction. A very small percentage will obtain whole-time instruction under the system we have at the present time. Although the figures have improved over the past five years, I believe we are about to reach the stage where these figures will stop increasing, and we shall still be left with  some 40 per cent. of the children not receiving any education beyond 14 years of age. That is a pity but what is worse is that the training they get until they reach 14 years of age could be improved upon and is not being improved upon.
As I said at the outset of my few humble remarks, that is a matter which is outside the scope of this motion. It is desirable that children should continue in school after 14 years of age. If that cannot be achieved immediately with trained teachers, there is certainly no reason why persons with some knowledge of civics, and with some knowledge of the ordinary responsibilities of citizens, could not instruct children in their final year in school and give them an introduction to the large world into which they are now launched with very little qualifications other than those which were considered 100 or 150 years ago as minimum educational qualifications. We have improved very very little on the minimum standard then considered necessary. Life is now a lot more complex and, on that account, it should take a little longer to educate the children, and we should see to it that, while they are at school, they are provided with a better system of education than the one now in operation.
Mr. Corish: I would favour the broad principle embodied in this motion tabled by Deputy Dr. Browne and Deputy McQuillan. I listened to a good portion of Deputy Dr. Browne's speech and I would agree with many of the things he said. A good thing about the motion is that he is not too specific in it. He does not go into any great detail and, generally speaking, the four proposals he has embodied in it would have my support. I do not know what the Minister's attitude towards the motion  is, I must confess, because I was not here for the major portion of his speech which was mainly a general survey of the educational system as it operates here in Ireland. That was the latter part of his speech, in any case.
Deputy Ryan was quite sensible when he said that there are many things to be considered in raising the school-leaving age to 15 years. I must agree that it is desirable that the school-leaving age should be 15 years, but there are many facts which must be faced. We certainly must face the fact that there are very many fathers and mothers of families in this country who cannot wait for their children to reach 14 years of age when they can leave school and undertake jobs selling newspapers, as messenger boys or doing farm work to supplement the family income. That is a problem with which the Minister cannot grapple in his capacity as Minister, but it is a problem the Government and the country must face up to in considering the raising of the school-leaving age to 15 years.
“.... the child, having passed through standard VI, should be given these three alternatives: (1) to enter a secondary school, (2) to undertake a whole-time course in a vocational school, (3) to remain on in a national school.”
It is laudable that a child, or the parent of a child, should be given these three alternatives. I mentioned on the Vote for the Department of Education the importance of, and the lack of, vocational guidance in our educational system here today. The Minister has made comparisons with other countries and he mentioned many of the advantages we have in our educational system but the one thing we lack—to my mind, the most important thing—is any semblance of vocational guidance.
When a boy or a girl reaches the age of 17 or 18 years, it is possible that he or she knows exactly what he or she wants to do—to become a teacher, a builder's labourer, a carpenter, a barrister or what have you. I must say I am not an expert on education,  but from the little I know, there is no attempt on the part of teachers or anybody else to give any sort of advice or guidance to the type of child we are discussing here tonight—the child of 14 or 15 years of age. There are many unfortunately, who decide to continue from the national school to the secondary school who get a bare pass in the Intermediate Certificate and a bare pass in the Leaving Certificate. I ask the House what are they worth after they have wasted so many years in what is described as academic education? Boys and girls with this standard of intelligence may not be suited for or, in many cases, have not the money for University courses to qualify with this, that or the other degree. If they got the proper guidance at 14 or 15 years of age, they would probably become good stenographers or secretaries or tradesmen, or work in some other capacity which would not call for a University training.
The Minister should concern himself about these matters because, again, my experience is that so long as fees and capitation grants are paid, the schools are not too concerned about the future of the boy or girl. I make that as a general criticism, not as a specific criticism against any particular teaching branch or any section of the teaching community at all. Therefore, in  trying to achieve what Deputy Dr. Browne wants to introduce, the Minister ought to try to form some association to help boys and girls at the age of 14 or 15 years to make up their minds.
If when a child passes the sixth standard—usually about the age of 11 or 12 years—he were asked: what would you like to do? Would you like to continue on to a secondary school, or go to a technical school, or remain on in the national school?— what answer would the young boy or girl at that age give? Is he or she at 12 years in a position to decide what his or her future is to be?
Mr. Corish: Let me come to that. The parents certainly have a function but my point about it is that there is not a proper liaison between the parents and teachers, unless, of course, each individual parent goes up to the school—and for some reason they are reluctant to do so—and asks: how is the boy or the girl getting on? Unfortunately the usual sort of answer is: “He is not doing too badly.”
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