Private Members' Business. - Reports on the Arts in Education: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 22 October 1986

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 114 No. 7

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

That Seanad Éireann in view of the partial access through private provision for the Arts that is available to children, calls on the Minister for Education and the Government to commit themselves to speedy implementation during the term of the present Government of the Benson Report on the Arts [719] in Education so as to enable the children of this country to have access to the Arts as part of their normal development through the curriculum of the school system with the inevitable result of there being a much more widespread enjoyment and appreciation of the Arts in Ireland and above all so much more opportunity for the increased development of the personality and that it further notes the Brinson Report —The Dancer and the Dance— and the Herron Report —Deaf Ears— which develop the proposals of the Benson Report in the respective areas of theatre, dance and music.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  I just want to conclude. I covered most of the points the last evening when I was making a contribution. As I said then, I welcome the report and it is to be encouraged by all sections of this House. We only have to look back to 1983 to see that 39 per cent of our students who took the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations included arts, including music, among their subjects. It is a very low percentage and it shows us all the enormous amount of work that has to be done, but I have no doubt that unless finance is provided for the purchase of instruments in primary schools in particular we will not make very much progress. There are light wind instruments that can be purchased very reasonably, perhaps for less than the price of a substantial meal for the parent of that student, definitely for around £10, through which a student can get very basic knowledge and learn how to read music and everything that goes with music. It is one thing to have it all in theory but to have it in practice cannot be beaten. From experience I know this to be true.

I say to the Minister that it would be a great day's work for the country, for future generations, to have pupils taught music under supervision, because when you are taught music at a very young age the chances are you will learn it for the [720] love of it and the knowledge and skill will increase as the years go by. All of us who have been associated with music for most of our lives know that it becomes part of your life if you are on the stage, in the theatre or in school learning and practising. You are not out in the street; you are not open to all the various different temptations and dangers that exist; and you are giving yourself a great opportunity and pleasure you will never forget.

I was probably one of the luckier students in my area. I decided under enormous hardship that I would try to go to music classes and pay my way as I went along. There was no television at that time. Now, with television the temptation is far greater to sit at home, watch television to entertain yourself. The Government and all of us in the Oireachtas have a big part to play to ensure that finances are made available for instruments. In those impressionable years in the primary school and the early years of secondary school, if encouragement is given and if a person sees that his fellow student or teammate is learning music, playing music and getting on quite well at it and, maybe, gets an airing on the local radio station, or whatever, a great example is given to others. They get the drive and the goal, and how much better that is for our society compared with — I have nothing against public houses or anything like that — having them in premises where gaming machines are and where there is every temptation in the world. That is one of the great advantages in this report. It is creating a platform, giving a forum to young people.

The country has no greater ambassador than its music and song. There is no greater way to make friends than with music and song. Bing Crosby retired having been on top for many years. He decided to come back after two years; he knew no other occupation. The more popular you become the more money you make and vice versa. He found out in other businesses that the more money you made the more enemies you created. I do not know any other profession that carries so much goodwill and such a good humoured atmosphere as music when [721] people are out socialising and enjoying themselves.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  I join with other Members of the House in recommending this motion and I should like to pay a very special tribute to Senator Michael D. Higgins for his very fine opening address on the motion and the very fine evaluation he gave of the merits and qualities of the arts and the absolute obligation, necessity and compulsion on us to do more for the whole area of artistic endeavour, particularly at school level. I concur entirely with him that there is a need to formulate and firm up our art policy at school level. I go right down the road with the Senator in his evaluation of the various scales and sensitivities, of the humanising factors that have become very much part of the human being who has been exposed at school level to art in its many forms.

I also agree with Senator Mullooly in placing some of the blame on the current system for entry into third level education, that is, the points system, which demotes arts and artistic endeavour in the schools to a secondary role. When the pressure comes on, areas of academic achievement which are the ones rewarded by virtue of entry into third level education have to take precedence and will take precedence until such time as we elevate and raise the whole status of art in all its various forms. I compliment Senator Howlin on his very fine speech when seconding the motion.

The House owes a debt of gratitude to the people who have re-focused our attention on this very fine report which had largely lain dormant since its production and publication. Though it was published in 1979, the report is very current, topical and contemporary. The points contained therein are ones to which we have an obligation to address ourselves today, just as much as we needed to address ourselves to them back in 1979, because unfortunately the situation has not improved.

The opening chapter of the report gets the tone and the context of the debate very much in focus. The opening sentence [722] says — and I think we would agree unanimously that it is an understatement — that art has been neglected in Irish education. We have, unfortunately, in Ireland an historical apathy towards the arts. When one looks at the areas of high achievement of the general public at amateur and professional levels outside the schools, one marvels at the high degree of skill and professionalism, the standards that have been achieved in drama, dance and music and in all the other areas of art. One wonders how this has happened without the necessary seed being sown at primary school level.

I said at the outset that there is an historical apathy among the Irish people. That is very unfortunate. If we go back to 1949, Professor Bodkin, in his report in Irish schools on the subject of art in Irish schools stated that in Irish schools the subject of art in either the historical or practical sense is neglected. In 1961 the story had not improved. In a report called: Design in Ireland by a group of Swedes, the indictment was that the Irish school child is visually and artistically among the under educated in Europe. In 1965 we find the report of the Council of Design giving the judgment that art as a whole had been gravely undervalued.

In 1976, Professor Jane Richards stated that the provision of arts for boys and the neglect of music for boys is an affront to educational standards.

Those are four very salutary statements. They are very valid in their general indictment of all of us collectively for the state of the arts in this country. There has been an abject neglect of art for its own sake and from a utilitarian point of view, instead of developing an economy of art, developing the talents, aptitudes, skills and creative ability that lie dormant in many of our young people, they do not get the chance to unearth those talents or to give them the necessary exposure.

The report is a very fine one. It is the first report of its kind that has set out to provide a comprehensive evaluation and analysis of the state of art at school level. It is the first report to gather together all the various pieces of evidence on the many facets of art and to form this evaluation. [723] It goes through the various sectors, with particular emphasis on the primary school sector. I should like to focus attention on the situation in the primary schools because it is here that the seed is sown which germinates into the love or otherwise of art and where it is nurtured and cultivated. It is here that the child spends the longest sustained period of his educational career, a total of eight years.

If we are honest, we who came through the system pre-1971 all know that the only exposure we got to any type of artistic endeavour or achievement was in singing. It is only recently that art has been given any serious curricular place. There are, of course, difficulties. There are financial and physical difficulties. There are difficulties as regards rooms, resources, teachers with specialised training, who have the necessary skill, love and aptitude for the teaching of arts. It is something which cannot be switched on overnight. It is something we have got to apply and address ourselves to with greater vigour, commitment and determination.

We note with considerable satisfaction that in 1971 the new curriculum introduced for the first time arts, crafts, music, pottery, etc. in the primary schools. There has been a regular monitoring and analysis of the relative success or otherwise of this introduction to the curriculum. It is fairly and honestly acknowledged by the teachers themselves, and by the INTO who had been part and parcel of this evaluation, that many teachers openly admit they feel they lack the skills, knowledge and the resources to teach in this area. Many of them are untrained and do not have the aptitudes because such aptitudes were not called for, were not expected and were not in the system when these people were called to training.

The Association of Primary Teaching Sisters give a very honest assessment of the situation. I quote:

Teachers in general recognise the value of such crafts as cookery, needlework, knitting, crochet, embroidery, [724] and these are usually well taught, but the less useful and more unuseful crafts, such as pottery, clay modelling, basketry, puppetry, weaving, textile decoration, block and screen printing etc., do not recommend themselves to the general run of teachers other than a few enthusiasts.

That is a very honest assessment of the situation. It is an acknowledgment that most people do not feel they have the necessary competence, training or skill to deal with the area.

If we are to address the problem in a forthright, successful fashion we are talking about the need to train people coming out at present in this area, to be conscious in recruiting people to the teaching profession that their aptitudes and skills in this area will have to be evaluated and taken into consideration and will have to be a considerable component in deeming a person suitable for the teaching profession. Above all, we will have to address the problem that there are many people, such as the sisters referred to, in this appraisal of their efforts and many people who feel that they need in-service training on a fairly sustained and concentrated basis. Painting, picture making, etc., are more in evidence but are not given the priority they deserve.

What happens is that when the pressure comes on timetabling in terms of resources, the “three Rs” always get and always have to precedence. The same thing happens with music, creative dance, movement and drama, etc. There is a need to build up an infrastructure of well trained teachers who will be able to apply themselves to these areas. There is also a need on the part of the authorities to give sympathetic timetabling to a place for art. The report states that:

Looking at the general time table structure in the average school one sees in fact that art when timetabled is usually timetabled on a Friday afternoon which is not the time when a student has the necessary enthusiasm or the ability or the likelihood of applying himself with full vigour to the subject.

[725] The sad fact is highlighted in the report that we do not have the inspectorate structure. Inspectors are people to whom teachers look for guidance and advice. If there is not an inspectorate specifically trained for the area of art, it is not going to succeed. We have a very fine post-primary and third level inspectorate, but one cannot expect an inspector going around to the primary schools to be a jack-of-all trades in terms of confidence, particularly to advise people in relation to art and how art should be taught.

I would ask the Minister to try to recruit additional inspectors in this area and to give the teachers who have this inferiority complex in relation to their ability to teach art the necessary advice, encouragement and assistance in relation to their endeavours.

At post-primary level the story is no better. This is an area where many exciting things have happened over the past number of years. Post-primary education is an area that has shown itself to have a unique capacity to adapt. We have seen vocational schools take on academic subjects; we have seen secondary schools take on technical subjects; we have seen the intermediate and leaving certificates move into the area of vocational education; we have seen the development of the comprehensive school idea and the emergence of community schools with all their education philosophies which are designed to achieve the maximum level of interplay and interaction between the community and the school. Yet, for all these developments, which are considerable, page seven of the supplementary document attached to the report gives frightening statistics which I must admit I was not aware of. They are statistics which, in themselves, are an indictment of our level of commitment.

In 1983, 0.73 per cent of boys sat leaving certificate music; 3.68 per cent of girls sat leaving certificate music. In 1985, rather than improving, the situation had deteriorated: 2.9 per cent of students out of the total number who sat the leaving certificate took music as a subject therein.

I have to go along with Senator Cassidy [726] on the point that if we are to nurture and cultivate a love of music in the schools, one way of doing this is by giving people the necessary instrumentation with which they can achieve musical skills and practice. In this day and age we are talking about the sum of £75 as a Government subsidy towards the setting up of a band, which is generally acknowledged to be in the region of £1,795 by way of total investment. The total amount of the grant given is little more than derisory.

In third level education much has been achieved and a lot of modification has taken place. I welcome in particular the restructuring of the National College of Art and Design. I know that one cannot switch overnight from a position of apathy to a position of achievement. I am aware that the Minister has the necessary interest in the arts to undertake the necesary input in this area to ensure that many of the prejudices will be broken down, that much of the apathy will be dissipated, and to ensure that the people will get the necessary encouragement. This is very easy to do nowadays as the technology is available, simple technology, videos, projects, slides. Even a newspaper is a work of art and it has many artistic evaluations.

In conclusion, I welcome the points raised by Senator Michael D. Higgins in relation to art, such as the development of communicative skills, interpretative skills and so on, the fact that every attempt to deal with the history of man reverts back to art, the fact that art can enrich and individualise and that, while a person might be alone, he need never be lonely as long as he can have recourse to the Arts; the fact that the artist in a community can be a reflective mirror and can enhance the image and self-esteem of it. It is time we moved art to the centre of the stage rather than having it peripheral, as it has been thus far.

Mr. Manger: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  I am glad to see the Minister here, instead of a deputy. Deputy Cooney is a very courteous and interested man. If the Minister detects in my contribution any shade of special pleading, it is because I am an active member of the Cork VEC.

[727] I am delighted with the opportunity to comment on the Benson report: “A Place for Art in Irish Education”. The report is an extremely comprehensive one as Senator Higgins has just stated. I commend most sincerely the Arts Council for their initiative in commissioning and publishing the report to coincide with the International Year of the Child. I regret, of course, that the International Year of the Child was in 1979. We are now seven years later debating the implementation of the recommendations in the report. This is not to say that nothing has happened in the intervening period. Positive action has been taken in relation to a limited number of the recommendations and some progress has been recorded.

Regrettably in some respects we have also regressed. This is because sufficient action has not been taken to date to ensure that the place of the arts in the education of all our children is a central or mainstream place as opposed to being a peripheral one. The whole concept of the arts — in music, drama, and so on — has almost been the exclusive preserve of middle and upper class people. I am not saying by design, but unfortunately ordinary working class people have lost out in one of life's better experiences. They are, if you like, culled out from the system in one way or another. One would hope that, with the implementation of this report, they would be brought into it so that the appreciation and enjoyment which many people get from the arts would be shared by all of our people. I should like to see it in the mainstream as opposed, as it is at present, to being a peripheral one. Consequently, when the various education authorities have been faced with finding means of coping with the revised teacher allocations in recent years, the areas dealing with the various arts disciplines have always been numero uno as regards a target.

I referred in my opening remarks to the education of all of our children because the reaction of the school authorities to the more difficult resource situation, understandable and unavoidable [728] as it may seem to those same authorities, has been especially unfortunate in the case of less advantaged children, as the parents of such children have been less able to seek and make alternative arrangements to compensate for the reductions in the programmes available as part of the normal education of the children. This is very true as piano lessons, music lessons and singing lessons in the private sector are denied to people who do not have the money to send their children for these lessons.

In the above context I should like to note the efforts of the interim Curriculum and Examinations Board which, in their discussion papers on the curriculum generally and on the arts and education, appear to have taken a clear view that the arts must have a place in the centre of things in the education system. The follow-through to this would be to provide clear guidelines as to the content in the various syllabi as well as to the entrenchment of the arts in the mainstream curriculum.

I look forward to the establishment of the statutory Curriculum and Examinations Board and to their putting in place, with the support of the Minister, the concepts developed by the interim board. In many respects these concepts go even further in charting a new role for the arts in the Irish education system than the Benson report dared to go.

The Benson report is an extremely comprehensive document. It contains a total of 119 recommendations. The Minister will be happy to know I have no intention of commenting on all 119 recommendations. However, I should like to touch on one or two of them. Recommendations 8 and 20 call for the establishment of a new grade within the Department of Education structure of specialist subject advisers and for the employment by the Department and VECs of such advisers who would work under the appropriate inspector and have responsibility for developing the subject within the schools in a designated area.

I have long been of the view that the teaching work in schools generally would be significantly enhanced by the putting [729] in place of local advisory services which would be staffed by the best of our existing practising teachers recruited for this role on a variety basis: for example, either by being released for part of a week from normal teaching duties in a single school to carry out this advisory role in a wider area, or by being released for a fixed term to do the work in a whole time capacity and then to return to the original duty and be replaced in a similar way by other teachers. This would ensure that these specialist teachers would never be too far removed from actual day to day classroom work and contact with pupils and so on.

When I suggest this I do not want to be construed as advocating any further restrictions on teacher pupil rations. I often think we concentrate too much on the quantity of education, whereas the quality is also important and would be much improved by the establishment of local advisory services such as I have outlined. As this is not likely to take place on a general basis, at least at an early date, and given the Irish record for pilot schemes, the arts would seem to be an obvious place for such pilot development in view of the evident vulnerability of arts programmes in the educational system. Also, as we do not have broadly based local education authorities embracing schools of all types and levels, and as an advisory service must be local if it is to be effective, I heartily endorse the suggestion in the report that these services should be located in the vocational education committees, as these are the only organisations in existence which are local and democratic. It is very important when we are trying to deliver services at local level that they should be local and democratic.

The second set of recommendations which I wish to dwell on for a short time are those dealing with theatre in education. I refer to recommendations 31 and 106. Theatre in education is depicted by the Curriculum and Examinations Board in section 4.2.11 where they say:

Theatre-in-education (TIE is [730] presented by actor-teachers who do not have the same continuing relationship with the students as their own teacher has, but who have access to a range of signs outside the scope of most teachers. They write and present programmes, often in consultation with teachers, which explore issues and attitudes and situations appropriate to the personal and social development of the students visited. Theatre-in-education work is highly specialised and programmes are developed for about eight different age-bands from four to eighteen years old. Very often there is an accompanying workshop, and almost always a resource pack is provided to facilitate preparation and follow-up work by teachers.

TEAM, Ireland's only permanent and professional TIE company, has been working in Irish schools since 1975 and presently serves the school community in ten counties. There is a need for additional TIE companies in Ireland to provide an adequate service to schools, teacher centres and teacher-training institutions.

I find that interesting for a number of reasons. TEAM is a professional theatre-in-education company which has been in operation since 1975 and which has been in receipt of substantial grant-in-aid from the Arts Council. I do not begrudge TEAM that support, although TEAM's activities take place in the extended Pale area and do not impact on the lives of citizens in Munster. Recommendation 106 of the Benson report states that the Arts Council should continue its financial support of theatre-in-education groups such as TEAM. This rings hollow because, as a member of the Cork VEC, I have been witness for the past few years to the fact that both the Arts Council and the Department of Education have signally failed to ensure that the Munster based theatre in education company, Graffiti, had access to financial support to enable them to provide for young people in the southern part of the country. I urge the Minister for Education and the Minister of State with responsibility [731] for the Arts to ensure that his Department and the Arts Council get their respective acts together while there is still time and ensure that the group, Graffiti, get sufficient financial support from his Department, the Arts Council and the Cork VEC, so that they can continue to provide the very valuable service they have given for the past number of years. That is in line with the recommendations. Funding is the problem, and I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the Munster based group get sufficient funds to carry on the excellent work they have been doing over the past number of years.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  I support the motion put down by the Labour group in the Seanad. There is no doubt that the arts have been neglected in Ireland and that we are uneducated in the arts. Unfortunately, many people look at the arts as they are portrayed in ballet in high class music, and in classical paintings. Art takes many forms and sometimes there is a dichotomy between the various groupings involved in artistic endeavours. I ran into trouble some years ago when I sent out a circular giving details of arts week in Kilkenny, which was being held at the same time as the fleadh because of the order in which I put certain things. Certain people decided that I was running down Irish music because Irish music happened to be the third part of the listing I gave and a classical concert happened to be the first part of the listing.

Too many people are very selective in their appreciation of certain forms of art and they do not want to know what anybody else is doing. We have Irish art forms which do not cost the State a lot. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann do a fantastic job in the arts but, unfortunately, the Arts Council seem to consider themselves to be above the endeavours of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí and anything that is Irish, and do not see fit to give to the Irish cultural pursuits the emphasis they should give. We are culturally starved because we are out on the periphery of Europe. We do not have access to the major art galleries, orchestras and to the [732] major dance forms. If anybody had considered that ballet was an art form which the Irish people were not really interested in, the lie would have been given to that by the interest shown recently in the visit of the Bolshoi Ballet when each show was totally booked out. If that ballet company had stayed in Ireland for another week, or perhaps ten days, all their shows would have been booked out. A number of people in Ireland have tried to protect that art form and the Irish Ballet Company, amongst others, have had their troubles in getting funding and in keeping that art form going. Our education system has done nothing in terms of giving young people a love of dance whether it be ballet dancing, ballroom dancing or Irish dancing. There is no place in the school curriculum for the promotion of dance as an art form. There is no funding at all in the education system for it.

Because of the lack of interest in the Department of Education and because we have not enough art galleries we have a problem in getting our young people interested in the visual arts. Some attempt is made in schools to teach music. Unfortunately, the teaching of music is likely to die out in the next number of years because we will not have the dedicated priest, brother and nun who devoted themselves to giving a cultural aspect to education. They spent a lot of their spare time developing an appreciation of music in their pupils. I do not criticise teachers for not doing things outside school hours, but the time spent by religious teachers will be lost. Because of the fewer numbers of religious teachers in our schools, even music will die out as an art in our educational system.

The educational system needs to be changed so that people can have the opportunity to develop the arts, so that they can become more rounded people, rather than people heading towards an examination result which will give them access to third level education, or to a vocational position. The neglect of the arts in Ireland is obvious in that we do not produce great artists except on a very [733] minor scale. Our artists are produced not by the system but despite the system.

It is suggested in the report that the only access in Ireland to art forms is through paid private tuition. That is true. I have seen in Kilkenny how an arts week can create an interest in the arts far beyond the interest shown in the various programmes put on during the week. The school of music in Kilkenny has grown over the past five years because of the arts week. Sculptors and painters have worked with children during that week and an interest was generated because people were exposed to good artists. We have seen the formation of local art groups, the development of the school of music, of literary groups and short story programmes because of exposure to the arts in art week. There are many art forms in Dublin, very good libraries, art galleries and a very good National Concert Hall but in general we lack education in the arts.

If anything is done as a result of the Benson or the Brinson reports, or as a result of the Minister for Education listening to the Senators who are appealing for more help, a good job will have been done. The Minister can only be helped by this debate. There has been a reluctance in the Department of Education, through the years, to put anything into the educational system that will not be of direct benefit to pupils in their examinations. However, a population can only be well educated if they have a proper grounding not alone in the basic elements but also in the arts. Anyone interested in music should not differentiate between classical music, pop music, jazz, jive or celtic music. People should be taught to appreciate good music and good paintings. People should be taught how to daub pieces of paper with colours and produce images that give them satisfaction, even if other people do not consider them of any great value.

Enormous pressure is put on children in the educational system today. As the father of six children who have gone through all levels of education, I know that. The schools to which my children went were geared towards passing exams [734] which would give pupils the opportunity to get into third level education, but I would have been more satisfied if a little more time had been spent in giving the pupils an appreciation of the arts. In acquiring an appreciation of art forms, people would get a certain relaxation as well as knowledge which would be of benefit to them in their pursuit of more academic programmes needed to get them into third level education.

I appeal to the Minister to see if a comprehensive scheme of education in the arts can be initiated in the educational system, not just as a sop, but as a very real way of giving people an appreciation of the arts and a certain relaxation when they are studying extremely hard. To sit down with a good book or to listen to a good record can be extremely relaxing. People should be taught how to appreciate different styles of writing, classical art forms, modern art forms and so on for enjoyment and to develop a mental attitude, not just because somebody says they are good, but to get an appreciation of the arts. If the schools could give an education which would give people an appreciation of the arts we would have a better education system. I hope the Minister and his officials will take note of the motion put forward by the Labour group in the Seanad. It has the full support of the House.

Minister for Education (Mr. Cooney): Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark Cooney  This has been a useful and interesting debate. Those contributions I did not hear, I have had the benefit of reading in the Official Report. It is commoncase that we would all like to see the status of arts and the position of the arts in the educational system generally enhanced to the greatest possible degree. One could get the impression from listening to the debate that nothing has happened in so far as the Benson report, and other reports and their recommendations are concerned.

The reports in question are valuable. The broad thrust of these reports is valid and entirely acceptable, and entitled to serious consideration and implementation. [735] There are conclusions throughout the report on specific aspects with which one could quibble, occasional faults in statistics, but these minor points do not take from the general validity of the theme of the reports. The reports are acceptable and they form a basis for improvement in this area.

The subject of the arts for people of my generation probably presents a different picture to younger citizens. We were inclined to regard the arts and things artistic, not quite as things foreign, but very often as things strange. The language of the arts is not always everyday language and the proponents of the arts are not always everyday people. Consequently, that fact tended to cause a divide in attitudes. There were vigorous advocates of the arts on one side and the plain people of Ireland on the other side, a little apprehensive and a little offput by what they sometimes saw as an elitist approach using precious language. That may be relevant to our generation, but it does not impinge on the consciousness of the younger people for the very good reason that the arts now take a much more important place in our education system than at the time we went through that system and there is not a strangeness about it.

Talking about the system I take issue with Senator M. Higgins when he mentioned that there was a contrast between reason and imagination in the school system and he described this as a deadly cancer so present in the Irish education for so long. That is a travesty. That is not the position. There is ample room in our modern day curriculum for imagination and for initiative. The old fashioned emphasis on constant learning by rote has changed. The curriculum is designed to provoke initiative and imagination on the part of the pupils.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the arts have not had the high place in the national consciousness that they should have had in recent and past times has been the strangeness with which that subject has appeared to garb itself in the eyes of so many Irish people. A telling phrase [736] used by Senator Higgins when he commented on the subject of creativity and how it is not something singular to certain gifted individuals but is something in everybody to be fostered, nurtured and brought out, was that artists always knew that but “reflected in the lay phrase.”. That phrase makes my point about strangeness. We have to be careful when we are trying to raise a consciousness of the arts that we do not turn off the audience to whom we are speaking.

Much has been happening, not with a very high profile and perhaps not as fast or as comprehensively as people would like. We see that in the school system. One of the recommendations of the Benson report was for increased attention to in-service education, so that practising teachers could have the opportunity through in-service courses to become qualified to pass on artistic knowledge. Those courses take place and have been in place for some time. The variety, depth, length and scope of in-service courses is a matter of continuing debate rather than contention between me and the various teacher unions and the educational interests. We would like to provide more, and they would like more to be available. It is our ambition to move towards an ever greater supply of in-service courses. As we progress along that road, steadily but slowly, attention will be given to ensure that these courses provide training for primary teachers in arts and crafts, music and physical education which will include dance and drama.

That aspect of the Benson report is not being neglected, though perhaps it is not being implemented with the vigour and scope one would like to see, because in-service courses are very expensive. Teachers have to be paid for attending in-service courses, and mounting these courses is very expensive. It makes heavy demand on resources. At the root of all of this, one question underlying this debate is resources. If we had unlimited resources we could do wonders to transform the Irish educational system in many ways, including the amount of attention given to the arts. I would not [737] like anyone to get the idea when I speak of resources and the educational system, that I am in any way implying that our educational system is defective. We have a very good educational system. Our graduates can stand comparison with their peers in any part of the world, that is, in so far as general technical education is concerned. I do not know how they compare in regard to their artistic education.

A controversial recommendation in the Benson report is that we should provide specialist advisers. Senator Manager touched on this. The inspectors are the specialist advisers. We have an integrated inspectorate and we do not have a system of specialist specialists. Our inspectors have the capacity to perform as specialists in a number of areas. There is quite a resource among them in the artistic area also. We use their expertise in planning and conducting the in-service courses and arranging for specialists in various forms of the arts to conduct these courses whenever they are run.

Another matter which is relevant to the teaching of art subjects is the question of physical facilities. This certainly points up the problem of resources, because to provide physical facilities is most expensive but in all the modern schools which are being provided there is a general purposes room included in the schedule of accommodation. These rooms, which are generally large in relation to the other accommodation, have the capacity to be used for a variety of purposes including any teaching in the arts whether it be painting, music, drama or dancing. They provide a proper physical environment for enhanced teaching of the arts. So, as the school building programme continues these facilities will continue to be provided. If Senators only knew the number of representatives and letters I receive, not just daily but many times each day, for new schools and extensions to schools, they would be aware of the tremendous demand for resources on something as basic as improved accommodation.

The colleges of education which, of course, have a critical role to play [738] because they turn out the teachers who will have the responsibility for the development of our young people, have been reviewing the content of the courses in art subjects in the training of primary teachers. This matter was referred to specifically in the Programme for Action in Education 1984/87 which we are in the course of implementing and one of the objectives of that programme was to review the content and structure of the courses in the colleges of education with regard to art subjects. That review is presently under way.

In regard to the entry qualification to colleges there is an allowance made for applicants who have a capacity in music. In the interviews for admission to the colleges one of the matters that is opened in the interview is to try to assess the candidates interest in art and cultural ideas generally. When we are recruiting the trainees to the colleges of education the arts get attention at the interview stage so that the pupils coming in are, if you like, attuned to the idea that they are not strangers to the concept of artistic development.

In second level there has been movement also and while the number taking music, for example, is still not as high as we would like it to be, there has been a significant increase in recent years. The number of art teachers available in the post-primary level, both in the secondary schools as such and in the vocational schools, is increasing all the time because there is an ever growing demand on the part of parents for art to be a subject. This is eminently desirable and something obviously that we will encourage and would like to see continue.

In my short time as Minister for Education I have had the opportunity to visit a reasonable number of schools at primary and secondary level and I have been struck by the fact that in every one of them there have been examples of pupils' art work on display. It is something that you nearly take for granted when you go into a school. There has been a fair amount of movement in that regard. Movement in the dance area is more difficult [739] because classical dancing, as opposed to folk dancing, is very specialised and, indeed, folk dancing can be quite specialised too.

Senator Lanigan indicated that there is a latent desire on a wide scale among the Irish people for ballet and his evidence was the huge attendances to see the Bolshoi company. I wonder if a company as technically competent as the Bolshoi came to Dublin, but had not the label “Bolshoi,” would the attendances have been as high. It is a debatable point. There is no doubt that ballet is still seen as a very esoteric thing generally. There is a lot of ground to be made up in that regard. When I talk of folk dancing, I would have to take issue with Senator Lanigan on his criticism — it is going outside the scope of the debate I admit — of the Arts Council for their funding policy in relation to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí. This is a complex and controversial area which has been widely debated. The Arts Council have indicated their policy very clearly, and I think with a lot of justification, on how they administer what I think we would all say is a smaller budget than we would like them to have. As far as my knowledge of the Arts Council goes — not terribly deep but it has been acquired in recent times — I have never perceived any sign of an anti-Irish culture bias in the Arts Council. In fairness to the Arts Council I should put that on record.

The third level is another area where one would like to see further progress, because at third level you are educating the potential teachers of the profession and professional artists. The regional technical colleges, without exception, provide courses in art leading to certificates and diplomas at various levels which, in turn, entitle the pupils to go further to obtain professional qualification as teachers, or can be the entrée into the world of design. They again have enhanced the public consciousness of that form of art. Thomond College, I understand, recently devised a degree course in drama and the teachers who take that degree course will be qualified to teach [740] drama and will raise the appreciation and knowledge of drama as an art form in the schools to which they are eventually allotted. This is not something that will happen nationally overnight. It is taking place little by little all the time. It is not dramatic; it does not have a high profile.

Because of those two considerations one might get the impression that not much is happening, but there is a lot happening. More will happen as public consciousness of the importance of the arts in everyday life is heightened and debates such as this, for example, can do that. Extra-curricular activities by teachers are also extremely important. Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of presenting prizes for an art competition, the first such competition, run by the Teachers' Union of Ireland for pupils in their schools and for teachers in their schools. They were very pleased with the response they got. It is an indication of how interest in the arts can be fostered. Competitions tend to improve standards, and thereby standards can be improved without the application of scarce resources.

Senator Lanigan mentioned the good teachers up and down the country who have given time voluntarily, outside school hours, to provide music lessons and drama lessons for their pupils. I would like to echo his tribute to them, both lay and religious, for the work they have done.

Another thing that struck me is the number of schools that have school bands or school orchestras. That is growing. I do not want to sound complacent about the place of the arts in our educational system. What I want to do is to strike a balance, to reassure the House that things are happening in relation to these reports, to assure the House that, so far as I am concerned and the Department of Education are concerned, there is a willingness to ensure that this movement is continued and, within the resources available to us, to enhance it and extend it. I cannot say to the House that I will be able to make extra resources available in this coming financial year for this area. I will be put to the pin of my collar to [741] maintain the resources which I had last year to keep the show on the road, if I may put it like that, without making any pun. Nevertheless, there are things relating to organisation and matters of mood and encouragement which can be implemented without the application of financial resources.

Senator Howlin mentioned the possibility of a special unit to deal with the provision of education in the arts. That is something I will have examined so that all that is taking place in the educational scene can be co-ordinated and that pioneers, perhaps in some artistically barren educational outpost, trying to bring enlightenment to those areas and a heightened perception and consciousness of the arts generally and their benefit, will have encouragement and will not be left alone. Quite a lot is happening. We want to make sure that that momentum is continued, is increased, and that we will achieve what is the common case among us all: an enhanced place in our educational system for the arts.

I know, my Department know and we all know that it can only be for the benefit of those who go through our educational system that they should have exposure to the arts to the greatest degree possible. That is our ambition and I am grateful to Senators for highlighting the need for that in this debate.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  I will be brief as usual. May I use ten seconds of my time to thank you for having the door fixed. It was the quickest piece of work done by the Office of Public Works since I came into the Seanad and I hope you, a Chathaoirleach, will thank them for doing such quick work.

As a serving teacher at primary level I would not like the idea to go abroad that things are rather bad or slow in the arts section. I know ballet is difficult in the country. It is easier in the cities where visitors come and display things. At primary level at the moment there is a tremendous advance in art, whether it is music or painting. The Minister mentioned [742] an exhibition of paintings. Competitions are being held regularly, to depict road safety and so on.

When I was trained more than five years ago, we had a completely different line altogether. When a new curriculum came in we all thought it was a bit up in the air. The younger teachers are coming out with a much more liberal training. The older teachers might feel they should start getting down to the nitty-gritty but, in fact, they have a very broad range of skills coming out of training. In many schools we have our traditional Irish music and our Irish dancing being taught and, in the long run, that is very important. In some schools where they are lucky enough to have skilled musicians, music is being taught and some of the teachers spend a lot of their time at night helping as well.

Drama is very much part of primary education at this stage and in most schools is being used — sometimes in Irish conversation lessons — where children act out the parts, or in school concerts which are quite common. Much work is going into this and school concerts have done a tremendous amount too, especially in rural areas, to give children confidence to get up on stage, whether they are acting, singing, dancing or whatever they are doing. It has certainly brought them on a long way, and has given them equal opportunity. The integration of all these art subjects has done a tremendous amount to give the children the opportunity to do something that, a few years ago, one could say they did not readily have the opportunity to do. Long ago many of the buildings were not suitable.

The Minister mentioned GP rooms. I teach in a rural school and it is always a source of amazement to visitors that we got a GP room when we got an extension. It has been a tremendous asset to the school whether it is for GP, a concert, or whatever you wish to use it for. While they are costly, I would certainly encourage the Department to continue putting a GP room into any school of a reasonable size. It cannot be built on to every two teacher school, I suppose, but it is something [743] that has given a great fillip. It would be unfair to many teachers throughout the country, to give the impression that art is almost dead. I have to accept that, when it comes to ballet and so on, it is reasonably dead, but it is difficult to cope with as the Minister has said. Go raibh maith agat.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  On behalf of the mover of the motion, my colleague Senator Michael D. Higgins, and the other members of the Labour Party, with his permission I want an opportunity to respond to the motion as it appears on the Order Paper. It is a very easy task for me to do so because the response of Senators was so positive. The facts as outlined by Senator M. Higgins in introducing the motion speak for themselves. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the progress that has been made, but all the contributions from all sides of the House, from Senator Howlin, who seconded the motion, from Senators Mullooly, Burke, McGonagle, Cassidy, Higgins, Magner, Lanigan, Browne, who is a teacher, must be a reassurance to the Minister that there is widespread support in this House for the concept enshrined in this motion which calls upon the Minister to further his awareness of the need for a structure to stimulate arts in education.

From the Minister's response I know that, within the restrictions upon him, he is doing what is possible to try, in his own words, to keep the show on the road, and that he is aware of the special interest all of us have in the formalisation of a structure within the educational system that would identify arts as an important facet of the development of the human and something that would be to the benefit of mankind as a whole.

Senator M. Higgins has given sufficient proof that if we take account of the requirements of people in the development of their whole way of thinking in a changing society, society itself will be the better for that. People will adjust more readily to the massive changes, technological and otherwise, that are taking place in society which allow them so [744] much spare time. We are dogged with the spectre of unemployment. If people have access to art as part of their education, they may be able to appreciate the better things in life.

The Minister wondered, in response to Senator Lanigan's comment about the Bolshoi Ballet, whether, if the Bolshoi name was not attached to the ballet, it would be as successful. Most of us would condemn the political system in the country in which the Bolshoi Ballet originates. We would all prefer our own form of democracy and the freedom of the individual. That is a State whose system of democracy we would question, because it is closer to a dictatorship. Because they have a firm structure and a commitment by the State to the development of arts in any form, and in particular the ballet, they have produced technical expertise which has given tremendous entertainment to people throughout the world. That, in itself, is an indictment of our own system.

We seem to regard art as being non critical in times of restriction and widespread unemployment. In the race for money something as important as the arts could be neglected. This would be a tragedy for ourselves and for our children's future. I am sure the Minister realises that there would be widespread support in this House for any additional allocation towards the promotion of arts in education. The Minister said he is satisfied things are moving. He admits they are moving quietly and that they are not making any headlines or are not the subject of widespread favourable comment because only those specifically involved in them are aware that there are changes in the curricula. In spite of our past neglect we have been fortunate in that we have produced so many world famous artists in all forms — music, song, dance, drama and so on. We have a place among nations with a reputation of having produced tremendous artists. We are all very proud of them.

Years ago there was very little available to people in their own homes apart from the master tutor, the parent of the [745] family, who was able to hand on some of the culture we are now so proud of.

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, who have been the subject of widespread comment and discussion, have done work in the area of our national music and dance which we must all commend. Any time we can be of assistance to them — and the Government have been of assistance to them — we should do so without any reluctance because the end result speaks for itself and throughout the world, has been a reflection of what our society was and what we would all wish it to be. However, I will not go into that because the area of adult education in the arts is probably outside this motion. We are more anxious that structures should be set up in the initial stages.

The Minister quoted some comments from Senator M. Higgins and took issue with some of Senator Higgins' phraseology. Most of us admire the commitment of Senator Higgins in this area. There are other quotations from his speech which the Minister should take on board as reflecting the exact situation vis-à-vis other countries in Europe. As reported at column 493 of the Official Report of 15 October, quoting from the Herron report Senator Higgins said:

The number of inhabitants in Norway is 3.8 million. The number of official schools of music is 193. The number of inhabitants per music school is 19,900. In Denmark there are 4.9 million people; there are 207 schools of music; and the number of inhabitants per music school is 23,700. In Finland there are 4.7 million people; there are 82 music schools, and the number of inhabitants per music school is 57,300.

He went on to state:

In Ireland the number of inhabitants is 3.4 million; there are four schools of music; and there are 850,000 inhabitants per music school.

Senator M. Higgins says that tells a story. That is a suitable statement to quote from. We might not agree with his [746] phraseology. But these are facts.

Mr. Cooney: Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark Cooney  Let us face reality.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  The Minister disagrees with some of his quotations. Here is one that I hope he cannot disagree with because it shows we have a long way to go.

Mr. Cooney: Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark Cooney  I think the Senator misunderstood what I said.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  We have a long way to go in trying to achieve some of the dedication towards a structure in the schools and in the school curriculum which would accent the importance of arts in education. I should like to quote finally from Senator Higgins because, in fairness to him in his absence, he would accept some of the things the Minister said. He said:

Finally, there is the question about curriculum reform. There should be provision within the school system, within the new curriculum at all levels, for the arts.

He said:

I know and welcome every single innovation that has been made.

He is accepting what the Minister said, that innovations have been made and he welcomes them. He said:

However, let me draw a distinction about innovations that have been introduced by individual teachers.

Like Senator Lanigan and the Minister I wish to commend the individual teachers who have shown a flair in this area. We are looking for something a little bit more structured than the flair of individual teachers. We commend them for that flair. We believe that if you just take individuals who have a special interest in particular forms of art their pupils will benefit but if you have other teachers who do not have the same interest, then their pupils, through no fault of their own, could be losing out in the whole area of developing their talents in arts.

Senator Higgins also drew a distinction [747] between that kind of individual teacher aptitude and private collections in schools to fund little orchestras. I join with Senator Magner in his favourable comments about vocational education committees who have been to the forefront in stimulating grants and assistance for various enterprises within the schools structure to assisting in the formation of orchestras and all sorts of drama groups, musical societies and everything else, all of which we are very proud of.

We in the Labour Party believe — and I think this has been supported by all sides of the House — that something else needs to be done by way of a more formal structure to take into account some of the reports we have quoted in this motion. I believe from the Minister's response that he is not unmindful of our concern in this area. We know improvements have taken place. They are slow. We are all impatient. Money is not always as available to the Minister as he would wish. We are impatient in this area. We had unanimous agreement in our group on how we should word the motion because we felt that it was worthy of debate and support by all Senators. The interest shown has proved that this was a worthy subject for discussion.

I want to thank the Minister for coming in to respond to us as a Minister with Cabinet responsibility who can influence the actual provision of additional funding for this whole area. I do not want to join Senator Magner in his pleas for individuals because I could be very parochial also, having come from the stage into politics. It is an area where we have a great interest. We feel it would benefit the people, the children and our future residents to have a formal structure and not to be dependent on individuals who have a particular flair. Much as we admire them — and they are absolutely vital to what is happening at the moment — we would like a formalised structure to ensure that arts will not be forgotten in the whole educational process.

Question put and agreed to.


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