The clouded vision of an Education Minister?
In a recent edition of Gaelscéal, the Irish newspaper, our attention was drawn to a piece written by the Irish Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn. The Statement was in the Irish Times, "Laying radical foundations for the primary school system" (IT 25/10/2011) .
"This month, we celebrate the 180th anniversary of sustained quality education in the national school system which has served this country so well."
These are the National Schools which Edmund Ignatius Rice was so doubtful about when they were instituted in the 1830s and indeed the various Churches also had problems with the philosophy under which they were established. Indeed they were not universally accepted until well into the 1860s. That they were successful depends on what the observer thinks they were established to do. Obviously the current minister has his own ideas.
I wonder if he has ever read the little pamphlet written some 50 years after the establishment of these schools by the first President of the current Republic? "The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland!"(INLS 25/11/1892).
"It has always been very curious to me how Irish sentiment sticks in this half-way house -- how it continues to apparently hate the English, and at the same time continues to imitate them; how it continues to clamour for recognition as a distinct nationality, and at the same time throws away with both hands what would make it so." he says!
Or has he read The Murder Machine (1/1/1916) from the pen of the President of the Provisional Government of Ireland, who decried the education system "..an education system which more wickedly does violence to the elementary human rights of Irish children..."
In our own day a comprehensive demographic study of the, by now peripheral, Irish speaking areas, demonstrated the "effectiveness" of the schools in those areas in fostering the use of English and the rapid decline of the use of Irish among the youth in those areas. (Report Summary in English may be found here!). A comprehensive analysis, district by district has been compiled by Donncha Ó hÉalaithe in Irish (TG4 & Foinse 23/3/2010).
This decline of standards in Irish teaching in schools is hardly surprising when we realise that the Department is staffed by personnel of which only 1.5% (One point five percent) are capable of transacting any business in the national language of Ireland. (Report Coimisinéir Teanga pdf July 2011)
From 1366 the English had attempted to eliminate Irish. By the end of the eighteenth century it is estimated that in a population of approx 5 million people 3.5 million could speak Irish and less than half of those could speak both Irish and English.Certainly there were more speaking Irish then than there were say Danes speaking Danish at that time - approx 2 million at most. By the end of the nineteenth century the number of people who spoke Irish had had a cataclismic fall to 600,000.
This decline appears to have little benificial effect on the Irish economy. To quote the eminent historian Professor Joe Lee in his monumental study of Ireland in the 20th century. He speaks of dairy exports to Britain, "(in 1870) ...Denmark began to enter the dairying industry seriously.....The Danish performance easily eclipsed the Irish one. There were many reasons for this...abandoning their obscure language in favour of English was not one of them.." (Ireland 1912-1985 Page 663) On the previouis page he states "...it is hardly going too far tio say that but for the loss of the language, there would be little discussion about identity in the republic. With language little else seems tio be required" Indeed all of us, not least a Government Minister would benefit from reading this particular chapter of Professor Lee's book.
Does a Minister for Education who has refused to say whether there is a right here to be educated in the National Language understand or even know the implications of his actions in this regard? Or, as the editorial of Gaelscéal asks, "Has he much more in accordance with the founders of the national schools than has been indicated by him so far?"
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