[Sinn Fein]

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003

Sean Crowe TD introducing the party's education document

Education system must be open to all

I am very proud, as the party's spokesperson on Education, to be here today to support motion number 46. The choice of title for this document is extremely apt. Educate that you might be free, wrote Thomas Davis and it was on the front page of every edition of The Nation. We are engaged in a struggle for liberation, not just of our country, but of the mind. We need to make sure that the unquestioned values of education are available to each and every citizen of this island and it is my firm belief that the document before us today sets out the best approach to doing this.

The formation of this policy document has been a long one, but it is a template by which future policy documents should be formed. Every member of Sinn Fein was invited to contribute, either at conferences or by contacting the people involved in the development of the policy and I want to pay special tribute to the tremendous work done by Joelle Gartner in this regard.

Sinn Fein is a revolutionary political party, we make no apologies for it, and before us today we have a revolutionary education policy.

Nelson Mandela the voice of the oppressed around the globe described education as the most powerful weapon in the world. It is essential that it be so for our objective is nothing less than a fundamental alteration in the way society functions to create equality fraternity and liberty.

We need an end to an education system where thousands of our best and brightest cannot afford to go to university. We need an end to an education system, which functions as a conveyor belt, churning out programmed and sanitized workers to feed the demands of multi-nationals. What we need is an education system that is open to all, that stimulates the mind, encourages new thinking and empowers every single citizen.

Sinn Fein is fully committed to a free education system. There is no such thing as spending money in education. You invest, and you reap the dividends.       

As an Irish republican I find it odd that we have to explain the benefits of investment and dividends to the political elite who pride themselves on their market values. But let it be quite clear. Every penny invested in ensuring there is free access to education is repaid many times.

Society benefits from an educated citizenry. Education gives people confidence; it plays a key role in personal development, in broadening the horizons of students. Education has a measurable impact in reducing poverty, crime, sickness, disease, ignorance, hatred, and prejudice and in improving involvement of citizens in community work and in politics.

It opens minds, stimulates debate and new ideas, it opens up the world for those fortunate enough to benefit from it. Perhaps more than anything else, education, at all levels, benefits society.

When people think of education there is a tendency to think primarily of first, second and sometimes third level education. But education does not end when a person walks out of school, nor indeed, does it only begin when they enter it. We need to begin to focus on other forms of education, on community and adult education, on reaching out to those with learning disabilities or reading problems, on making sure the needs of the growing number of ethnic minorities in Ireland are met. Education is a process that must be seen in its entirety.

There is an old Chinese proverb which states 'If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.' Sinn Fein is planning for generations, and it's time to educate the people. This is the way to do it.

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