[Sinn Fein]

30th March 2003

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003

Pauline McCauley, County Cavan, speaking to motions 46 and 66 on education

I am a second level teacher. I welcome the Education Policy Document ``Educate That You Might Be Free'' as a progressive Policy Document. It is easy to recognise in this document that Sinn Fein has enjoyed a ministry of education in the 6 counties.

I would like to very briefly comment on a number of sections!

In relation to the Irish Language/Irish medium -I agree with the sentiments expressed. But can I say, I feel the method by which Irish is taught in many English medium schools is very poor and should be reconsidered. There is too much focus on the written element rather than the oral. Children initially learn to speak by listening to others, not by seeing words written on paper. The written should be taught through Irish rather than through English. The proof that this system has failed is that after an average of 13 years learning Irish in school, most of us cannot string two sentences together ``as Gaeilge''. I do agree with the suggestion of learning neighbourhoods in the document. This approach is already evident in the Irish language movement in conjunction with the Irish speaking schools.

On the issue of tackling educational disadvantage, there are in my experience some good initiatives now in place such as the home/school liaison officer, the school completion programme which is a follow on from the stay-in-school initiative, resource teaching etc. These programmes should be sustained and made available to all schools servicing disadvantaged areas. Schools should be proactively targeted and supported rather than leaving it to individual schools to look for these supports.

In the area of special needs, the number of educational psychologists will have to be increased. Often parents and teachers will realise at an early stage that a child has a learning difficulty, which needs to be expressed. Presently this assessment could take years unless the parents can afford to have their child privately assessed. Even with an assessment done, it often takes years for the Department of Education and Science to put in place the resources necessary to deal with the learning difficulties identified. This means children fall even further behind in their work, due to the absence of these supports.

There is a worrying trend in Ireland, following in the path of the USA and possibly other countries, where increasing numbers of parents are sending their children to private schools, thus creating a two tier system within education. While we cannot force parents not to go private, we need to address this problem. Public or Vocational Schools need to promote themselves more, many of which provide an excellent education across the spectrum of academic, sporting and artistic achievement.

On Motion 66

The period of the hunger strikes is included in the history curriculum for the Junior Cert here in the 26 counties. Students find this era in history very interesting. I expect the Leaving Cert. History Course to be changed in the near future. At present it covers the period up to 1966. Now is the time to lobby the Department of Education to ensure the inclusion of this Section.

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