Kenny is learning slowly on education
A long time ago, when Ireland was a Catholic country, most people would have been familiar with the concept of an epiphany. It’s a sudden moment of revelation. The Magi had one when they saw the baby Jesus. Archimedes had one in the bath when he shouted “Eureka!” James Joyce had one on Dollymount strand. And Enda Kenny had one a short while ago.
Last week, the Taoiseach spoke of how the scales fell from his eyes as he performed the official opening of a school in the west of Ireland that had cost €1 million to build. There he was, being his usual affable self, when something “struck me forcibly”.
It wasn’t a solid object hurled by a desperate citizen but rather a blinding revelation. A great truth was made known unto him: if this school cost €1 million, then we could build 3,000 schools every year for the money we were burning to pay the debts of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide. Eureka!
Seamus Mallon once referred to the Belfast Agreement as “Sunningdale for slow learners”. This moment of blinding insight was the promissory note for slow learners. Presumably if we wait long enough the Taoiseach will be granted the great insight that, if the deal on the promissory notes saves a third of their cost, we could still build 2,000 schools a year for the money. Or, more broadly, make the investment in education without which Ireland will revert to being a backwater economy.
As it happens, around the same time as the Taoiseach’s, I had an epiphany of my own and it too was about education. I was walking, as I do most days at the moment, through the pretty campus of Princeton University in the United States. I was suddenly struck by something I had seen on virtually a daily basis – yet another group of Chinese teenagers taking pictures on their iPhones of each other in front of one of the neo-Gothic university buildings.
This is one of those events so regular that you cease to see it. But on this particular day, it hit me with the force of its obviousness. These kids are tourists. But they don’t go to Disneyland or the Grand Canyon. The places they want to gawk at, the images they want to capture and send home to their parents, are famous universities. Their idea of glamour is not Hollywood, it’s the Ivy League.
And this is the world into which we will send our children. For a long time, we’ve drifted smugly along with the notion that there’s nothing like an Irish education. The Chinese and the Indians and the Indonesians may work hard and work cheap but they’ll never be as well educated as we are. It is an illusion as stupid and scarcely less toxic than the belief that property prices could only go up.