Cog notes: How civic-minded are our schools?

Concern has been expressed that some schools are dropping Civic, Social and Political Education

The civic-mindedness of secondary schools is being put to the test by the decision to reduce Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) into a short course for the new junior cycle curriculum.

The Department of Education says “the intention of the proposed reforms is not to downgrade subjects”. But the CSPE teachers’ association doesn’t see it that way, and, at its recent annual meeting, concern was expressed that some schools were already dropping CSPE.

The irony of the short course is that it will be longer than the current programme: 100 hours instead of 70 hours, spread over first, second and third year. But the exam will be gone, and it’s unclear whether this will affect the commitment of schools to keeping it on the curriculum.

The department rejects the claim that students will be able to opt out of what used to be called Civics. Junior cycle programmes must be "mindful" of statements of learning about active citizenship and rights, even if they don't include a CSPE short course, it says. The issue is of particular concern to ASTI president Philip Irwin, who was involved in CSPE from its inception in the mid-1990s. He is vice-chair of the CSPE teachers' association, which is seeking a meeting with the Minister, Jan O'Sullivan, on this issue.


Chairwoman Jeanne Barrett says the case for retaining CSPE as a compulsory subject is strengthened by the Government announcement that it plans to hold a referendum on reducing the voting age from 18 to 16. "What kind of voter education are they going to have?" she asks.

Meanwhile, the department says no date has been set for the implementation of the planned new Leaving Cert course on politics and society.

The Catholic Church and its role in fee-paying education

The recent discussion paper issued by the Catholic Schools Partnership asked: “Why do we have Catholic schools?” But it dodged what is perhaps a more pertinent question in the Irish context: “Why is the Catholic Church in the private-schooling business?”

Fr Michael Drumm and other spokesmen for Catholic secondary schools argue that politicians, the media and the public don't fully appreciate their "voluntary" nature. But can you blame us poor souls when the church has played such a dominant role in fee-paying education down the ages?

Yes, fee-paying schools may make up a small fraction of the 374 Catholic secondary schools in the Republic, but they play a huge role in perpetuating social division by anointing special advantages on a privileged few. The Catholic Schools Partnership document laid heavy emphasis on the way a “voluntary” ethos is distinct from a “private- sector” ethos. “Profit remains the main driving force of the energy and creativity of the private sector,” whereas the voluntary sector is public-minded and non-profit.

You have to wonder just what sort of "non-profit" ethos is being promoted in Blackrock College, Clongowes and other feeder schools for the IFSC. Pope Francis would surely ask the question.

If it’s good enough for Binchy . . . 

In 1964, a bunch of American students stepped off an Aer Lingus flight to become the first Experiment in International Living

group to visit Ireland. The novelist Maeve Binchy was among those involved in starting the intercultural organisation.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, EIL Ireland is holding a panel discussion on foreign-language learning skills in Ireland, which will be held at the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, tomorrow, 10am-1pm.

The discussion takes place in the context of the Department of Education's consultation document, A Foreign Languages in Education Strategy for Ireland.

Panellists include Tony Donohoe, head of education and social policy, Ibec; Joanna Tuffy, chairwoman of the Oireachtas Committee on Education; and Philippe Milloux, director of Alliance Française, Dublin, who will presumably have a thing or two to say about the department's observation that there is a "predominance of French" at secondary level.

Twins peak at programming skills

There must be something in the water in Limerick. Not only has it produced the Collison brothers – the Castletroy College duo behind the international tech-company Stripe – but it can also lay claim to the Griffin twins, who attended Ardsoil Rís in Limerick and are now wowing European judges with their computer-programming skills.

Conor and Darragh Griffin, are studying computational problem-solving and software development at DCU, for which they have just won an intervarsity programming contest. The first-year students finished first out of 10 Irish entrants and were placed a very respectable 15th out of 70 UK and Irish university teams.

There was no waiting around for the junior cycle coding short course for these boys. They are self-taught in C/C++, Java and Lua programming.

  • Peter McVerry Trust, the homeless and housing charity, has launched a new education website on homelessness., aimed at students and teachers, includes case studies, details on the causes of homelessness and plans of action.
Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column