Lack of cross-cultural education ‘depressing’, says President

President says ‘pioneering’ Educate Together programme is now mainstream

Two new schools under Educate Together patronage were announced last week. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Two new schools under Educate Together patronage were announced last week. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

President Michael D Higgins said the imposition of a “single, imposed certainty” in Irish education had in the past killed the notion of a republic “stone dead”.

The setting up of Educate Together schools in the late 1970s “challenged the status quo that has existed for many years which many people believed did not reflect all the needs of an evolving society which was gradually becoming more diverse and more secular”.

However, he said, he found it “depressing that we don’t have more education across different cultures and beliefs”.

Mr Higgins delivered an address at the 2016 Educate Together annual general meeting (AGM). It was held in Donabate Portrane Educate Together national school in Dublin on Saturday.

He praised the Educate Together model which he said had sown the “roots of a sense of justice” for future generations.

Educate Together was a “pioneering movement which is now mainstream”, the President declared.

He praised two of the founders of the Educate Together movement, Áine and Bill Hyland, as “audacious and brave”.

They had challenged the old church-based model of schooling, the President said.

Educate Together was the “very opposite of an authoritarian setting. Part of the opposition in the 1970s was the defence of an authority which never could be questioned.

“It has of its nature created exclusions everywhere. It killed the project of a liberationary and emancipatory project of a republic stone dead in my view.”

The movement was set up in 1978 in Dalkey, Co Dublin. There are 77 Educate Together primary and four second-level schools around Ireland. In total, they provide education for more than 21,000 pupils.

Two new schools under Educate Together patronage were announced last week. They will be in Drumcondra/Marino and Cabra/Phibsborough.

He and his wife Sabina had been strong advocates of the setting up of an Educate Together school in Galway.

Both were founding members, as well as active board members, of the Galway school project (now Galway Educate Together National School).

He recalled his struggles in setting up that school which opened its doors on September 1st, 1994.

“I remember the long correspondence about the Galway school, about the very concept of the thing being accepted.

“I wrote to a patron of the schools who said there wasn’t any point in us meeting because he wasn’t interested in the very concept because he did not agree in what I was interested in.”

By contrast those involved in Educate Together schools were “pluralists in every sense” and provided an example to other models of schooling.

Mr Higgins said he was concerned about children preparing for examinations in hotel rooms and for children from the Travelling community. He said the problems of the Travelling community were not insurmountable.

The dignity taken away from children at an early stage is not easily repaired, he warned.

In response, Educate Together chief executive Paul Rowe said Mr Higgins had been an early supporter of the movement.

“As President, as a public representative and as an academic, you have an outstanding record in standing up for equality and human rights all over the world,” he said.

“You have helped our whole society recast its ideas of Irishness. You have become an outstanding role model for the children in our schools.”