Teaching philosophy in schools is essential to prepare children for modern life, Sabina Higgins has said at the launch of a new organisation aimed at promoting "thinking time" in the classroom.
"If we believe that all our children, the citizens of the future, should be offered the opportunity of understanding the decisions that affect their lives then we must offer them the capacity to do so," Mrs Higgins, wife of President Michael D. Higgins, told the inaugural gathering of Philosophy Ireland at City Assembly House, Dublin.
Secondary schools will be able to offer philosophy as an optional short course under the new Junior Cycle programme, being rolled out on a limited basis this year.
While welcoming this initiative, Mrs Higgins said philosophy should form an integral part of the curriculum, not just as secondary level but at primary level too.
Being able to tackle today’s complex, global problems requires a “preparation in thinking”, she said. “Philosophy is a powerful preparation for the journey upon which young people, from wherever they come, will embark.”
Philosophy Ireland is developing a new training programme this autumn for teachers who want to offer the new Junior Cycle short course. Teachers doing Philosophy for Children (P4C) - an internationally-recognised model for primary level - are also making resources available through the organisation.
Representatives of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) attending the conference said there was scope for "thinking time" within the "Goodness Me, Goodness You" multi-belief curriculum for Community National Schools. There was also a chance to explore moral reasoning within the planned new Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics programme.
However, Mrs Higgins - who is patron of Philosophy Ireland - questioned whether such programmes were sufficiently ambitious or inclusive. Since ERB and Ethics was “only starting out, now is the time to get it right,” she said. “I think we are at an important juncture in Irish education.”
Dr Charlotte Blease, one of the organisers of the event, described philosophy as a corrective to today's "app addicted" lifestyles. "Young people are seldom alone with their thoughts," she said.
Studies in the UK show that P4C helps to boost exam results but more importantly, she said, the skills developed through philosophy - such as thinking across disciplines and sometimes asking “naïve questions” - were needed for students and graduates to flourish.