Teacher's Pet


** IN CHARACTERISTIC style, Labour spokesman on education, Ruairí Quinn cut through the waffle at a sleepy meeting of the Oireachtas Education Committee last week.

Declaring that Ireland is “in receivership’’, he rolled out some of the big questions he would like to see addressed in the Irish education debate.

These included:

– Why has Ireland more primary schools per capita (3,200) than any other OECD state?

– How much has been invested in the teaching of the Irish language? He called this “the single biggest policy failure’’ of the Irish system.

– How much time has been spent in faith formation in primary schools?

– Why are five teacher-training colleges controlled by religious orders?

Quinn said we cannot address the smaller issues if we refuse to tackle these and other big questions.

It was a bravura performance which lifted the committee out of its slumber.

Quinn’s essential point is that the key shortcomings of the Irish education system can be traced back to the huge investment in faith formation and the Irish language across primary and second level.

By some estimates, over 30 per cent of all teaching time in primary schools is taken up by religion and Irish.

OECD studies show the time spent on foreign languages, technology and physical education compares unfavourably with other states. Worse still , a range of other studies – such as computer and enterprise skills, or languages such as Chinese and German – are crowded out of the curriculum because there is simply no time.

Quinn was hinting at nothing less than a revolution in Irish classrooms which would require huge courage in confronting and facing down vested interests.

But are we up for the challenge?

** WHO WILL be the next Minister for Education?

The movers and shakers in education are already speculating about the post-Coughlan era.

Traditionally, Labour tends to push for the education portfolio but everything will depend on the composition of the new government.

Ruairí Quinn would be an outstanding education minister but he may be set for a more senior economic ministry.

Róisín Shortall, who made such an impression during meetings of the Public Accounts Committee this year, has also been mentioned.

On the Fine Gael benches, Brian Hayes – such a formidable education spokesman – would make a fine education minister. But has he burned his bridges with Edna Kenny?

Full disclosure: this column predicted Noel Dempsey and Mary Hanafin’s appointments to education. But it did not foresee the appointment of Batt O’Keeffe or Mary Coughlan to Marlborough Street.

Is another surprise in the offing?

** THIS COLUMN WILL do all in its power to ensure that the dreaded X Factorwinner will not (again) scoop the Christmas number one.

How good it is to see a song recorded by a group of boys from St Michael’s College in Dublin at number 18 in the iTunes singles charts.

Christmas Timeis out now. Better still, all proceeds go to Crumlin Children’s Hospital.

** THAT DEPARTMENT of Education decision to demand cuts in the pay of school caretakers and secretaries has sent shivers across the system.

Isn’t it simply unconscionable to target some of the lowest paid workers in the education sector? Especially when so many in the sector still earn well over €100,000 per year.