Restore joy in education with less focus on outcomes, says professor


MERRIMAN SUMMER SCHOOL:FOCUSING ON the joy of learning rather than outcomes and celebrating creativity and innovation are two priorities for education at this time, Prof Tom Collins of NUI Maynooth said at the Merriman Summer School yesterday.

Prof Collins questioned whether the education sector, like other institutions, could have done more to predict and avoid the current economic crisis. There had been a failure of the critical faculty in society as a whole, he said.

The value of critique and creativity needed to be learned “as opposed to one of compliance and conformity”.

“A school-based education system built upon ‘teaching to the test’ rewards compliance and penalises non-conformity.”

Where the value of learning was “computed in terms primarily of points garnered” there was little emphasis placed on the love for learning, he said.

Prof Collins said research carried out by the ESRI for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment had shown that by second year in secondary school up to a quarter of pupils were becoming disengaged from the school around two main subject areas, Irish and mathematics.

The real challenge of schooling was that children should come to love learning. “This is something we are singularly failing to do.”

Irish schooling ranked high on the disciplined mind – the ability to master subjects – and the synthesising mind, the capacity to abstract and organise information.

It was also strong on the theme of respect where schools provided a pastoral and caring environment. For many children it could be a place of refuge from the harsh reality of home life.

“It is in the area of creativity where schooling, especially at second level, is most challenged as the race for points for third level takes such precedence in the lives of teenage children,” he said.

While it was unclear what direction Ireland would take out of the current crisis, there was no doubt that education had to remain centre stage. “We must see in education not only the means out of this crisis, but also providing the citizens of the country with the tools with which to cope with this crisis,” he said.

Other priorities were focusing on education through life, overcoming the issue of early life educational failure and school dropout rates, appreciating local culture and engaging with global culture, and a heightened awareness of the threats and opportunities from the environmental challenge.

Managing director of RTÉ Radio Clare Duignan told the summer school that radio would not thrive without a healthy commercial sector, and RTÉ would depend on the sector for a greater roll-out of digital radio.

She said commercial radio was also creatively vibrant and, within its own mission, as capable as RTÉ of discovering talent and reaching wide audiences.

Irish radio would need a distinct sense of identity to stand out in the move from analogue to digital distribution of radio through technologies like Digital Audio Broadcasting. “This will present real challenges to Irish radio trying to retain its position as the radio of choice for Irish listeners and to RTÉ as the national public service broadcaster.”

She said RTÉ and the independent broadcasters of Ireland needed to make more of the common ground they shared. RTÉ depended on its partnership with the commercial sector to develop audience research and raise awareness of the radio industry.

“And we will also depend on it to promote a greater roll-out of digital broadcasting.”

She added that as a dual-funded broadcaster, RTÉ had more common ground with its commercial competitors in the recession than in the boom years.

“Uncertainty over commercial income is a big threat to us all and to our audiences.” However, radio was a vibrant sector in Ireland.

Listeners were at the top of radio consumption tables in Europe and, unlike in the newspaper and TV sectors, there had been few inroads made by international radio stations.