Education – a fragmented system

A chara, – The post-Christmas furore about shortage of teachers in certain school subjects has largely died down. So too, probably, has an opportunity for more reflection on what causes this position. Much of the debacle results from lack of engagement between partners in education.

That shortcoming is also evident in other situations, for instance those relating to curriculum.

My own area of Irish witnessed a switch in recent years at second level to emphasis on the spoken language rather than its literary tradition. Students no longer come to university with an understanding of the history of how Irish or its literature evolved.

I am not aware of any meeting of third-level colleagues in my discipline which has taken place to address the consequences of that change. Neither do I know of discussions with our counterparts in secondary schools regarding its implications.


It used to be that we gained a prior impression of incoming students’ abilities and knowledge from correcting the Matriculation examination of the National University of Ireland (NUI). That test no longer exists. Nor indeed in any meaningful way, it appears to me, does the role the NUI once played when exercising joint oversight of the syllabi of its constituent colleges.

I cite the case of Irish from long-standing familiarity with it, but also insofar as other disciplines may share the same fragmented experience.

This is not to impugn the fine work done by any institution, at whatever level, or by individuals involved with them, in trying circumstances of overcrowding or minimal resource provision.

The problem lies substantially with collective reaction, or lack of it. Continuing failure of joint action is likely to result not only in the perpetuation of uncertain employment opportunities. It also puts off equally urgent thinking on educational concerns relating to matters like literacy, the nature and purpose of qualifications such as university degrees, or the core function of subjects, Irish among them, in revealing this country to its own citizens. People of my vintage will remember a time when approaches to those issues showed greater cohesion.

It seems opportune for the system to consider again how best to restore that necessary balance and interaction. – Is mise,


Department of Modern Irish,

University College Cork.