In search of excellence in education

 

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (Opinion, February 19th) describes how teaching is often no longer viewed as a high status profession, but rather a low status, insecure, casual job. This toxic view of the teaching profession is familiar to those of us working to educate.

For all within education there are significant professional, institutional and sectoral challenges ahead.

In my college we have worked long and hard over many years to develop new and exciting courses that have contributed a great deal to the creative economy of Ireland.

The students and graduates of our further and higher education courses are regularly nominated for, and often win, national and international awards. These awards include Oscars, BAFTAs, IFTAs and Emmys. These and a great many other successes have earned Ballyfermot College a justified reputation for innovation and creative excellence, a point noted by Brian Mooney (Education, February 19th).

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn ignores these unique achievements with his placement of Ballyfermot College under the aegis of Solas.

His response to our continued success is to keep a cap on our student numbers, to reduce our teaching allocation, to force us to look to the UK for our higher education certification, to refuse our degree students eligibility for grants and to prevent us from continuing to develop new and innovative courses.

The Minister wants excellence in education. We provide excellence in education. He wants educators to do more with less. We do more with less. He has expressed himself “impatient for change’. We agree, but let’s make that change for the better. Respectfully, one size does not fit all. – Yours, etc,

ALAN COSTELLO,

Ballyfermot College of Further Education,

Kylemore Road,

Dublin 10.

Sir, – We read with interest and concern, Brian Mooney’s article (“If Solas is the new Fás, can it make a difference?”, Education, February 19th) Mr Mooney, like many commentators on the changing further education and training (FET) landscape in Ireland, fails to capture two essential features of this emerging sector.

First, as has been unequivocally stated by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, Solas is not simply a re-branded Fás – it will not be delivering courses on the ground. Rather, it will operate as a further education and training authority, doing for the further education and training sector what the HEA currently does for the higher education sector.

Of more concern, however, is the fact that this article does not give a true picture of the FET service to be provided by the 16 new Education and Training Boards. It implies the new service will be formed from the merger of two existing strands of provision: Fás Training Services and Post Leaving Certificate programmes (PLCs). In fact there are three strands in the merger process. Mr Mooney fails to mention the Local VEC Adult Education Service Sector, which the National Report on Lifelong Learning in Ireland (2008) states “. . . has arguably more adult learners than all other providers combined and could thus be considered the most pervasive adult education provider in the State”.

The restructuring of the further education and training sector is the most profound overhaul of educational structures for decades. The Minister has declared that his objective is to establish a world-class further education and training system under the strategic direction of Solas. The Education and Training Boards, when established, will be responsible for the organisation and delivery of an integrated education and training service within their respective catchment areas. In doing so, they will be accountable to Solas and government for the efficient utilisation of education and training funding.

The reorganisational challenges are very significant, but I am confident that, with commitment and focus, the declared objective of a world-class further education and training sector in Ireland will be achieved. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL MORIARTY,

General Secretary,

Irish Vocational Education Association (Education and Training Boards Ireland),

Kilcullen Road,

Naas,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole, in his article on the educational policy of the present administration makes the point that when a banking crisis struck Finland in the 1990s that they responded by investing in education to become a “smart society”.

On the contrary, when the crisis hit teachers were laid off and pupils sent home for periods of weeks all over Finland. Response to the present economic problems have included cuts to the system of universities of applied sciences which have seen the number of places on offer cut by an average of 8 per cent but by as much as 50 per cent. Further, the threat of temporary lay-offs at primary level has raised its head again in certain communities. – Yours, etc,

DAVID FitzGERALD,

Kulmakatu,

Iisalmi,

Finland.