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Education in Ireland Essay

In this essay I will argue that the Church, above all else, was to have the most profound effect on schooling in Ireland from 1922 to 1965. Firstly, it is necessary to look at the beliefs of this period that allowed the church to inform schooling. Secondly, we will look at what informed schooling in each decade. Finally, we will conclude on our findings. 1. Social, Cultural, Political backgrounds 1922-1965 In the 19th century the Catholic laity provided an all encompassing definition of reality with religion dictating the curriculum of national schools (Fuller, 2002, 2005).

In 1922 the new nation emerged with this identity and an emphasis of reviving the Irish language. The emergent hegemony was Catholic and it was their social, cultural and political beliefs and hence their identity that was to prevail (O’Mahoney and Delanty, 2001). In the 1920s and 1930s Cosgrave and De Valera ensured that the Catholic moral code was upheld by legislation and cultural nationalism (Fuller 2002). Archbishop McQuaid was involved in the new constitution in 1937 which replaced the 1922 constitution. Articles 41-44 were particularly Catholic.

Article 42 provided a summary of Catholic teaching on education. All sorts of forces were at work to make Ireland a more totally committed Catholic state. Mr Justice Gavin Duffy throughout the 1940s invoked new legal precedents favourable to Catholic viewpoint. In 1948 John A. Costello sent the following message to Pope Pius XII: ‘to strive for the attainment of social order in Ireland based on Christian principles’. During the 1950s Archbishop McQuaid saw the Taoiseach off at the airport as he went away to public engagements.

Our devotion could be seen in packed churches and ceremonies giving the world view of Catholic Ireland in the decades following independence (Fuller, 2002). 2. Social, Cultural, Political beliefs that informed Schooling 1922-1965 By 1922 the church knew that control over education was a vital means of transmitting Catholic cultural heritage, politicians were very careful not to trespass on what the church regarded as its domain. Eoin Mac Neill, first minister of education declared that he ‘deplored statism’ in education (Fuller, 2002).

This meant that children got the education the ‘Catholic Church thought that they should get’ in a church-owned but state-financed education system (Garvin, 2004). In 1924, the number of pupils in secondary schools was a mere 5% of those enrolled in primary school and by 1960 this figure had only increased to 16% (O’Donoghue, 1998). Patrick Gilligan, Minister for Industry and Commerce, in the mid-1920s stated Ireland should be ruled by level headed men, loyal to their religion and free from intellectual daftness’ (Garvin). In 1924 the Intermediate and the Leaving Certificate were introduced.

The Certificates curriculum emphasised the Gaelic development of pupils. History and geography were now also to be taught with an Irish orientation and were to be compulsory. Teaching of history in particular was to be crucial to the shaping of identity ‘nationalist fervour’ (Foster in Brady 1994). In 1926 Irish became obligatory for secondary teachers and all children were compelled to attend school between the ages of 6-14. During the subsequent two years Irish became an obligatory subject for funded schools and obligatory for the Intermediate certificate.

In the late 1920s and 1930s the clergy strongly expressed the fear that Irish would threaten the place of Latin and English in the curriculum both essential for future clerics and missionaries. The curriculum changes over the next thirty years to uphold the status of Latin and English (O’Donoghue, 1998). The secondary curriculum was saturated with a religious ethos. The church’s system of training its teachers was also to ensure the development of teachers who did not promote any questioning of the Church’s teachings i. e. conformity. This philosophy had implications not just for education but for all aspects of Irish Catholic culture.

In 1930 Fianna Fail did take an initiative in education by introducing the Vocational Educational Act but the hierarchy was consulted. The vocational sector saw remarkable growth in the first decade which resulted in concern among the bishops (O Buachalla). The church did not approve of these schools over which they had no control (Garvin). Nor did the state agree (Thomas Derrig minister for education (1932-1948) or De Valera); in the present economic climate of emigration, inflation, teacher salary cuts and a ban on married female staff (Garvin).

In 1950 Fine Gael Richard Mulcahy launched the new Council for Education in order to review and critique the primary and secondary school curricula declaring that the ‘foundation of youth’s entire training was religion and patriotism’. The council’s first report (1952) was on the primary system and it recommended formal recognition of the almost entirely denominational nature of the system. A triumph in the churches’ prolonged battle against secular education. As it transpired the report signalled the end of an era and had no formative influence on impending educational developments.

Throughout the 1950s Fianna Fail Sean Moylan (minister for education and former vocational school teacher), pressure groups, critical catholic thinkers such as Professor Peter Connelly and educationalists began lobbying for educational change. Politicians such as Lemass, O’Malley, Charles Haughey, and Patrick Hillery were less concerned with abstract issues such as identity and more concerned with the future. By 1959 Taoiseach Sean Lemass did not allow the hierarchy to influence the outcome of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill.

It was the first time since the foundation of the state that the government had defied the wishes of the church. Civil servants under Lemass such as Patrick Lynch and TK Whitaker were writing papers on new patterns of economic thinking. The Programme for Economic Expansion (1958) outlined a change in economic thinking whereby economic imperatives were to guide political thinking. This was to send ripples through Irish society. The report emphasised the crucial role that vocational education in particular could play in gearing the technological needs of an industrialising economy.

In 1963 Dr Patrick Hillery (following OECD study into Irish education 1962-1965) stated that economic needs were calling for a review of the post-primary sector. He stated that investment in education, particularly technical education (RTC’s) was the key to bringing about economic progress and equality of educational opportunity. His objective was to bring the vocational sector to a parity of standard with the secondary system. The minister introduced the comprehensive school which would provide both technical and academic educations. The students at vocational schools would be entitled to sit Intermediate and Leaving Certificate exams.

The OECD and department of educations’ report were published in 1965: An Investment in Education. Dr Hillery stated that the report would provide the state with the basis for ‘the direction of our long-term educational requirements’ (Fuller, 2002). 3. Conclusions Education policy in independent Ireland 1922-1957 appeared to have the following issues: denominational, uncritical belief that church was the holder of knowledge, language ideology, limited access to parents or finance, pressing factors of unemployment, emigration and inflation but correlation between education system and economy not initially recognised.

There was still an absence of a philosophy regarding the purpose and nature of education. The contrast between the recommendations of the Council of Education report of 1952 and the Investment in Education report of 1965 is representative of the change in social, cultural and political beliefs that had began to emerge in the 1960s. The religious imperatives had been central to the Council of Education’s definition of worthwhile curricular knowledge. A department of education policy was now based on the Investment in Education beliefs that curricular emphasis should be aligned with the needs of our economy.


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