Dáil Éireann - Volume 217 - 07 July, 1965

Committee on Finance. - Vote 28—Office of the Minister for Education (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:

Go ndeonófar suim nach mó ná £732,500 chun slánaithe na suime [851] is gá chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú lá de Mhárta, 1966, le haghaidh Tuarastail agus Costais Oifig an Aire Oideachais (lena n-áirítear Forais Eolaíochta agus Ealaíon), le haghaidh Seirbhísí Ilghnéitheacha áirithe Oideachais agus Cultúir, agus Ildeontais-i-gCabhair.—(Minister for Education.)

Mr. Ryan: I had almost forgotten that I reported progress myself three weeks ago but the slip is understandable. I tabled a number of Dáil questions recently to the Minister for Education on the question of art and I was horrified to be informed that the Department has only one inspector examining and advising the schools on drawing. Drawing is being taught in some 305 schools with 22,500 pupils. It must be apparent to everyone that one inspector could not possibly give attention to the important subject of art where he has so many schools with so many pupils to cover. It is true that some of these are vocational schools and the subject of drawing in them is primarily one of mechanical drawing and they may have some specialists in these schools to assist the teachers in their work.

By and large, the situation in our schools is deplorable and disgraceful. For a lesser number of pupils in Northern Ireland, there are 20 inspectors for this subject alone. We are constantly paying lip service to the desirability of improving our educational system and yet doing nothing about it and the field of education is particularly vulnerable in this respect. We pay lip service to the desirability of improving our teaching methods in many subjects but we fail to take the effective steps necessary to give proper training. Teachers as well as pupils need the guidance an inspector can give in all matters of education. Inspectors do not go around now merely for the purpose of frightening pupils. They can do useful and helpful work in bringing in new ideas to the schools which may become stale in their methods without periodic inspections.

May I urge on the Minister for [852] Education that in paying lip service to the needs of our schools in regard to developing the skils of eye and hand, we are failing to give to the pupils the degree of assistance that ought to be available to them. I would honestly urge on the Minister to see that that figure of one inspector be multiplied tenfold in the not too distant future in order that the arts of eye and hand may be properly developed.

In recent times design experts from Scandinavia had to speak in very cold terms of our art schools here as designers and we deserve any criticism levelled at us in this regard. Some nations have a natural aptitude for art but I think we in Ireland have not got that natural aptitude. It therefore needs to be taught to our pupils or drawn out of them, if they have it. The casual manner in which the Department of Education treats the subjects of art and drawing gives us very little hope of developing the better side of our Irish nature which is capable of being so developed.

My remarks should not be taken in any way as criticism of the one inspector in the Department. Mr. Bruen does marvellous work, considering that he is expected to work alone and also considering that he is regarded in the Department as a person looking after a subject not worth being treated as one of importance by the Department. He cannot possibly give of his best due to the inadequate treatment which he gets at the hands of the Department. The Minister said recently that he was considering the matter and I hope that Mr. Bruen will get from this consideration humane treatment and that the Minister will multiply the number of inspectors so that they will reach something like the number in Northern Ireland.

None of us is anxious to have untrained people in our primary or secondary schools. We have been encouraging untrained teachers to acquire the necessary training. We must strive to do our duty by the untrained teachers who, because of the inadequacy of our system, are [853] there. There are many untrained teachers in primary and secondary schools. Many of them have a natural aptitude for teaching. Many of them have had many years experience in teaching and have shown themselves to be first-class teachers. Notwithstanding that, they are on a very poor salary scale compared with trained teachers.

The time has come to try to close the gap between the remuneration earned by trained and untrained teachers, particularly as we have reached the stage when we have decided that the number of untrained teachers must be very few. The day is not too far away when we will not have any untrained teachers but nevertheless we ought not fail to do justice by the untrained teachers who are there. I hope the Minister will see to it that some modicum of justice and fair play is given to the untrained teachers as long as they have sufficient numbers of years of experience to justify being paid a higher salary than they are now receiving. It is appalling to think that some so-called untrained teachers are receiving much less than an unskilled labourer earns at the present time. That is a situation which exists. It is undesirable. It has led to a considerable amount of frustration amongst the untrained members of the teaching profession and, in turn, must have a certain damaging effect on the morale of the schools and of the pupils. If these teachers are able to show by experience and skill that they are good teachers, the Minister should see to it that they are paid a more adequate salary than they have been paid in the past.

It is pitiful that our educational system does not stimulate the critical faculties in pupils. That is the greatest shortcoming of the system. We are producing a mass of young people every year whose main anxiety is to conform to whatever are the accepted standards of the society in which they find themselves. The result is that the freedom which was fought for so hard in the past is likely to be taken from us by a new control, the control of the bureaucrat, the control of the pseudo-expert, [854] the control of a small clique in the country who set the pattern of events and who so control the avenues of propaganda that they oblige people to conform to their particular ideas. We had a notion of this menace in the speech of the Minister for Justice early tonight in the closing stages of the Succession Bill when he trounced people who dared to question the Establishment. Unfortunately, we as a nation are inclined to quake under the cry and trouncing of the Establishment. I bemoan the fact that our educational system is producing a nation of sheep and that we have lost that critical faculty for which we were at one time famous.

The Minister for Education, if he is not to become the slave of the same Establishment mind, ought to stimulate the critical faculty in our students. It may well be that the anxiety to pass set examinations is a serious cause of this national malady but, whatever the cause is, it needs to be rooted out so that we will have in future a more courageous and questioning outflow from our schools and universities. If we do not do it soon we will become as a nation the slave of the bureaucrat, the slave of the controller and all that education is supposed to produce will not be produced here. Education is supposed to produce people with critical minds, people who are self-respecting and have a capacity to criticise. The failure to do that is the greatest drawback in our educational system at present.

We will all criticise on the Estimate for the Department of Education every year the lack of money for the building of structures. I throw my mind back to the near past when in this city some of the best results were produced out of the poorest schools. Indeed, some of the best results were produced out of schools that had classes of 50 or 60 in converted bedrooms of 19th century houses. Today one can look at buildings going up but, instead of producing men and women of the stamina of those produced in the schools to which I have referred, we are producing a nation of young conformists lacking in that character which was once produced out of the [855] hardships which people had to undergo as a result of inadequate facilities for education.

I feel that the Minister senses the exasperation which many people feel about our education system at the present time. He indicated in the course of his opening statement that he was not at all satisfied with the position that our educational system at present is divided into a number of apparently water-tight compartments; that he was not satisfied that we were getting the best results where we tolerated the existence of different and competitive systems which sneered at the efforts of teachers in other systems and he indicated his desire to have some form of national body which could speak out for all branches of education. We are with him in his anxiety to dovetail the different compartments in our educational sphere at the present time and anything which we on this side of the House can do to ease the Minister's path in that direction we will certainly do. We do not envy him his task. We are aware that there are a number of sacred cows which some people will not allow to be destroyed but if we are to have a people in the future with critical and useful minds we will have to get away from the stereotyped compartments which have prevented the educational system from being properly used.

It is a tragedy that so much of our educational capital is under-used. That is exactly what is happening. To me it is intolerable that we should be spending considerable amounts of capital money to erect national schools which become idle at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and remain idle until the following day although in the same area there may be a crying need for a course of education of some form or another, either cultural or scientific, at night time. Instead of insisting that the national schools, which are built out of the public purse, are made available for vocational education, we duplicate our capital equipment by building vocational schools for use at night time only. Again, many of these schools which are built out of public [856] money are denied to the taxpayers. It is a sad commentary upon our immaturity that various social bodies in the city are unable to get a place in which to meet without going to one of the commercial hotels in the centre of the city, simply because the managers of the local national schools which have been built out of the public purse, refuse to make these schools available for parish and social activities at times when they are not being used for national school purposes.

Deputies who represent rural areas know the willingness of school managers in the rural areas to make the local school available for all kinds of purposes and also for political Parties to hold their meetings. Political Parties are, after all, responsible units of our society. If that is not acknowledged by certain people, the sooner they are made to realise the responsibility of democracy and the responsibility of political parties, the better. But, by and large, it is certainly much easier to get national schools for civic purposes at night time in rural areas than it is in the city. This is utterly intolerable. I would hope that the Minister would use his good offices with the managers of these establishments to ensure that the facilities which have been supplied by the taxpayer are made available to responsible civic organisations at times when they are not being used by the school authorities.

An instance of overlapping in respect of educational capital was brought to my notice within the past few months in a place not 100 miles distant from Dublin. The local secondary school operated on Saturday mornings and wished to teach science as a subject, one that is highly desirable in this day and age. However, the secondary school had no laboratory or science room but the local technical school had such facilities and the local technical school was not operating on Saturday morning. When the secondary school authorities approached the vocational education committee, they were regarded as people who should really be in a mental home even to suggest such a thing.

[857] Here was a vocational school science room paid for by the taxpayers and the ratepayers, which was public property. The local secondary school was providing the educational facilities for the children of the same parents, in some cases, as those children going to the vocational school, but because of the watertight compartments in which the two sections of education operate at the moment, the sensible idea of making the facilities of the vocational school available on Saturday morning for the pupils of the secondary school could not be entertained at all. That is absolutely daft and unjustifiable and the Minister should rationalise that kind of activity. One does not minimise the obstacles he will have to overcome in this herculean task, but if he nibbles at it, there is the hope that all the unnecessary selfishness in education might be dissolved, and that in itself would be a worthwhile contribution to the national pool of proper thinking on all things.

On the question of proper thinking, I do not know what the Minister can do about the appalling philosophy that is still being taught by a number of teachers who should know better. Within the past few months, it has come to my notice that children in one primary school class in Dublin were being taught that our neighbouring island was an evil place and that they should never go there because it was full of bad Protestants. It is shocking to think that children of the tender ages of six, seven and eight years are getting tripe of that kind in a national school.

Mr. Corish: Poison.

Mr. Ryan: Poison of that kind in a national school. I know it is not in the official text books—thank goodness, it is not—although at times we almost go so far. I am not suggesting this is widespread but it is certainly happening in more places than one. I am not too sure what needs to be done about this type of poison, as Deputy Corish terms it, that is being taught in our schools but the damage done to tender minds is so terrible that drastic action must be taken about it. Complaints [858] made by the parents to the teacher in question have fallen on barren soil as far as that teacher is concerned. I have known other cases of this to occur from time to time and it is an appalling commentary that we have in our schools any teachers who would impart bilge of that kind to children. It has this undesirable effect also, that sometimes it leads to a certain amount of disharmony between children and parents. The children come to believe that the teacher is right to be imparting dangerous ideas like this and that the parents are wrong. I hope the Minister will take effective steps to see that this type of poison is no longer permitted in our schools.

When I say this, I am not trying to pretend that the British have always been right in their treatment of Ireland—far from it. It is very proper that our history should be taught in correct terms but in this ecumenical age, to be telling children of six to eight years of age that Protestants are bad is something that is absolutely unforgivable. It is very necessary that we would not do harm to young minds and, therefore, the Minister has a serious obligation to discharge in this respect.

Before this debate resumed, there was an interesting passage between Deputy O'Donnell from Donegal and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Gaeltacht. They were both talking Gaeilge Uladh. A lot of it was above the heads of Members of this House who, like myself, received a kind of mongrel Irish at the hands of the good Christian Brothers here in Dublin. It brings me to mention another subject on which I should like to express my own disappointment with the activities of the Department of Education in recent times.

Children of my generation at school were the victims or the beneficiaries, as the case may be, of Gaeilge éigeantach as it is now called. If we were, we learned a considerable amount of Irish and we became familiar with a form of words and spelling which, when we left school, allowed most of my generation to [859] maintain a constant and familiar knowledge of the language. Since then two radical changes have taken place in the appearance and form of Irish. First of all, the spelling itself was contracted so that words which we once knew at sight and did not require to spell out were no longer familiar to us, and it required a considerable exercise of self-discipline to read the new appearance of the Irish language which was produced within a matter of five or ten years after many of us left school.

Since then, a further operation has been performed. The Celtic script with which we were familiar has been thrown aside. It is not an unusual thing now for children going to school to ask their parents how to spell words in Irish and for the parents to spell them in correct Irish as the parents learned it and for the children to be slapped in school the following day for producing compositions with Irish words which have been misspelt. This is an abomination and I do not care what expert view there is in the Department to justify it. This policy has done untold harm to the revival of Irish. It has alienated the affection of the first generation to be educated in Irish schools under the system of what is now called compulsory education. It has set up a barrier between parents and their school-going children. At a time when it was necessary to cultivate goodwill and to encourage the use of Irish, to have introduced these two wholly unnecessary artificial operations and make Irish a stranger to the minds of the generation who spent ten or 15 years at school was an appalling thing and cannot be justified.

I know we will be told that for the future this is the best thing that could have been done but apparently we are not yet at the end of it. The Minister has told us that the language is now going through laboratory tests. I do not know whether that is to find out if the cancerous growth which was removed in the last two operations is still growing, but one shudders to think what the final production will be when it comes out of the test tubes and the [860] computers in the scientific laboratories. We are led to believe that these scientific language laboratories can be of great assistance in teaching people a language. That may well be if the language is a living one and a known one, but we have made Irish into no less than three different languages in the last two or three decades. I cannot see what kind of familiar language will come out of all the scientific tests now being applied to the language.

The only problem in the past was the difference between the Irish of Connacht, the Irish of Munster, the Irish of Ulster and whatever residue there happened to be in Leinster. Those of us who went through school in the past 20, 30 or 40 years were reasonably familiar with the differences between the four dialects and there was a possibility that, in time, these dialects would become amalgamated and produce a living language. It might well be the language at which the experts sneer now, the language the Dublin people use when they talk Irish, but it would at least have been a living language. It is my opinion that all the activity of the so-called experts has done untold harm, harm which can never be undone.

There is then the Department making the situation more difficult still. Some years ago the Department directed that only the Roman script was to be used. For the children in the junior schools, it was to be the Cló Romhánach and, in time, that would be the only script for the children and ultimately for future generations. Simultaneously, teachers in the junior schools were teaching children, who were supposed to have only the Cló Romhánach, the Irish script. One year the children were taught Gaelic script and the following year they started learning the Cló Romhánach. The children had the greatest difficulty in changing over from Gaelic script to the Cló Romhánach, from the Gaelic script with its aspirate and the síniú fada to the Cló Romhánach with aitches all over the place.

There is a movement—the title of it [861] eludes me at the moment—in Sandyford in County Dublin dedicated to a form of Irish spelling which will get rid of the aitches. I understand the experts sneer at the activities of these people. They regard them as cranks. I can think of no greater crank where Irish is concerned than the so-called experts in the Department of Education. These people in Sandyford recently produced a book written by Miles na gCopaleen in this script. It is easily readable for people like myself, who were taught Irish through the Cló Gaedhealach, and who were not at any stage of their schooling familiar with these spurious aitches.

The Minister has had more time, and possibly a greater inclination, than others to maintain his familiarity with the Irish language. One envies him his continuing capacity to improve and his ease in expression. Many people, who had a desire to speak Irish, do not get the opportunity in their ordinary avocations because their customers or clients just would not tolerate it and their hours of relaxation are so full of other work that they do not even then get the opportunity to use Irish. Such people, however, can read the book to which I have referred because there are none of these spurious aitches in the spelling. I should like to see our scientific laboratories produce a spelling of the same kind. If they do that, I, for one, shall shout “Hurrah” because that will achieve something. Putting in the aitches means that the words one learned at school become quite unfamiliar. A familiar word of five letters can, with the Cló Romhánach, grow into a word of eight letters. Adults read visually and not by spelling out each word. An adult has become so familiar with the form and structure of words that a mere glance carries the message. That is impossible if one is forced to read a script entirely different from that with which one was familiar.

I am nervous that the Minister will accept all that the Department has done in recent years in relation to the spelling of Irish. It will take courage and, to use a stronger word, guts on his [862] part to say that all this expertise has done untold harm and he intends to put an end to it. We would all like to see him revert to the script familiar to the parents of the school-going children of today. Unless that is done, one will not get the affection that the language should command.

I am aware that there are other causes militating against the language but I do not intend to go into these in this debate. I refer to the causes which engender opposition to the language. I am concerned here merely with the educational aspects of it and the instruments being used in that regard. The Department has failed miserably to retain in one of the most vital ways familiarity with the Irish language on the part of the parents of today, and I do not know what can now be done to undo the harm, but I beseech the Minister in his capacity as Minister and as a representative of these people to do something to restore familiarity so that those who left school in the past ten or 20 years will have again the kind of language with which they are familiar and to which they are entitled if they are to do justice by their children in helping them in their mastery of the language.

Mr. Carty: Is iomdha leithscéal a chuala mé ó dhaoine a bhfuil Gaeilge acu agus gur leasc leo í a labhairt ach an leithscéal úd a chualamar ar ball beag ón Teachta Ryan bhuail sé ar airíos riamh. Beatha gach teangan, ámh, í a labhairt. Ní taise don Ghaeilge, ámh, agus más mian linn í a choinneáil in a beatha, ní foláir í a labhairt ar gach ócáid. Thrácht an Teachta Ryan ar an litriú nua. Cén bhaint atá aige sin le labhairt na Gaeilge?

Mr. Ryan: Ní múinteóir scoile mise.

Mr. Carty: Buíochas le Dia! Ní gá dhuit bheith id mhúinteoir chun an Ghaeilge a labhairt agus a chleachtadh.

Mr. James Tully: Agus, anois, tá sé leathuair tar éis a deich.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.