Mega­phone diplo­macy is no way to tackle an im­por­tant is­sue

Bray People - - COMMENT -

AT A time when the Ir­ish ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is fac­ing very sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges it is dis­qui­et­ing, to say the least, that the big­gest sto­ries to emerge from last week’s teach­ers’ con­fer­ences were about a teacher bawl­ing through a mega­phone at his boss, un­seemly in-house fight­ing, and a bizarre death threat against one union leader.

OECD anal­y­sis show Ir­ish sec­ond level stu­dents’ nu­mer­acy and lit­er­acy skills are de­clin­ing at an alarm­ing rate. The na­tional level of adult il­lit­er­acy level is near­ing an ap­palling 20 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion. We are well be­hind the field in in­tro­duc­ing in­fo­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy at pri­mary and sec­ondary level and, signs on, IT firms say thy can’t find suit­able job can­di­dates in Ire­land, de­spite our high un­em­ploy­ment rates.

These are des­per­ately se­ri­ous is­sues. Par­ents who du­ti­fully send their chil­dren to school, hop­ing they will re­ceive a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion, might rea­son­bly have ex­pected that the an­nual Easter con­fer­ences by teach­ers’ unions would find such mat­ters suit­able topics for dis­cus­sion and de­bate. In­stead they were treated to the sight of a teacher roar­ing through a mega­phone at Min­is­ter Ruairi Quinn, who was an in­vited guest at the ASTI con­fer­ence in Wex­ford. When the min­is­ter did get to speak he was re­peat­edly jeered, heck­led and boo’d. This was fol­lowed by op­pos­ing fac­tions in the ASTI union – ap­par­ently the cen­trists and the mil­i­tant pha­lange – en­gag­ing in an un­seemly and very pub­lic row.

The TUI con­fer­ence in Kilkenny was a more civilised af­fair, at which the min­is­ter had to en­dure noth­ing worse than an hour-long speech by the union pres­i­dent chal­leng­ing pro­posed re­forms and sig­nalling that teach­ers will shortly be look­ing for pay in­creases.

At the INTO con­fer­ence, pri­mary school tach­ers, prac­ti­cal as al­ways, made the point that they waste a lot of time and en­ergy point­lessly tak­ing notes and fill­ing out forms – an un­for­tu­nate con­se­quence of the present day phe­nom­e­non whereby a child fall­ing in the school­yard has be­come a ma­jor event. Ba­nal maybe, but a gen­uinely im­por­tant is­sue. That it was one of the more worth­while mat­ters brought up at any of the con­fer­ences says a lot.

It is ac­cepted that the Ir­ish ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has some catch­ing up to do and that changes will have to be made to make this pos­si­ble. Yet, if one thing alone emerged from last week’s teacher con­fer­ences, it was that that there is a huge re­sis­tance to change – queue the man with the mega­phone protest­ing the ‘dis­man­tling’ of the tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and its val­ues.

Min­is­ter Quinn sees a need for change and is keen to in­tro­duce it. He lacks a clear vi­sion of where that change is go­ing and he is cer­tainly guilty of a fail­ure to con­sult ad­e­quately with teach­ers. But his ef­forts de­serve bet­ter than mega­phone diplo­macy.

Then again, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that Ir­ish teach­ers who are paid more and work less than their coun­ter­parts through­out Europe would like thing to stay as they are.

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