Megaphone diplomacy is no way to tackle an important issue
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.