Republican News · Thursday 07 September 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Equal access to education? Don't make me laugh


Isn't it amazing how the Dublin government contrives a scarcity through ineptitude and then shuffles its obligation to provide a service across to the private sector, where we then pay for the privilege of using that service.

The cost of the service gets so high that poorer people can't pay for it. So the scarcity `disappears'. It's Mary Harney's vanishing act. It vanishes the scarcities.

There are many examples: hospitals, where if you want treatment you are driven into the private sector; waste, where the government is looking to charge people for waste collection collected by private companies; education which has now become the rat race for points, means you have to go private for grinds. There are no child minders provided, so you have to go private. The latest is transport, where now the government is looking to charge people extra for parking and to tax the `benefit in kind' of parking facilities at your job - starting with Dublin.

Income tax, which should have paid for all these essential services, is progressive. The more you earn the more you pay. But these extra costs or government charges are not progressive. They are like VAT, a flat rate for all, rich or poor. Mary Harney's agenda to reduce income tax runs entirely counter to the equality agenda.

The rat race replaces education

A recent survey of secondary school children released the amazing figure that 73% of 6th year students take grinds and just under half of 5th year students receive extra private tuition outside of school hours. These figures are clear evidence that the school system is failing, (because parents seek resort to private tuition). The present system of selection for third level places not only reduces education to an obscene rat race for points but is also grossly unjust, in that it favours those whose parents can afford grinds.

How can a child in the depopulated West, who must travel by bus, perhaps for two hours a day, to get to school and back, fit in time for getting to and from grinds as well?

It's Unfair

d grinds are only one aspect of the extent to which education, primary or secondary, is not freely or equally accessible to people, regardless of their income. Parents must fork out for uniforms, books, transport, and `the extras', the dancing, the music classes, the project work, the school trip, the collection for the school heating bill; it goes on and on, week by week.

Parents knows the story inside out. Teachers in disadvantaged areas know about teaching classes where half the pupils have not got their books because their parents can't afford them. Some kids don't get breakfast before coming to school. `Free education for all' in Ireland is a fantasy. Education favours the better off, no question about it.

d exactly the same factors are at work for students at third level, who can't afford, on miserly grants, to live in decent accommodation without taking a part time job. If their parents can afford to help, then the children of better off parents hasve better living conditions, easier access to books, and more time for study. It isn't fair. It doesn't meet `equality proofing' by any stretch of the imagination.

At a time when the state is crying out for educated graduates, why are there not sufficient third level places for the 20% of leaving cert students who seek places in college and can't get what they want? Maybe because their parents couldn't afford to send them to grinds?

Its not Education

The science department at UCD fails an average of 70% of its first year intake, because it recognises that leaving cert results are an extremely poor indicator of aptitude for science. Is education really just about getting points in the leaving cert?

The Department of Education is bracing itself for battle in the new academic year. It's busying itself with the battle with ASTI, the battle for Whole School Evaluations, of teacher assessments and ``benchmarking'' the teaching profession. All get up the nose of the teachers, chasing to get maximum points for their students. But none of these concerns of the minister go near to the heart of what education is supposed to be about.

Learning to use your faculties, which includes, amongst others, the faculty to think critically, is at least a part of education. The days of learning dogma by rote with the Christian Brothers have long gone. Some of us wanted a Republic where access to education was free for all, irrespective of wealth or income. Some of us even wanted education so that we didn't have to live in an unequal, unjust society.

Battle with the Unions

The battle lines are drawn. The ASTI has put the minister on notice. The teachers' union is going to fight the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) and the paltry increase in wages offered under that agreement. Many members in other unions across the ICTU may wish they had voted the same way, when they see their increases vanishing as inflation rises.

But the ASTI's fight is about pay; it's not about the points system or the flawed education system, the rat race of competitive dogmatic learning.

Its the same story with the nurses and the doctors. As everyone cries out that there is a crisis in hospitals, as patients wait for hours on trolleys in casualty, as operations for old and young are postponed.

One problem is the shortage in nurses, which only exists because conditions in which nurses have to work and train are unbearable.

The nurses settled a pay claim after a strike last year. But the claim did not give the profession the status and working conditions that would ensure sufficient nurses. The settlement merely paid nurses a bit more to put up with existing conditions.

It's the same story with the doctors. Everyone declaims the shortage of doctors and the scandal that doctors must work sometimes for 72 hours at a stretch, yet the doctors settled without changing this, for more overtime pay for these scandalous working hours.

Goodbody Stockbrokers predicted a few weeks ago that Ireland would be the third wealthiest country in the EU within six years. In the absence of adequate health service, education, public transport, and waste management, people could be forgiven for asking what this rosy prediction really means.

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