As republicans gathered this weekend from every part of Ireland for the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Wexford, Councillor Tomás Sharkey gave an impassioned to the attendees on the issue of education. The Louth County Councillor has very kindly given us a copy of his speech which has been reproduced below.
Over the past decade, education has seen unprecedented budget cuts. Staffing levels, building works, class sizes, resources in schools – they have been adversely affected. The morale of teachers, school leaders and the whole school community has been under serious, sustained strain. Yet despite these challenges, our teachers and pupils continue to outperform and deliver.
The results of their dedication and commitment are to be seen in the 2012 PISA results. They showed that our 15 year olds are performing exceptionally well in comparison with most other countries. Improving literacy and numeracy rates are being achieved in spite of government cuts and because of our teachers commitment, dedication and professionalism.
The world doesn’t stop changing. The future will be a challenge for everyone. Our young people will need the skills to work in jobs that haven’t been invented yet, use machines, computers, concepts that we can only imagine.
So of course education needs meaningful, progressive reform.
We in Sinn Féin want our school students to learn Attitude, Skills and Knowledge – ASK. That’s why we supported Minister Ruairí Quinn’s plan to reform the Junior Cycle. Meaningful Junior Cycle Reform, if implemented properly, can result in a significant shift in focus that improves the quality of our young people’s learning experiences and outcomes.
We don’t just want youngsters to have the knowledge about engineering – We want them to have the skills to work on a team with that knowledge; the skill to manage their learning, to enquire, research and discover new things for themselves.
We want them to have the skills to stand in front of employers, investors, competitors, governments and present, explain, sell all that they know. We want our students to have an attitude about the subject – to want to learn more, to know how best they can learn and to be passionate about what they learn.
Again, we want youngsters to have the ASK – Attitude, Skills and Knowledge.
There are better ways of achieving this reform than Ruairí Quinn’s way – much better.
The mechanic who fixes my car can’t and shouldn’t sign off on the NCT. My driving instructor can’t and shouldn’t issue my driver’s licence. Should teachers be the ones to sign off in their own student’s certification? Teachers must be allowed to focus on teaching and learning, and not have to carry the additional burden of assessing their own students for certification purposes.
Teachers, parents and pupils are also concerned about the absence of clear achievement standards as the assessment process looks like it’s being deregulated.
Additional concerns include the intensification on inequality between schools, not just as a result of a loss in standardised certification, but because more affluent schools are better financed and equipped to deal with this envisaged Transition Year style Junior Cycle.
We need to bring all of the partners in education with us and not try to pretend that getting teachers to mark their own students work for certification is anything other than another cut to school system.
We in Sinn Féin want reform of the Junior Cycle but we want it to give us something better than we had before. – change will amount to nothing if the Government continues its current policy of implementing cuts to the Irish education sector, which to date have greatly impacted on essential frontline services and the capacity of teachers, to fulfil their role as educators.”