Education in Ireland, by Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
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The nature of adult education in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland has changed dramatically in recent years, moving from a mixture of liberal arts programmes and basic literacy schemes, to a stage where there is a growing demand for career-related, accredited education and training programmes. In addition, changes in job conditions and job security have increased the need for access to re-training programmes or top-up qualifications. Earlier retirement and increased longevity are also factors which have increased the demand for adult education. The trend therefore is towards a vision of education as a life-long process.
Recognition of the link between low educational achievement and long-term unemployment has resulted in increased importance being attached to the area of continuing education. Hitchens, Birnie & Wagner (1995) comment that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland suffer from "a worse case of the 'British disease', with a long-standing failure to provide technical and vocational education to a standard comparable to that achieved in other industrial economies." They pinpoint poverty and social exclusion as part of the reason for low levels of participation in life-long learning in Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, the main providers of both liberal and continuing education are increasingly the universities, including the Open University, Further Education Colleges, the Workers Educational Association (WEA), womens Groups, community and neighbourhood groups. The universities and Further Education Colleges have set up out-centres e.g. Queens University in Armagh, The University of Ulster in Enniskillen and the Further Education Colleges have established centres in some Secondary schools. Many of the womens groups and the community and neighbourhood groups liaise with the universities, the WEA or Further Education Colleges.
Field (1995) argues that the formal adult education sector remains relatively underfunded by United Kingdom standards while the voluntary community groups in Northern Ireland have been relatively well funded.
For the most part, adult education in the Republic of Ireland is expected to be self-financing, especially those courses of a liberal nature. In the community sector some courses were seed-funded by the Department of Social Welfare but they were then regarded as not being the responsibility of the Department of Education. As in Northern Ireland, European Union funding is available, but there is a problem with its short-term nature. Some courses targeting the disadvantaged are also funded e.g. VTOS aimed at those over 21 and unemployed and FÁS. There were 5,000 enrolled on VTOS courses in 1994-95. The Department of Social Welfare has a third level allowance scheme aimed at the long-term unemployed. This allows retention of benefits including weekly unemployment benefit and medical card in addition to getting the Higher Education Grant.
It still remains the case that many are not able to take up the option of adult education due to lack of resources. This applies especially to low-income women and to those students who need to enrol part-time and for whom no grants are available. It has been argued that with the exception of the Adult Literacy and Community Education (ALCE) budget, other sources of funding to adult education are sporadic and varying in size. The 1994 report on the National Education Convention criticised the self-financing requirement in the statutory sector and stressed that there should be distinctive and separate funding by the State for the development of adult education within an overall structure.
In the Republic of Ireland, the NCVA and NCEA (under the umbrella of Teastas) have introduced new forms of certification which allow progression through the educational system. The National Council for Vocational Awards has introduced a Foundation Certificate in more than 100 adult education centres. The Foundation Certificate is available to participants in a wide variety of courses including Youthreach, Traveller education, prison-based courses and the highly regarded VTOS (Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme).
The National Council for Educational Awards has introduced an innovative scheme ACCS (the Accumulation of Credits and Certification of Subjects). This allows part-time and mature students to accumulate credits for third level courses (certificates, diplomas, degrees) in the Regional Training Colleges, the DIT, and some private colleges. These credits are fully transferable between institutions accredited by the NCEA in the Republic of Ireland and in third level institutions in other European Union states, thus allowing a high degree of mobility. The NCEA intends to introduce a scheme to grant exemptions to people on the basis of experience gained during their working life.
Significant developments have taken place in the voluntary/community
sector in Northern Ireland. In this context, the Corrymeela Community
and the Ulster Peoples' College are involved in the development
of cross-community adult education. The latter has links with
the University of Ulster for certification of some of its courses
in community relations and community development. The Workers
Educational Association (WEA), one of the main voluntary organisations,
operates in the five Education Board areas and has been a very
important provider of adult education, especially in relation
to the disadvantaged. Enrolments have increased by 65% in five
years and 60% of these students were in receipt of State benefits.
Table 3.1: Adult and Continuing Education in Northern Ireland
The Open University, which is now active in both jurisdictions since 1990, is an important provider of adult and continuing education offering places to 99% of those who apply.
Table 3.2: Open University enrolment
In the Republic of Ireland, the numbers in adult education have been estimated at one quarter million per year attending some 8,000 courses of all kinds. Women outnumber men by two to one.
The Report of the National Education Convention (1994) considered that the biggest problem in the area of adult education in the Republic of Ireland was the lack of a coherent policy. It claimed that a policy framework for adult education was essential and that adult, community and continuing education will be further disadvantaged unless it is brought into the mainstream. There was consensus in the Report that this sector had great potential for redressing educational disadvantage. The subsequent 1995 White Paper further stressed the role of adult education in redressing inequality and disadvantage. Its recommendations include:
In Northern Ireland there has been a significant growth in adult education among working class Catholics and especially among women since the 1970s. Interestingly, in the Republic of Ireland, the Report of the Commission on Adult Education (1983) concluded that there was a disproportionate number of better-off and better-educated students participating in adult education. This was reiterated in the Green and White Papers which emphasised the need to encourage participation of the poorer socio-economic groups and the unemployed.
In Northern Ireland, the Education and Library Boards have a statutory
responsibility to provide for children and young people with special
needs up to 19 years of age. This includes physical disability,
visual and hearing impairment, speech and language difficulties,
and moderate to severe learning difficulties. The total number
of pupils in Special Schools in Northern Ireland in 1993-94 was
4,400. Figures from the Department of Education
give an indication of the range of provision for special needs
Table 3.3: Special needs provision in Northern Ireland 1994/95
In the Republic of Ireland, special need is defined as covering a wide range of disabilities, physical, mental, emotional, behavioural and specific learning difficulties including speech and language problems. It is estimated that 8,000 such pupils attend normal classes in Primary schools. There are also 10,200 pupils in Special schools and special classes of which approximately 80% are in classes for mild to severe mental disabilities, 13% are in special schools/classes for visual, aural, physical disability and 7% are in schools for emotional, behavioural and other disorders.
The Special Review Committee estimates that there are approximately 2,000 school age children in the Republic of Ireland with severe mental disabilities and that currently only 207 of these are receiving appropriate educational provision within 16 pilot projects. This suggests that a large number of children with severe mental disabilities receive no educational provision whatsoever. The Government White Paper (1995) gives a commitment that this area will receive special attention involving flexible provision in 'mainstream' schooling, special schools or a combination of both, and an expanded psychological service. As in Northern Ireland, it is estimated that large numbers of trained Special Education teachers are required at primary level.
Some criticism has been expressed by teachers in Northern Ireland about 'statementing'. It is felt that there is inadequate follow-up advice to teachers on the actual delivery of the recommendations of the statement. Lack of financing has also been criticised in both jurisdictions. In the Republic of Ireland for example, the Special Education Review Committee has estimated that £40 million per year will be required to ensure the effective implementation of the new proposals. It has been claimed that special education in the North may be falling victim to market forces since the introduction of LMS and that there was a danger that special needs budgets might be diverted to other areas in order to raise school results in any proposed league tables. Recently an umbrella group, the Whole Ireland Institute of Special Education (WISE), was formed to co-ordinate four Southern and two Northern bodies which cover the whole range of special needs from remedial to gifted.
In 1989 a resolution by the European Council of Education Ministers gave recognition to the educational and cultural needs of gypsy and travelling peoples. In 1990, budgetary provision was made by the European Parliament for inter-cultural education, with a specific allocation for gypsy and traveller children. In 1989 the Prohibition of Incitement to Racial, Religious and National Hatred Bill gave travellers legal protection in the Republic of Ireland. Following an Appeal Court ruling in 1988, the Commission for Racial Equality in England recognised travellers as an ethnic minority. However, in Northern Ireland this does not apply and they have not been recognised as having special status.
It is anticipated that a Race Relations Act for Northern Ireland will be introduced in the near future. It appears that in this travellers may not be regarded as an ethnic minority, but rather be recognised as a special group, which will give them protection against discrimination. In the past, this lack of special status has resulted in statutory bodies failing to make any special provision for travellers. It was considered that provision was for all, so there was no special schemes or quotas for travellers. Consultation between travellers and statutory bodies is improving. In 1993 DENI produced circular No. 1993/37 "Policy Guidelines for the Education of Children from Travelling Families". This was a response to a resolution adopted in 1989 by the Council of the European Communities (89/c 153/01-01) aimed at addressing the educational needs of gypsy and travelling peoples.
The Circular points out that the Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 guarantees access for all of compulsory school-going age to education.
The DENI guidelines recognise the unique nomadic culture of the travellers. They encourage an integrationist approach to schooling while accepting the right of travellers to choose to send their children to the special school. They encourage school-home liaison, primary-secondary liaison and pre-school provision. Support measures suggested include special transport arrangements, home-work centres, peripatetic support, use of culturally suitable materials, in-service support and better inter-agency co-operation.
The DOE report (1993) suggests that there is a 20% uptake of educational
provision at pre-school level, a 100% uptake at primary level
and a 43% uptake at secondary level. Due to the lack of recognition
of the ethnicity or special status it is very difficult to monitor
accurately such statistics. The above figures therefore should
be treated with some caution. Daly (1990) argues that uptake of
educational provision is highest among children resident in authorised
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