Monday, March 28, 2005

Hey! Kids! Leave That Teacher Alone!

On a day when the News at One on the radio sees a story about a horsie as its most appropriate lead, both the Irish Independent and the Irish Times are leading with stories about profound crises in the schools system.

The Irish Times has got its hands on a Department of Education report, meant to be published last year, that reports deeply distressing levels of illiteracy and innumeracy in primary schools in disadvantaged areas of Cork, Limerick and Dublin. Absenteeism is rife also, and the Times quotes the report's summation of the problems that face teachers in these disadvantaged areas: "Some school communities, it finds, are characterised by high levels of unemployment, single-parent families, low levels of parental education, lack of pre-school facilities, substance abuse, poor diet, absenteeism and a lack of parental involvement in schools." Nice.

The Irish Independent, on the other hand, conducted a survey of 300 national teachers and reported back shocking levels of teacher intimidation, harassment and abuse: " Half the teachers report constant disruption in class or avoidance of work 'often' or 'very often'. Unruliness in the yard is the next most common incident followed by verbal abuse of one pupil by another, which happens 'often' in 42pc of cases and 'occasionally' in a further 36pc. One in every five teachers surveyed say that actual physical assaults on pupils by other pupils 'often' occurred in their school in the current school year and 40pc say such assaults occurred 'occasionally'." Also nice.

Where the INTO survey trumps the Government survey is in laying the blame. Ninety per cent of teachers in the Indo's survey either agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition that all these problems begin in the home.

If parents are not willing to get it into Wayne and Charlotte's little skulls that a good education is their single, solitary, shining hope of escaping the ghetto then those kids are lost. The Governmental report has three reccommendations: more coherent planning, the setting of literacy and numeracy targets and (unspecified, naturally) changes in teaching methods. Which three reccommendations are about as much use as a toothpick in a swordfight. If the Government wants to address the problems in the schools it has to realise that a huge underclass is growing that is growing increasingly alienated from society as a whole, and it will eventually grow to an extent where there will be no common ground at all. And then we'll really find out what class war is.

In this era of concern about child abuse, what greater abuse could a parent perpetrate than to deny his or her child's entitlement to an education and, through education, a chance to a better life? Teachers are not babysitters, nor parents by proxy. If the horses aren't led to water, they are not going to drink. How parents in disadvantaged areas can be persuaded that their chief aim in life should be to ensure their children's lives do not turn out like their own is a difficult question, all the more so if the parents are of the opinion that their own lives are just fine, actually. An Spailpín is only sure of one thing as the barbarians approach the gates - wringing the national hands in the opinion pages of the Irish Times isn't going to do it.