Education is not a luxury: it is a great gift
We need different kinds of schools for different kinds of talents, says Emer O'Kelly
Published 25/04/2010 | 05:00
There was a time in Ireland, before the inelegant and oxymoronic term "free fees" was ever heard of, when the only way you got to university was if your parents paid your fees, or you worked for enough years to earn your fees and then registered as a mature student. Before that, the only reason you got even to secondary school was because your parents could afford the fees -- or, in the case of boys, you either had, or pretended to have, what was called a "vocation" and the Catholic Church trained you from the age of 12 in a Diocesan School to become a priest. (And we've seen the unfortunate results of that sort of thing.)
Both states of being were outrageous, unjust, and indefensible. Then a far-seeing Minister for Education called Donogh O'Malley introduced (in the face of cabinet opposition) a scheme for extending free State education for everyone up to Leaving Certificate level. Later still, another Minister for Education called Niamh Bhreathnach introduced free third-level education up to a certain parental income threshold.
Then the rot set in. No longer was the inability to read or write a bar to university entrance. Universities became training schools. Training schools were metamorphosed into universities overnight. Courses that would have been considered almost a joke by most 15-year-olds in years gone by are now being conferred with Bachelor degree status.