Opinion: Junior Cert boys' tractor invention has raised my hopes for future
A recent meeting with three young lads has bolstered my hope for their generation's ability to prosper in the Ireland they will inherit.
The boys are Edward Daly, John O'Brien and Matthew O'Sullivan, all aged 14 and second year pupils at CBS, Kilkenny. They have developed a device called Lift Arm Assist.
It is a hydraulic ram that replaces the lift arm stabiliser on the back of the tractor. The ram is controlled by a spool level in the cab so it makes attaching implements like a mower easier and safer.
Its invention came about as a Classroom Based Assessment (CBA) requirement of the revamped Junior Cert Business curriculum. It has won for them the local round of the Student Enterprise Awards, in the intermediate category.
Edward is from a mixed tillage, dairy and beef farm and he was the one who came up with the idea, there having been a serious farm accident in his own family.
Since Edward's friends would hardly know a tractor from a trough, he was teamed up with Matthew, who is always making things with his hands, and John, who is from a dairy farm.
In getting the enterprise off the ground since last October, they have been guided by their teacher, Pat Downey.
But they had to do all the footwork themselves, making phone calls, sourcing a ram and adapting it to fit their purpose, talking to the patent office, market research at Kilkenny mart, advertising, setting up a website, hands-on sales, etc.
The boys are on target to reach their projected sales of 22 units by the end of this month. Lift Arm Assist retails at €210 and can easily be found online.
In their report of the project, the boys quote a famous line attributed to car inventor Henry Ford, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
Pat Downey, who commutes from his home in Cashel, where he also farms part-time, believes this new element of the Business curriculum, if done well, will have, "a hell of a practical educational value, that ties in really well with the concept of promoting indigenous enterprise."
The school has a strong business department and Pat said that any of the other nine projects undertaken in the class could have reasonably been put forward for the competition.
Our education system and teachers cop a lot of flak but this is an example of what can be achieved with the proper conditions and attitude.
I have often wondered why we Irish seem to have less of the entrepreneurial spirit seen elsewhere. Wherever we go in the world, we are valued as excellent employees. Is it too simple to suggest that it is a legacy of our long history of oppression, that we are still lacking in confidence and courage?
On foot of their win, the boys have done a number of radio interviews and, though they initially dreaded them, found that their confidence has improved.
It is fantastic exposure to real life and, of course, a taste of success whets the appetite for more.
Indeed, everyone who participates in such events is a winner, because of what they will have got from the experience.
Edward says he has learned to listen and put across his point in a measured way while it has made Matthew even surer of pursuing his dream career of engineering.
John says that if he is lucky enough to inherit the family farm, he will be looking at finding ways of adding value to the enterprise rather than relying on world milk prices.
Run by the country's 31 Local Enterprise Offices and funded through Enterprise Ireland, the Student Enterprise Programme is the biggest education initiative of its kind, with 23,600 students from 480 second-level schools taking part every year.
So roll on the All-Irelands in Croke Park on May 2, which, as Pat says, will witness the rare event of a Tipperaryman shouting for Kilkenny at GAA headquarters.
For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App