Monday 19 February 2018

'I like drama too ... I've had a bit too much of it recently,' Leo tells schoolgirls

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the launch. Photos: Mark Condren and Colin O’Riordan
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the launch. Photos: Mark Condren and Colin O’Riordan
Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, Education Minister Richard Bruton and Mona Lucas, principal of St Laurence O’Toole Girls National School. Photos: Mark Condren and Colin O’Riordan
Teacher Sinead Crosson and pupil Mazie Connolly Photos: Mark Condren and Colin O’Riordan
Education Minister Richard Bruton shows his drawing skills to pupils. Photos: Mark Condren and Colin O’Riordan
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Who knows what my job is?" asked the Taoiseach. One little girl shot up her hand. "Ruler of Ireland," she declared.

Leo Varadkar laughed ruefully along with everyone else at her surefire certainty. "It doesn't always feel like it but you're constitutionally correct," he admitted.

As a tonic to help with the Brexit negotiations, the children of St Laurence O'Toole's Girls National School at Seville Place in Dublin 1 were just what the doctor ordered.

They greeted the launch of Creative Youth - a Plan to Enable the Creative Potential of every Child and young Person with great enthusiasm, telling the Taoiseach what they all hoped to get out of the programme.

A creative lot, their walls lined with self-portraits and paintings of iconic Dublin sights like the Poolbeg Towers and the famous Georgian doors, they needed no prompting.

Mostly, they look forward to arts and crafts, some said music - and others, drama.

"Do you like drama? I like drama too… I've had a bit too much of that recently," said Leo solemnly and again they roared.

The launch was attended by the Taoiseach together with a fleet of ministers - Richard Bruton, the Minister for Education and Skills, Paschal Donohoe, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in his own constituency and Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan - her first big gig in her new role.

On her navy tweed jacket, she had two badges she pointed out to the students which read: "Girls Rock."

"We're going to rule the world one day so keep going," she told them.

Outside in the bitter cold, a local woman from the Sheriff street area was there to welcome Paschal Donohoe as an old friend as he arrived with the Taoiseach. "How are you Ann?" he greeted her.

"What's going on?" she asked him. "That hasn't been said to me for a while," laughed Paschal.

"Ah he's not the worst," the Taoiseach told her. "A gushing endorsement," declared Paschal as they headed inside.

Kadie Curtis (12) welcomed the group to their school.

"We're a very creative school. We love music and dancing," she said - teeing up a vibrant video the children themselves had helped make.

Leo thanked them for inviting him and noted that they were due to have a new school - with a redevelopment and amalgamation of the boys' and girls' schools scheduled to begin next year - noting that he had visited another new school where the pupils had had an input into the colour scheme and having lots of arts - asking them to promise to do the same thing.

His job as Taoiseach involves "fixing all the problems" - such as the housing crisis and building the new children's hospital, he told them.

Climate change and planning for the future are also on his list of tasks, saying that "in a couple of years time, the Luas will be able to drive itself".

Robots are getting so smart that it might be possible that children will be taught by "robots who will be able to teach them 10 different languages", he said.

Teaching children to be creative was an important part of planning for the future and so Creative Youth would see every child in the country having exposure to the arts, said the Taoiseach.

Then, he told the children that one of his special powers as ruler of the country was being able to say that they would not have to do homework that night, he said, as they cheered from the rafters, while Richard Bruton quipped: "That's my power."

Instead, the Taoiseach asked them to write down something they would like to make or learn and to "get back to him" so that they would try and make sure it was done.

Mr Bruton wasn't so sure about the robots.

"The good news for teachers is we're not going to replace them with robots," he said, as this time it was Leo's turn to interrupt him with a little joke: "Not this term."

The Education Minister said this new programme would be a journey for children all over the country and "different flowers will bloom".

This week has seen "great news" that Irish 10-year-olds are the best in Europe at reading and maths - "but we want much more than that", he said, adding that they want to make education a creative journey, starting children out on a journey that "will lead to really exciting things".

This is about reaching out to the community to bring in people who have "that little sparkle" - such as musicians - to make a difference in the classroom, he explained to them.

"Yeats said education is not filling a bucket, it's lighting a flame," he said.

"We want to light a flame of creativity for the country."

In her first major address as Arts Minister, Josepha Madigan explained that her own job entailed looking after places such as Glendalough and the museums so that everyone could visit - as well as rolling out the new programme to bring tuition and experience in music, drama, art and coding to children all over the country.

"I'll be doing everything to achieve that," she promised.

This is a five-year plan and a journey into the unknown so "we have to try and get everything right," she added, as the children listened intently.

And then it was Paschal's turn to speak. He was worried the morning's newspaper headlines would read: "Taoiseach and Minister for Education disagree over plan for robot teachers."

Paschal was on familiar ground in his Dublin Central constituency.

He knew this school well - having visited many times for "good reasons and sometimes not good reasons", he said, the latter and obvious reference to the gangland murders which had, tragically and unfortunately, taken place within a few hundred yards of this amazing inner-city school.

"All of you deserve the opportunities," he said, adding that the most important people in the room were all the children present.

Then there was a Q&A session, with Paschal asked what his favourite thing to do was. "Putting together budgets," he laughed - before adding that when he was younger, he used to write short stories and had some published. If he wasn't doing what he was doing now, he would like to "write books and stories", he said - but added that he wished he had learnt a musical instrument.

The Taoiseach revealed that he had a regret of his own here.

He had missed out on learning a musical instrument because the house in which he grew up "was also a business", he said, of his doctor's GP surgery, adding: "My mum and dad wouldn't let me play an instrument because it might create noise."

Afterwards, school principal Mona Lucas said she was 'hugely excited' about the new programme and what it will mean for children.

"As a nation we are creative so with this type of programme with the emphasis on creativity, the sky is the limit," she said.

Irish Independent

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