Sunday 15 December 2019

Ruairi Quinn’s comments about ‘feminisation of education’ go down like lead balloon

Wants to make honours maths ‘mandatory’ for primary teachers

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

THE Education Minister Ruairi Quinn landed himself in hot water with teachers today after comments he made about the feminine nature of the profession – and why they needed to be encouraged to study “honours” maths.

The trouble started with a mention in his address to the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) annual conference, where the minister said that he wanted Higher Level Maths to be a minimum requirement for entry to primary teacher training colleges.

The INTO is cool on that idea anyway, but that is not what got the minister into the most trouble with the 800 primary teachers in the hall - most of them women, reflecting the fact that they make up 85pc of the profession.

It was when Mr Quinn went on to explain why he was making the point to that particular audience that mood in the hall really changed.

“I'll tell you why - to a highly feminised audience and profession - our research shows that young women who do the Junior Certificate and take Higher Level Mathematics comfortably in the Junior Certificate exam, drop Higher Level Mathematics when they do their Leaving Certificate because it is not a requirement.”

The rising rumbles of disapproval forced him to interrupt his speech for 34 seconds, and INTO president Brendan O'Sullivan had to ask for quiet to allow the minister to resume his address.

Mr Quinn continued his speech - but realised that damage was done to relations, before he finished he sought to mollify the offended teachers.

He said they had transformed the education experience for primary school pupils. “I Salute you and I support you and I thank you sincerely for what you do every day of the academic year”.

Next up was INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan whose “hall hath no fury” opening line brought the hall to its feet.

Sheila Nunan, General Secretary INTO responding to Minister of Education Ruairi Quinn at the INTO Conference at Lyrath Estate Hotel in Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore.

Sheila Nunan

Then, to the further glee of her members, she sent on to give the minister a lesson in maths: “I'm quite agnostic about honours maths, but the sisterhood know well the simple sums of the primary school are: 30 into one teacher doesn't go very easily; 46pc cuts in assistant principal posts do not make for a good running of school; 20, 40 and 86 pupils in a two, three or four teacher-school are not easily divided.

“So whatever way you multiply it, add it, subtract it, do the Pythagoras Theorem, I have one message, minister, the sum we're looking for is an increase in the money that goes into education.

“It wasn't the Honours Maths that made the Irish women the way they are today, let me tell you. It was the boys who did the Honours Maths led the country to ruination”

Later, Mr Quinn made further efforts to appease the teachers.

He said he had intended them as "a compliment" to the young women who make up 85pc of the primary teaching profession.

"They realise that they don't need Higher Level maths for entry into the Initial Teacher Education, and that requires more work than Ordinary Level, so they drop it".

However, he stuck to his original point: "I think that we need, in fact, to have our primary school teachers at the same level in mathematics that we require of them in the Irish language", which is higher level.

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