In my opinion: Let's change the way the system works for all our futures
The Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA) convenes this week in Co Laois for its 106th annual congress at a time of unprecedented challenge to the State -- with all public services under threat because of the irresponsible behaviour of those we trusted to manage the nation's finances.
Yet, the work of ensuring future prosperity and happiness in tomorrow's resurgent economy cannot be put on hold.
As every expert, at home and abroad, confirms education and training are the key levers to ensuring our futures, and it is this reality that preoccupies IVEA this week.
The motions for discussion range right across the primary, post-primary and further education landscape.
They include school patronage and the Community National School project, the need to expand education and training to ensure the futures of our young low-skilled unemployed, the need for inclusive school enrolment practices, the need to expedite the establishment of an integrated further and higher education student grants system, supports and services to students with special education needs, the possibility of using buildings under the control of NAMA to accommodate the education and training of adults, and so on.
While the time may not seem propitious to propose changes to our system, the reality is that many improvements proposed from the Congress floor call more for a change in the way things are done rather than for increases in funding.
In this context there are a number of motions around improving the quality of teaching and learning, and the cost of these would be minimal.
For example, IVEA's Standing Council calls for the introduction of suitability tests for those seeking to enter the profession rather than relying solely on academic achievement.
The Council has also tabled three motions calling for related developments:
- The establishment of a national mentoring programme for newly qualified teachers.
- The establishment of a structure and process to encourage support and facilitate teachers making appropriate use of modern information technologies.
- The prioritisation of school leadership development so that a pool of suitable school leaders is available to replace current leaders as they retire.
It is generally acknowledged that to do a job well one has to have the aptitude for the job and that academic achievement is only one ingredient.
Teachers must not only know their subject; they must also have a pastoral orientation, be good communicators and good at establishing and maintaining trusting relationships.
Newly qualified teachers need structured support from experienced colleagues if they are to achieve their potential.
Children from their earliest years use all kinds of technology yet schools, in the electronic age, still rely principally on chalk and talk to teach.
Applications for principalships have declined drastically. We need a national programme to identify those suited to educational leadership and we then need to provide them with the experience and skills to lead our schools.
None of these proposals has serious cost implications. We simply need to think outside the box and devise approaches that enable us to achieve our desired objectives.