CALLS have been made to scrap Transition Year as it is an "indulgent luxury".
Friends Of The Elderly want the fourth year of school scrapped, in favour of a compulsory year of community service providing a "generation of young citizens to work in our communities".
Spokesman Dermot Kirwan says the Transition Year programme is a "self-indulgent luxury that we cannot afford" and was not "fit for purpose" given the current economic crisis.
The charity maintains young people could acquire valuable job skills by working in the community which could help them become financially independent.
The organisation is advocating that Transition Year students take a five-day FETAC, Care of the Older Person skills course, which would equip them to care for the non-medical needs of older people in their homes.
"We need an extra 50,000 people to care for older people in their homes," said Mr Kirwan.
"Our young people are one of the greatest natural resources, let's put them to work caring for the elderly in their communities as part-time home care attendants," he added.
President of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), Bernie Ruane, refuted the claims, saying Transition Year was a vital programme which equipped students for the future.
"We send our children to school far too early in Ireland and they finish far too early. Transition Year is an important programme which allows students to examine their career choices while also teaching them valuable entrepreneurial and life skills which will stand to them in third level," she said.
Ms Ruane added she did not believe the charity had adequately researched the Transition Year programme before releasing the statement.
"Mr Kirwan and the charity seem to be unaware of the fact that there is a significant amount of inter-generational activities already built into the Transition Year programme between older and younger people.
"Active citizenship is an integral part of the Transition Year programme," she said.
The TUI spokeswoman said Transition Year students were "barely out of babysitting age" themselves therefore she did not believe they were old enough to care for older people.
A spokeswoman for the ASTI said research had shown students who completed a Transition Year received higher marks in their Leaving Certificate examinations.
"One of the biggest programmes of Transition Year is the Young Social Innovators project which teaches kids entrepreneurial skills and sees them devise their own projects which contribute to society. It's very much focused on teaching kids to develop a lifelong commitment to the voluntary and community sector," the spokeswoman said.
She said the Transition Year programme was one of the most innovative programmes to come out of the Irish educational system and it had attracted much attention from countries all over the world.
"This is one of the few times in the secondary school programme where students can focus on making the right career choices. Education is key to sustainable economic recovery. We need this now more than ever," she said.