Friday 19 July 2019

Our 'free' education is crippling some families

NOBODY ever said rearing children would be an easy task. For the most part it is an often thankless and certainly expensive business, with huge financial demands placed on parents, particularly when it comes to kitting out the kids at the start of each school year.

While article 42 of the Irish Constitution states that 'the State shall provide for free primary education' that is far from the case. The simple fact of the matter is that the notion of a free primary Irish education system is a myth, something underlined in no uncertain terms by the results of a recent survey undertaken by the charity Barnardos.

The findings of the survey present the stark reality of sending children to school and the financial pressures it places on cash-strapped parents. It found the average cost for a senior infant pupil was €345 and for a 4th class pupil this rose to €380. That is before the 'voluntary contributions' that parents are left with no option but to shell out during the school year, which can range from €50 - €150 per child are taken into account.

According to Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay, the cost of sending children back to school is 'crippling too many families' with the cost of uniforms, school books, equipment and transport all adding up. Barnardos did concede that 'parent pressure' was having some effect, with indications that school uniform costs are levelling off and the voluntary code for publishers, aimed at minimising the cost of books, is being adhered to. While welcome, these measures only scratch the surface of a problem that desperately needs to be addressed..

As one parent who took part in the Barnardos survey succinctly put it: 'the great equaliser in society is education. A poor child has the right to the same education as a child from a wealthy family'. That is patently not the case in modern Ireland, with many parents pushed to the pin of their collar to cover the cost of their children's primary education.

The situation is repeated in secondary schools across the country, with many parents quite literally having to cut down on their food bills to ensure their children have the correctly branded uniforms, up to date school books and other essential equipment. In extreme cases children have been pulled out of school at the first available opportunity because their parents simply can not afford to send them any longer. Anecdotal evidence would also suggest that pupils leaving secondary school are also finding themselves unable to enter third level education because of the huge costs involved.

Clearly remedies are needed and needed urgently. The question is our politicians have the will to implement the changes that are so desperately needed to ensure every Irish child has the full and proper education they are entitled to. Ireland has always prided itself on an education system that rivalled the best that any other country in the world had to offer. It is up to our politicians to make sure that reputation is not sullied. The future prosperity of this country depends on it.

New Ross Standard