The need for radical reform of the Irish education system is urged by Ruairi Quinn, Minister for Education and Skills, in the latest issue of Studies. In his leading article on ‘The future development of education in Ireland’, Minister Quinn notes that a “hunger for radical change” has been heightened by the constraints imposed on the country by the European Central Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission. He stresses, however, that the new society which “a vibrant, dynamic and creative education system” can help to build will be totally unlike the Celtic Tiger model. The minister then explains his “reform agenda” under three headings: quality, inclusivity/diversity, and structural/infrastructural changes.
Almost the entire Summer 2012 issue of Studies is given over to the themes intruduced by Minister Quinn. There are eleven responses from people working in the sector, including UCD Professor of Education, Ciaran Sugrue; General Secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, John MacGabhann; Chief Executive of Educate Together, Paul Rowe; and education consultant, David Tuohy SJ. Included also are two articles on related subject areas.
All of the respondents commend Minister Quinn on his initiative in laying out his ‘vision statement’. Some of them, however, register their disagreement. In perhaps the most sharply critical response, David Tuohy argues that the minister’s “rhetoric of reform” merely expresses a “survival anxiety”, a negative or pessimistic reaction to defects in a system which may lead to an emphasis on change for change’s sake rather than to efforts to work out carefully how improvements can be instigated.
“In general,” Tuohy writes, “the focus on reform does little to create the psychological safety in which sustainable change takes place.” In his conclusion he adds: “My hope would be that there is some consensus on what we want for our citizens before we embark on a process of ‘radical reform’. It would be nice to see the government seek the permission of its citizens for what it wants to do.”
Copies of the summer issue of Studies may be purchased from the Studies website.