Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere

‘Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere’ is a summer course over five days at National College of Ireland in association with Mercy College New York between the 26th – 30th  June 2017 . As the title suggests, the goal is to interrogate essential ideas that underpin our understanding and practice of what it means to teach and learn in the world of today. You can get further details at www.eqfee.org The programme is designed for qualified and aspiring learning professionals in areas such as early childhood education, schools, further education, college, university and adult learning settings. Through debate, discussion and critical dialogue, participants will explore issues such as the nature of learning, the purpose of schooling, the goals of lifelong learning, the qualities of teaching, and the relationship between democracy and education. These questions are relevant for teachers everywhere – regardless of country or context – all the more so for the changing times we live in. The history and evolution of Irish education, including the influence and involvement of religious institutions will also be explored. Participants will be encouraged to ask questions, compare systems and discuss alternatives throughout. As teachers everywhere, we have much in common and it is natural Read More …

We Need New Stories in Education

The Seven Basic Plots is an interesting book by Christopher Booker, the main argument is clear from the title; we have a limited number of story lines and regardless of context or medium, we like the familiar, predictable and comforting. Fairytale, folklore, epic novels and modern film scripts all use variations of basic narrative structures; resilience in the face of onslaught, heroic journeys, monsters and dragons and of course, the struggles of good and evil. The argument is not unique, many thinkers have pointed to a form of collective intellectual comfort blanket. We welcome stories that reinforce pre-existing assumptions and avoid those that challenge our biased views and require re-jigging our model of the world. The ‘basic plots’ phenomenon is much in evidence when we talk about education. Whether it is media reporting, policy discourse or public commentary, we return time and again to the familiar blandness of the comfort blanket. I’m tired of hearing about the epic journey of the Leaving Certificate, I’m done with the struggles of the science and engineering to attract and charm the young people of today, I no longer need the wisdom of employers, I’m fed up with tales of cash strapped colleges, disgruntled Read More …

Ready to Learn – Taking the First Step

‘Oh I was just wondering have you got a moment, I just want to ask you about something‘ she had arrived at NCI reception and they suggested I might meet with her. ‘No problem at all‘ I assured her while thinking how much I had to do that afternoon. Five minutes later she sat in my office. She was very nervous and I thought I noticed a slight trembling in her voice. Her name was Susan. ‘It’s like this‘ she said ‘I was thinking of doing a course here but I am not sure if I’d be able for it‘. She went on to tell me her story. She left school at sixteen without a Leaving Cert. She worked in the retail sector for the last twenty five years and now she is a manager. She is married with three kids and two of them are in college. She reads a lot and is well liked by her colleagues. Generally, she’s happy. But there’s always been a niggle. An unease and sense of being often left out, ignored and taken-for-granted. ‘Sure what would Susan know‘ she once overheard a younger colleague remark. Susan explained that she has been thinking about Read More …

Education Cuts Seem to be Inevitable

It seems to be on the cards that there will be cutbacks in education as Ireland struggles to put together a four year budget plan to grapple with the financial debt crisis.I like to talk about learning rather than politics or economy in these posts but it seems that cuts will have to be made – indeed are being made – and these cuts will effect all our learning futures and therefore warrant consideration. As an educator I believe that, after the basic needs such as safety, health and sustenance are met, the primary task of any nation is the provision of education. Education is the means whereby culture and societal practices are developed and reproduced. Once we fail to educate then we fail as a society.Furthermore, as John Dewey pointed out, the provision of open and accessible education is essential for the proper functioning of democracy. When we suppress education we undermine the process of developing new thinking, critical awareness, communicative discourse and creativity. However, I do not believe cutbacks in education can be avoided; particularly if spending on health and social welfare are also going to be curtailed. So here are three ideas where money can be saved Read More …

“Grade Inflation” Getting Everything Wrong

This is a really important issue for Ireland and for everyone in the education sector.  It is vital that get a clear understanding of what the problem is and what we need to do to rectify it. First of all, the problem we need to solve is not “Grade Inflation” and it would be a huge mistake if we were all to get in a muddle comparing the numbers of first class honours’ degrees or 600 point Leaving Certs in the past few years. Just like all measures based on our social circumstances, such as the spending power of the average weekly wage or the average life-expectancy, over time we should expect to see a gradual improvement in similar measures of quality and achievement in our education system. Today, we are educating more people to a higher standard than ever before and I will be surprised if the emperical evidence from the soon-to-be released study will not show this to be the case. But I do not believe we should be congratulating ourselves – there is a problem and a new challenge and we need to get to the heart of it. Let me use one source Dr Craig Barrett, Read More …

The Meaning of Work – Aronowitz on Schooling in a Time of Crisis

On Tuesday I had the good fortune to attend a seminar (in NUIM) by Stanley Aronowitz – he is Professor of Sociology at City University in New York and has written extensively on many topics to do with knowledge, education and economy. His ideas are radical and challenging and yet timely. He presented his analysis of this “first truly global crisis” based on his experience (in the US steel industry) and many years as an author and teacher. Aronowitz posed critical questions that challenged our conception of labour in developed economies. He pointed to the structural changes in industry evident since the seventies when high numbers of workers were employed in big industries such as steel production. Faced with the challenge of a militant, frequently striking (US!) workforce and a troublesome trade union movement, the response by industry was to reduce labour through mechanisation and to move labour by a process of outsourcing and financialisation (build now pay later). Aronowitz sees our current predicament as the inevitable outcome of US economic policy and the globalisation of the industrial model for developed economies. His outlook is gloomy – there will always be a struggle – they will always want more (government Read More …