Education should be about helping individuals to develop their full potential. An educated society is not just more productive – it is also balanced and more critically aware. There are many positive points about Irish education. There is a high level of participation in third-level institutions and proficiency in reading and maths is quite high. However, there are also significant weaknesses. There is a lower number of adults who return to some form of education after their formal schooling ends. Rote learning and preparation for exams dominates, rather than a focus on critical thinking.
More investment in schools and the hiring of more teachers is required if we are to meet our growing needs. Enrolment in primary education is at an all-time high and there will be a peak in secondary education in 2025.
Ireland has the highest rate of children attending creches in private non-governmental institutions in OECD countries. The result is some of the most expensive childcare costs in Europe. We support the following initiatives:
- Develop a National Childcare Service. This will represent a transition to a publicly-owned and funded childcare system. The current, privately-owned system should be integrated into this new structure. This would also mean hiring thousands of extra childcare professionals.
- Guarantee public access to childcare, initially, at an affordable cost.
- Guarantee decent wages and full access to training and retraining for childcare workers.
- Increase maternity leave from six months to one year.
- Legislate for maternity leave to be paid at the full wage rate by private employers.
- Provide fully-paid paternity leave for one month.
Primary and post-primary education
Ireland does not have a publicly-owned primary school system. Instead, 95 percent of primary schools are owned and managed by the Catholic Church and funded mainly from the public purse.
One result is an excessive amount of time spent on religious instruction, particularly in Second Class, which coincides with Holy Communion.
Primary schools are also under-funded. Classrooms are not equipped to modern standards.
There is greater diversity in second-level education, but there is still a high degree of church control and significant underfunding. We want to:
- End Church control. Take schools into public ownership and put them under, local democratic control.
- Abolish all requirements for compulsory religious instruction. Allow religious groups and non-religious groups to access school facilities after school hours.
- Establish a maximum class size. Our goal is a maximum number of students in any class, anywhere in the country, of 18.
- Increase the numbers of special needs assistants in classrooms to the pre-crash level. SNAs are right to take action for certainty in employment and should have security in pay and conditions. Reverse cuts to guidance teachers.
- Introduce modules on philosophy, political economy, arts and media studies in second level to promote creativity and civic awareness.
People Before Profit believe that university education should be free and nobody should be put off going to college for lack of money. We will, therefore:
- Abolish all fees. Currently, the ‘registration fee’ has been steadily increased so that, in reality, it has become a new fee.
- Restore proper maintenance grants to guarantee access to students from low-income backgrounds.
- Redirect money from R&D tax credits to the university sector to fund blue-sky research.
- Restore funding for third-level education. State funding for third level was relentlessly cut during the crash. Third-level institutions are in crisis and increasingly rely on private philanthropy. Students and staff are paying the price in an underfunded sector, capitation should be restored.
- Ensure living wages and security for college workers. Academic and non-academic staff suffer increasingly precarious working conditions – from lack of permanence and progression to outsourcing and low pay. Non-academic staff in public colleges should be employed in-house on decent wages. Teaching and research staff from PhD students to Post-Docs deserve living wages and secure employment.
- Provide state-funded student accommodation. Lack of affordable student accommodation is now a major barrier to students accessing education. The only solution is state-funded, affordable student accommodation.