Class and Education in the Celtic Tiger
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution
6th December 2021
Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.
This document from the Socialist Workers Party published in 2001 was written by Deirdre Cronin. It is divided into various sections: Class and education in Ireland; Education and the Market; Education under Capitalism and Education and Socialism. Each section is further subdivided into areas such A tale of Two education systems; Participation in Third Level Education; Early School Leaving and Poor Attendance; Education Attainment/Literacy; and Local Funding – Making Matters worse.
The Introduction notes that:
In the 1980s newly qualified teachers faced little option but to emigrate in order to find work. It was virtually impossible to get a permanent job as annual spending on education was cut dramatically during a period of deep recession. One large teacher training college was shut down. Classrooms were overcrowded and teachers were forced to fight to defend their pay and to protect their students against the worst excesses of government cut backs.
Fifteen years later newly qualified teachers can walk into permanent jobs. There is a huge shortage of teachers because seriously inadequate rates of pay have caused many to leave teaching altogether. We are in the midst of a prolonged boom yet the average teacher can no longer even dream of buying a house, many are forced to supplement their income with second jobs and future pay rises look like they will be tied to productivity. Class sizes are among the largest in Europe, schools remain inadequately resourced and the number of students from disadvantaged areas who manage to get into third level is still pathetically low. There is more wealth in the country than ever before but Ireland has the second highest level of poverty in the industrialised world and the lowest wage levels in Europe.
Privatisation is the mantra of the FF-PD government and woe betide anyone who, like ASTI, steps outside of this model. Even though rampant marketisation has been discredited elsewhere, our government continues to trot out the economics of neoliberalism, making it one of the most right wing governments in Europe. Tax subsidies to capital are costing the Exchequer well over £2,500 million a year while a programme of privatisation is being carried through in important areas of the economy with little or no public debate. The primacy of the market is firmly established and there is a clear agenda of cutting back on publicly funded services and attacking public sector pay.
The trade union leaders, rather than challenge nee-liberalism, have joined in the chorus. So deeply involved are they in partnership with the government that they very often sound just like them. They are quick to condemn ASTI for being “outside the fold” of the ICTU. They rush headlong into benchmarking,even if they have scarcely thought through what it will mean in the long term for their members. On megasalaries, they are out of touch and want only to ensure that nothing–least of all a strike-rocks the partnership boat.
But it argues that ‘partnership has not served teachers well’ and it points to the erosion of teachers salaries, lack of resources and demoralisation of teachers. And it further argues:
The need to challenge the privatisation model of education is urgent. In the midst of massive social change in Ireland and disillusion in the existing system, education has become an ideological battleground. While the government is pursuing its agenda, many teachers want to see a fairer system and better rewards for teachers. This debate is not restricted to Ireland. In France for example, the ethos of the market has been challenged and teachers and students have begun to put forward anti-capitalist alternatives.
This pamphlet hopes to contribute to this debate. How can we make Irish education more equal and achievement less class-ridden? How can neo-liberal economics be taken on? How can we change the often alienating and unfulfilling experience of education? Finally, how in a wider political context, can education become about meeting children’s needs and developing human potential?
The last section points to some examples of education under socialism, noting that the General Strike in France in 1968 led to the occupation of schools by pupils with about a third of teachers participating. It outlines how this changed the education system during the strike. But it argues that this model of education was also found in the Soviet Union after 1917.
This section concludes with the following:
It is possible for us to win some changes to the education system under capitalism in order to make it more focused on the needs of children. However, radically transforming education is clearly linked to changing the wider society. Now is a time when many are questioning the values of the market and of capitalism. For the first time since the sixties there are serious stirrings of opposition to the bleak uniformity of the market. Anti-capitalist protests have identified corporate capitalism as the main obstacle to meeting peoples’ needs. Nowhere is this more apparent than in education. It is time to bring these arguments into the educational arena. We need to begin the fight to transform this society into one where human need is placed before profit and human potential before the straitjacket of the market. Struggles within education are also part of a wider fight to achieve a socialist society.
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