Limerick is a dynamic city. It has a rich historical heritage and a vibrant arts scene. World-class rugby and renowned multi-nationals have been everyday success stories for the last ten years. Despite all this, however, Limerick’s reputation continues to suffer in the media. Dramatic crime reports have created a distorted reality in which the actions of a small few are regularly portrayed as standard behaviour.
Broadly speaking, the Seanad was meant as a forum for educated counsel and as a check on the power of the Dáil. The house is divided into five Panels: the Administrative Panel, the Agricultural Panel, the Cultural and Educational Panel, the Industrial and Commercial Panel and the Labour Panel. Each of these consists, in theory, of individuals possessing special knowledge and experience. While the current practice is far removed from such theory, reform is possible. There are three clear ways we can achieve this.
Education is not the same as learning. When we think of education we think of places and structures: a classroom, a building, a state exam. Unfortunately, school—the iconic home of education—is often the last place in which we learn anything. As demonstrated by Falk and Dierking in ‘The 95 Percent Solution,’ published last year in the American Science journal, as little as 5% of our learning happens inside a classroom. Learning is a concept with much broader meaning than education. It is a fundamental aspect of human life and the engine for most of our interactions.
No community is immune to anti-social behaviour. In some communities, however, the social fabric has torn to such an extent that anti-social behaviour is seen as the norm, rather than the exception. In these areas, small groups of young people are consistently engaged in behaviour that is of real danger to themselves and others. Children as young as eight, demonstrate a hard edge of maturity beyond their years and act in the full knowledge that the law cannot prosecute them and that their parents are unwilling or unable to control them.
As students around the country sit down to fill out their CAOs, the importance of further education is brought sharply into focus. The number of those from the most marginalised households attending third level, while increasing, is still minimal. In fact, there are still significantly more early school leavers than third level graduates in many disadvantaged communities. With every third young person currently out of work, the importance of attending college need not be underlined.
The 2012 referendum campaign on the rights of the child focused considerable attention on the powers of the State. While it is not the State’s role to rear a child, it does have a role in its protection. Our understanding of the concept of ‘protection’, however, is often limited. A child who is able to leave school at fourteen with only functional literacy, if even that, is not being protected. Similarly, the 1,000 Irish primary school children who never make it to secondary school each year are not being protected. While formal education is not the panacea to the social marginalisation that leads to anti-social behaviour, it is one of the State’s most encompassing influences on the child. School gives the young person somewhere to be. A positive, warm environment where they are encouraged to develop. The great advantage of school for the community is that it fulfils young people, both mentally and physically. A full day of school, followed by sport, followed by some homework is exhausting for even the most energetic child. There simply isn’t the time or the desire to be out roaming the streets.
One of the fundamental challenges facing youth work in Ireland today is the lack of accreditation. It is one of the few, if not only, professions in the country where practitioners can literally certify their own title. There is no national body overseeing the vocation, nor is any standardised diploma or degree expected of job applicants.
Over 10% of Irish school children will never sit their Leaving Certificate. Over one thousand will not even make it into secondary school. In fact, the only thing more disheartening about these figures has been the government’s response to drop out rates and subsequent educational challenges. The tragedy that a quarter of all Irish adults scored in the lowest possible level of literacy in The International Adult Literacy Survey (2006) is only dwarfed by The Prison Adult Literacy Survey: Results and Implications (2003) which showed that this figure is double amongst our prison population.