In this week’s blog, Fr Paddy reflects on Irelands Educational system and the huge pressure emotionally and financially on students today.

The Class of 2011 have received their Leaving Certificate Results. A group of over 50,000 young people who are our future parents, professionals, leaders and indeed dreamers of this republics future. The vast majority, now begin to study in Third Level. A journey towards hopefully, employment and opportunity. I could not but help witness the enormous pressure young people feel in regard to this State Exam, when collecting their results in our local secondary school.

Sure there is life after the Leaving Cert, but when it is happening, one can be consumed by its enormity, expectation, anxiety and pressure. The points system as it is, determines so much, in a time when so many young people are starved of opportunity, in terms of employment. The ‘Points Race’ becomes even more competitive and difficult for students to gain access into coveted careers such as, Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Veterinary Science and Primary School Teaching.

The results of the Leaving Cert 2011 and the final points tally, tells its own story. The vast majority of students gaining access to university courses are from the middle classes. Students, whose parents can afford to, pay for grind-schools, and every extra resource to encourage their child to maximise the best possible result.

Education mirrors the great inequality that now defines our post Celtic Tiger economy and society. The poor, by and large, because of being poor, don’t go to university. Those who have resources and who can afford to pay, go to Third Level. It’s a vicious and terrible cycle, that replicates itself through successive generations; that no  government, seems to want to heal.

The quality of our Primary and Secondary Education fundamentally determines the amount of points achieved in any Leaving Cert. When our government cut Special Needs Assistants and Resource Hours, increase pupil-teacher ratio at Primary Level, this action seriously diminishes the chances of vulnerable young people making access to Third Level, and ultimately gain employment opportunity. Cut-backs affect the disadvantaged most.

Poor people are affected first and punished most in how this government makes what its termed “necessary cut-backs” in order to avail of the I.M.F. funding. Education is a fundamental right of every citizen in this republic. Education helps us to grow, to see beyond this moment and it helps us to dream imaginative and creative thoughts. Education is a life journey, Education is the medium, perhaps if funded and valued, can truly break the structures of inequality and discrimination felt by so many young people at this time.

During the coming weeks, government ministers will be assessing their departments in the context of the forthcoming budget. Budgets are about balancing books, prioritising what’s important and offering renewed opportunity. Education is so important when we consider the Class of 2011. Our greatest strength and hope are contained in the gifts and talents and abundant intelligence of our young people. Their ability and hope will bring us out of the uncertainty and grey clouds of this recession if we truly support and prioritise education as that necessary vehicle.

 

May the Lord, of opportunity and confidence anoint

every student at this time and their parents.