Last week thousands of parents, teachers and pupils staged a passionate demonstration at the Department of Education in Dublin. They were from schools benefiting from the programme known as ‘Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools’ or DEIS which was designed to counter the many ill effects on children living in areas of high unemployment and poverty.
The protest is over draconian cuts in funding of these schools which will result in a serious loss of teachers notwithstanding the attempt by Minister for Education Quinn to play down their effects. These cuts fit into the overall slashing of €76million in the Education Budget for 2012 rising to €241 in 2014.
It is the intention of the government that tomorrow, a massive €1.25 billion be paid to unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bondholders. Most likely these are not even the original gamblers who speculated a fortune in the bank’s property splurge, but are speculators who bought the bonds at a substantial discount as a risk investment in the hope of a quick financial killing.
In March €3 billion will be paid directly from taxpayers’ funds to meet the bailout terms demanded by the EU/IMF/ECB Troika to salvage the major European banks from their catastrophic losses in gambling with the same bank on Irish property deals.
Should there be any need to argue further about the perverse insanity of the Fine Gael/Labour Government carrying on the identical self same approach as their predecessors? The heart is being torn out of the heart of our Education service with cuts that will devastate the future prospects of a generation of children so that the parasites of corporate finance who speculate for massive profits on the financial markets are protected.
We frequently hear shrill demands of ‘value for money’ in the public sector from the advocates of the markets. Well, demonstrably, value for money has been achieved with the DEIS programme. Speaking to the Dáil last week, The Minister spoke of three evaluation reports on DEIS schools by the Educational Research Centre. In urban primary schools there was an overall improvement which was ‘statistically significant’ at all grade levels in English and mathematics. Greater improvements were recorded at lower grades especially among children with ‘lower levels of achievement.’
What this means is that despite the chronic inequality that is intrinsic to capitalist society, State intervention with public funds was able to go some way to begin to redress the balance in favour of the poor with the possibility of making a huge difference to the lives of many children as they grew through adolescence to adulthood. For many this would mean the difference between carving out a positive lifestyle as opposed to being overwhelmed by powerful influences pulling them downwards into social isolation and nihilism.
It is not just the schools and children in areas hit by economic hardship that will suffer if Minister Quinn’s cuts are implemented. There is a very serious attack planned in smaller rural schools and, within this subset, greater difficulties again for schools in Gaeltacht areas.
Some 1500 schools with four teachers or less face higher pupil teacher ratios which will mean the loss of significant numbers of teachers and the remaining teachers having responsibility for a greater spread of classes with the disadvantages for children’s education that will follow from that situation.
In schools in Gaeltacht areas, there was a slightly more favourable pupil teacher ratio taking account of the fact that numbers of children would not be fully fluent in Irish as well, of course, as having children whose first language was neither English nor Irish. At a stroke, the Minister is dictating the same ratio for all rural schools, meaning that small Gaeltacht schools would have to see relatively higher numbers of children registering to maintain existing teaching posts. In practice many Gaeltacht schools could lose teaching posts with detrimental consequences for the children and for the efficacy of the teaching of spoken Irish.
Last week the Troika pronounced itself satisfied with the austerity programme being forced down the throats of the Irish people so that their resources continue to flow to international bankers. But for how long more will this catastrophic situation be allowed to continue? The marvellous protest at the Department of Education should be merely a curtain raiser for united, national action to save our children’s education.
Already, apart from the Deis and rural schools, deep wounds have been inflicted on a very wide swathe of schools with losses of Special Needs Assistants, Resource Teachers including for Traveller community children and Language Support Teachers. All schools, their teachers and parents should now come together and launch a one day, national school strike with major demonstrations demanding reversal of the cuts and a change from the catastrophic austerity policy that is transfusing the very lifeblood of our society into the bloated bellies of