I am entering my final semester as an undergraduate student in University College Dublin and although I plan to continue my studies into postgraduate level, one thing is glaringly obvious to me. We need education reform. We need it for all levels of education, even if the issues at each level are not quite the same. In this country we’ve had underpaid childcare workers, as well as teachers at both primary and post-primary level, for too long. Our classrooms are overcrowded. At tertiary level, there is mass underfunding also. Beyond this, while almost half of people between 24 and 54 have a tertiary degree, there are still massive problems surrounding access to education. It is still much easier for those from wealthier backgrounds to gain tertiary education access, leading to large inequalities.
Improving the curriculum
While lack of access and funding are important issues, where I want to focus is on the content itself, and how this country approaches teaching its youth. The curriculums we use and the content we are taught at the very least feels like it belongs more so in the dark ages than in our modern society. The content is outdated. Our young people in post-primary in particular are not being taught valuable life skills or information that they will need later in life.
My first proposal would be, especially if the voting age is to be reduced to 16, to bring in proper politics classes. It is about time that this state treated young people as proper political actors rather than purely economic beings. Many young people already have strong opinions, myself included, but classes would provide an avenue for better discussion and a wider range of viewpoints for young people to expose themselves to. It would result in more informed decisions by young people in areas that will affect their lives. Many young people currently do not use their votes, despite being vocal about issues they are passionate about. Proper political education, beyond the minuscule level of CSPE, would empower young people to make their views heard and use their vote. It would show young people their voice does matter and that it can make a difference.
Building an inclusive society
Other reforms to the content we’re taught that I feel need to be introduced are around culture and multiculturalism. Hate crimes are rising rapidly in Ireland. I feel that a lack of understanding and ignorance, most of which arising from fear mongering and misinformation has led to this rise. Education needs to be offered which centres around informing young people that it is okay to be different. It is okay to view things differently and that there are people who hold different values and they need to be respected. I would also argue for the introduction of seminar style classes that educate young people on how to safely use social media. This would help to avoid misinformation and to understand how to seek help if they are being bullied and so on.
How we measure success
While the reforms I mentioned are specifically education content based, other reforms are necessary too. For example, I think class sizes need to be addressed. I feel the way we quantify education success needs to be re-evaluated and shifted from purely an academic grades-based focus to a more inclusive approach that takes into account the development of young people from a social perspective. For me, the highest proof of this are the many billionaires who dropped out of college. Grades are not the only measure of success.
I am not naïve. I understand that such deep structural reforms would take years to implement but it is time we get started so that the next generation of young people are educated in a way that is more fitting to a modern and inclusive society.