18 August 2005 Edition

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Education inequality linked to health system problems

Seán Crowe TD

Seán Crowe TD

Sinn Féin TDs this week highlighted the link between educational inequality with the crisis faced by the Irish health services. Unless the issue of restricted access to education and training for health professions is addressed the crisis in Irish health services is set to worsen.

Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Seán Crowe TD said the key to tackling inequities in the Irish education sector and in Irish society as a whole is to tackle the issue of poverty and disadvantage. Crowe was speaking after the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee released figures which showed a clear link between educational achievement and social/geographical background, which he said highlighted the inequities endemic in Irish society. "Figures released by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee which show a link between educational achievement and social/geographical background highlight the inequities endemic in Irish society. Can anyone seriously suggest that students from Rathmines which has a 60% rate of third-level progression are any more intelligent than young people from Finglas which has a 7.8% rate of progression? This alarming contrast is repeated throughout Dublin with the same social bias. It is clear that socio-economic factors are having an extreme effect on access to third level education.

"I don't think that it can be disputed that these figures have exposed the ugly underbelly of the so-called Celtic Tiger which has seen an ever-widening gap between rich and poor both economically and in terms of opportunity. While I welcome the decision of the Department of Social and Family Affairs to shorten the qualifying period for the Back to Education Allowance from 15 months to nine, this is still too long. In fact there is a risk of yet another form of class bias here with well-off families in a far better position to support siblings over this period than working-class families. I would also call on Minister Hanafin to introduce a quota system, which guarantees third-level places to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Something along the lines of, but separate from, the mature student quota.

"Anyone that works in this area will tell you that the key to tackling these inequities is to introduce structured measures to tackle the issues of poverty and disadvantage. This means a root-and-branch approach tackling all the related issues such as childcare, social welfare allowances, pupil teacher ratio, special needs teachers and investment in the schools. It is clear that what is needed is a multi-pronged, multi-departmental co-ordinated approach working in conjunction with community groups ad NGOs."

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said he had been told by the Higher Education Authority that a key report on medical training and education was now with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education but would not be published until October. He called on the Ministers to publish the report without further delay. "Central Applications Office figures published this week show that only 4% of the 12,000 students who applied to study for health professions like medicine and dentistry actually got into those courses last year. There are not enough places in training and education and there are not enough professionals in the health system. The whole system is suffering as a result. Public patients in particular are not receiving the level of care and attention they need from health professionals.

"The Minister for Health Mary Harney and the Minister for Education Mary Hanafin now have the Report of the Medical Education and Training Working Group. Some of its findings were leaked in July and they highlight the over-dependence of the colleges on high fee-paying non-EU students. They call for more places for Irish and other EU students. The Ministers should publish the report and they should set out how they propose to address this very serious problem.

"The flawed system of training for the health professions is also part of an inequitable education system. Other figures published this week by the City of Dublin VEC show the link between access to higher education and social/geographical background. Less wealthy people have less chance of accessing third-level. Inequality means that Irish society does not have the benefit of all those with the potential to be excellent doctors, dentists, consultants, speech therapists and so on because so many are denied access to training and education."


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