27 April 2000 Edition

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Teachers' conferences slam government

Martin McGuinness addresses INTO conference

The government was left in no doubt whatsoever by the three Teachers' Union conferences this week. One after another, delegates voiced real anger and militancy at what teachers see as the denigration of their profession.

Delegates at the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) conference, which left the ICTU negotiations for the Partnership for Prosperuity and Fairness (PPF), spoke of their determination to pursue their 30% pay claim in the face of outright government rejection.

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) voted overwhelmingly to renegotiate the early settlers' wage offer from the government under the PPF. The INTO conference, which organises teachers across the 32 counties, overwhelmingly backed a resolution instructing its executive to initiate a formal review of the PPF within a year.

But the high point of the INTO conference was the address of former Six-County education minister Martin McGuinness, who received sustained applause from delegates. He talked of the hopes he shared with delegates to the conference of building a future for the education of young people together, free of conflict. ``The only question'', he said ``is when.''

He talked of his work as Minister of Education, until it was cut short by the suspension of the institutions, including the initiation of the largest ever School Capital Programme, the approval of two new integrated schools and the expansion of the pre-school provision.

He also paid tribute to the growing number of Gaelscoileanna accross Ireland, and the importance of self confidence in students who have an outward looking sense of Irishness.

``I believe that Irish schools, and the Gaelscoileanna have an important role to play in ensuring that we maintain the rich and varied tapestry of ethnic world cultures that enriches all our lives,'' he said. This message has a particular relevance in the context of our treatment of refugees and other ethnic minorities in this country.''

But Martin McGuinness, described by the Irish Times as the `darling of the teachers', was the only point of optimism in a sea of anger and frustration among teachers.

It was not just the relative fall in wages and working conditions which successive pay agreements have inflicted on teachers, compared with other professions employing graduates. Delegates were concerned at the standards and quality of the education system itself.

The latest survey, discussed at the TUI conference, reports that over a quarter of girls, and an one third of boys in the 26 Counties are in need of remedial education on transfer to secondary school. It is an appalling indictment of the Dublin government's recent educational policies. Almost one third of students enrolling in the secondary sector have reading levels at least two years behind their chrononological standards.

Whether or not Martin McGuiness resumes his position alongside Michael Woods as Education Minister on this island, there is no question that a serious challenge to its denigration of education threatens Woods and his government.

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