Issue 3-2023-200dpi

26 April 2001 Edition

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Sharing the wealth with the learning poor

``If the poor and the learning poor cannot be reached after years of boom, the chances are they will never be helped.'' This indictment of the Irish education system north and south came this week from a cross border study that showed over 1.1 million adults on the island have left school with little or no educational qualifications.

That figure, made up of 800,000 adults in the 26 Counties and 300,000 from the Six Counties, must be considered shocking by anyone concerned about educational standards and equality on the island.

The Centre for Cross Border Studies report also found that the majority of funds earmarked for further and higher level education is spent on middle class students going into third level colleges. The report found that Irish colleges ``cater predominantly for middle -class school leavers''.

Even more damning was the finding that nearly a quarter of Irish adults have some form of literacy problems. 24% of the adult population north and south had difficulties reading the instructions on a medicine bottle.

It is interesting that a day later, as An Phoblacht goes to print, there has been no outcry on these shocking findings. The parents' groups so vociferous about teachers exercising their right to take industrial action have been silent on this report. In fact, there has been little comment from them at all on issues such as resources for schools etc. Could it be that they are representative of the middle class schools benefiting from this inequality in funding?

This is yet another example where rapid economic growth in the Irish economy has not helped close the gap between rich and poor in Ireland but is actually widening it. We need to tackle literacy as a priority. Those who have difficulty reading and writing are being effectively excluded from any prospect of employment in the information and communication sectors. There is no `new' economy for the 1.1 million `learning poor' only the same old story of exclusion, deprivation and discrimination.

Surely ensuring that everyone has an adequate education and leaves school equipped with the knowledge and skills to succeed in life and in a career is not only a basic right but also a good long-term investment in ensuring more economic growth.

If the Tiger economy cannot even promote this basic right we have been failed by our economic policy makers. As usual, the real losers are those most disadvantaged in society.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1