For the purpose of this reflective essay I am going to concentrate on educational disadvantage at second level and traveller education. Education Disadvantage refers to a situation whereby individuals in society derive less benefit from the education system than their peers.
It is an issue that has grown in significance in educational and social policy arenas in Ireland in recent years. It can be considered to be a factor that perpetuates intergenerational poverty. Education disadvantage is defined by the Education Act (DES, 1997b:32) as;
“The impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage which prevent students from deriving appropriate benefit from education in schools”
President McAleese referred to educational disadvantage for young people who “find the gates of opportunity firmly shut or who lack the insight, the support or the maturity of judgement to recognise and commit to the education and training which is on offer at this crucial stage in their lives”
In my opinion education disadvantage is a multi-dimensional problem, it is a symptom of a wider range of issues. These issues may include:
(i) Children welfare needs
(ii) Lack of family commitment in education &
(iii) Failure of the education system to address the needs of minority groups for example Travellers.
Today’s booming economy with employment easier to access than ever before, Ireland is faced with students being enticed away from their studies too soon. It is today’s problem but it affects tomorrow.
Education disadvantage at second level may include early school leavers. Young people see early school-leaving as a positive decision made in a situation where they have very few choices. Though many people link early school-leaving with certain geographic areas and with certain schools, it is linked primarily with socio-economic background. Rich people do not leave school; early. The root of this problem, in my opinion, is poverty.
People who leave the education system with few or no qualifications, puts them at increased risk of poverty and social exclusion. Their personal and social development is curtailed. It is my understanding that education disadvantage continues and exacerbates the cycle of poverty in which many individuals, families and communities find themselves in Ireland. In this regard, addressing education disadvantage should be viewed as a social inclusion measure.
Kellegan et al (1995) estimate that approximately 16 % of the school-going population is education disadvantage. The participation of travellers in the education system continues to be extremely low. For example, only 1,381 travellers participated in post-primary education during the 2001/2002 school year. Only 3 percent of that figure enrolled in sixth year with a view to undertaking the Leaving Certificate examination.
I believe tackling the issue of educational disadvantage requires a multi-dimensional and integrated approach. Education plays a fundamental role in providing full access to life chances and in avoiding and breaking the cycle of disadvantage.
If we look, at the education provision for Traveller children that is in place. There are four special primary schools catering specifically for Traveller children, three in Dublin and one in Galway. However the majority of Traveller children are enrolled in local primary schools alongside their settled peers.
Some schools operate special classes exclusively for Traveller pupils, while others withdraw Traveller children from general class for special tuition. Schools in which Traveller children are enrolled are entitled to enhanced capitation grants.
To tackle Traveller educational disadvantage it appears to me that the Department of Education and Science have made a genuine effort. I believe that for success of the provisions made by the Department it lies on the shoulders of their families and the communities.
Traveller parents need to be aware and educated of the importance of sending their children to school, if parents believe in education it will have a knock on effect on the children. Communities need to break down the barriers of racism that is shown towards travellers.
In my opinion I believe there is a clear need to overhaul the Junior Certificate syllabus to make it more imaginative and practical as well as expanding its foundation element, in order to make it more attractive to disadvantaged children.
Experts such as Scott Boldt and Brendan Devine emphasise the importance of moving to primary school to identify problem pupils and to involve parents, community organisations and health and social welfare agencies in efforts to ensure they do not drop out. It is estimated that nearly 1,000 children never make the transition from primary to second level, and the traumatic transition between the two levels is the beginning of early school leaving.
I would like to see the principle for correcting education disadvantage to be shared by the whole education community. Establishing such a principle would, I think, lead to implementing measures to share the task of responding to educational disadvantage more evenly among schools than exists at present. It is the thrust of this submission that the uneven distribution of the load itself further contributes to educational disadvantage and the perpetuation of educational inequalities.
Integration needs to become a process of de-fragmentation, combining not only delivery mechanisms and service provision, but also putting back together the broader capital context in which educational disadvantage exists. A truly integrated initiative would involve all factors, in a way that valued each and recognised the fact that, without any one of them, a programme is much less likely to be effective. Each factor is dependent on the other.
For the course of this reflective essay I read many articles and papers but also I asked the teachers in the school where I undertook my teaching practice on their ideas on educational disadvantage, I have come to the following conclusions that need to be considered when one begins to tackle educational disadvantage;
* The Education Welfare Act must be implemented, and be properly resourced to do so.
* Within schools a tracking and monitoring system should be in place.
* Increasingly teachers are becoming social workers and are frequently isolated within social inclusion programmes. Incentives are needed for teachers to work in disadvantaged areas.
* School-Community-Agency partnerships are the key to effective integrated action.
* There is a need for greater focus on purpose and effects.
The lives of students who are educational disadvantaged can be contrasted with those who access opportunities which enable them to live their dreams.
The student needs to be placed at the centre of the process of change, with the emphasis not only on the student but on the individual student at the centre. The principles of intervention include identification and targeting of individual needs, positive discrimination, integrated holistic services, and parental involvement and development. A holistic approach should involve developing child- child, family-child and family- community relationships.
Finally, policy must view educational disadvantage within the context of broader socio-economic and political conditions. Inequality in the education system is but one aspect of growing inequality in Ireland. I believe that ending educational disadvantage must take place within a framework of eradicating both consistent and relative poverty in Ireland. This calls on all structures within Irish society to contribute to this process, not just those in education. I have come to a better understanding of educational disadvantage through the course of writing this Reflective essay.