CHANGING EDUCATION LANDSCAPE

23 November 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The winds of change that are gusting through many aspects of Irish life at the present time are being felt with a particular force of turbulence in the field of education.
Progress reform in any major public sphere is a constant necessity to preserve its health and relevance – particularly so in education which must ensure that its service users are provided with the skills and learning that enables them to function effectively in a rapidly evolving social and employment landscape.
This country’s stark economic circumstances provide the context for much the current change washing over us, in education and elsewhere, necessitating greater efficiencies in the delivery of services.
The ethos of “doing more with less” is suddenly predominant – Government Ministers of all Departments are telling us that it is possible to deliver the same quality of service with reduced budgets and reduced numbers of staff.
Given that most of us are having to make do with less at the present time, it is easy to sardonically welcome the misery being shared around a bit and ignore the basic paradox at the heart of the “doing more with less” philosophy.
Mathematically, it isn’t possible to do more with less – and when Government functionaries get carried away with themselves and blithely try, as with the current debacle over the processing of student grants, the result can be quite a mess.
Removing a complex, time-consuming function from the country’s many local authorities and VECs and vesting it in one fell swoop in a single centralised system without equipping that system with sufficient resources has turned out to be the recipe for disaster some politicians at local level in this county predicted.
Many students and parents in Co Monaghan have been left in extremely difficult circumstances as a result of this ill advisedly precipitate decision.
Monaghan Town Council Cathaoirleach Seamus Treanor was on the ball on Monday in questioning why none of the Government’s harem of advisers had not forecast such an outcome – as was Colr Robbie Gallagher in arguing that an incremental transition over a period of years was the only effective means of ensuring that the transfer of responsibility in this area would go smoothly.
The SUSI experience, and there have been many similar recently, cautions us to be sceptical about all the claims being made by Government Ministers for the brave new world that will emerge when they get through with their reforms.
But not all change is bad, and a picture of educational change of a more positive, if not entirely challenge-free, sort, was presented to the 2012 graduates of the Monaghan Institute of Further Education and Training when they were endowed with their qualifications at a ceremony in Monaghan Town last Thursday.
There was for a start the literal landscape change in Co Monaghan education that will become active in January when the new Education Campus at Knockaconny opens its doors.
The new Monaghan Institute that will form an integral part of the development has the potential to be a powerful engine for economic and social improvement in this county and wider region – particularly if plans in train to broaden the range of degree courses available there in partnership with other education providers come fully to fruition.
We reiterate our previous declaration that the value to our circulation area of this project, realised through inspirational local leadership and endeavour on the part of Co Monaghan Vocational Education Committee and backed by the very laudable commitment of the current and previous Governments, is incalculable.
That it will deliver great benefits seems assured – the extent of those benefits will depend however on how the facility is perceived and utilised by the broader community.
Businesses and industries, and community and voluntary organisations of all varieties, will be presented with a valuable training resource, and their level of engagement with the new campus and its facilities will be crucial in tailoring the services provided there to local requirements.
Institute graduates also received an insight into how the new campus will fit into the broader structural changes taking place in education provision when they were addressed by the Secretary General of the Irish Vocational Education Association, Michael Moriarty.
Those who view with suspicion the imminent abolition of VECs and their replacement with a new structure of Education and Training Boards would have had their fears allayed to at least some extent by an open-minded reading of what Mr Moriarty had to say on the subject.
Although it will be impossible to judge how well it begins to deliver on the ambitious objectives Mr Moriarty assigned to it until it passes through its transitional phase and becomes the more streamlined Monaghan-Cavan ETB following the 2014 local elections, the new two-county body that will administrate in this sphere has considerable potential.
Mr Moriarty’s hopes that the new body “will deliver more courses, more services, more jobs and more capacity for Cavan and Monaghan” are ones that the people of both counties will share, and there is already ample evidence both here and in our neighbouring county that the “aggregation” as it is being called is being managed well.
Bringing two or more counties together under the one administrative umbrella may not be the most difficult obstacle the new Boards have to overcome, however.
Their evolution into structures that have responsibilities across the broad field of national, secondary, further and community education, and interactions with training agencies, may well meet with resistance from certain sectional interests and the management of this elaboration of functionality will have to be delicately and perhaps incrementally exercised.
But perhaps the words that will linger longest in the minds of those who attended last week’s Monaghan Institute graduation were uttered by Monaghan county footballer Dick Clerkin.
Mr Clerkin’s motivational address was a challenging one in that it confronted the very prevalent tendency in the national psyche to sell ourselves short and underplay our personal achievements.
Assurance and confidence are important bequests of educational attainment – perhaps the most valuable of the “transferable skills” that academic achievement is nowadays equated with – and the guest speaker’s rallying cry that these qualities be utilised by the new graduates uninhibitedly was a salutary one.
Perhaps the core value of education in a changing world is that it can equip us with the power to manage and manipulate the changes forced upon us to the positive benefit of our families, our communities and ourselves.
In their new Education Campus Co Monaghan people will find the resources to do so – we should use them with wisdom, and with confidence.

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