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«An Lárionad um Fhorbairt agus Oideachais na Luath-Óige A Historical Overview Of Our Conceptualisation Of Childhood In Ireland In The Twentieth ...»

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The emphasis in the curriculum in this period was on a linguistic and cultural revival and on a moralistic and literary content, leading to a narrowing of the wide curriculum that had been in use from 1900-1922. To accommodate this, children in schools came to the fore in the cultural revival and it can be argued that their education in this period may have suffered, as it was not premised on the needs of the child (O’Connor, 1987b). A child-centred curriculum was of little A Historical Overview Of Our Conceptualisation Of Childhood In Ireland In The Twentieth Century © 2004 CECDE importance in comparison to the restoration of the Irish language, for which the schools were the prime agent of reform. Little regard was given to the needs, interests or abilities of the individual child in the curriculum, while there was a strong emphasis on didactic teaching and punishment emanating from the belief in the doctrine of original sin (Corcoran, 1930). It is also unusual in international terms that both boys and girls received the same education, as education was perceived to be for moral as opposed to economic or vocational reasons.

The New Curriculum 1971-1999 There was a shift in emphasis in the 1960s from education as being a social expenditure to one of investment in the individual and society as a whole. There was an economic boom, which facilitated increased investment and interest in education. Increased contact with organisations such as the UN, UNESCO and the OECD removed the insularity that had characterised Irish educational policy since the 1920s. There was a growing realisation of the need to invest in education for Ireland to compete on an increasingly international stage.

Education was perceived as a ladder for social mobility and there were increased aims to attain equality of educational opportunity (Coolahan, 1981).

From the late 1960s, the Inspectorate of the Department of Education came together and drafted a curriculum for primary schools. Following a pilot implementation and revisions, the

curriculum was introduced in 1971.This curriculum acknowledged that previously:

Education was ‘curriculum-centred’ rather than ‘child-centred’, and the teacher’s function in many cases, was that of a medium through whom knowledge was merely transferred to his pupils. (Department of Education, 1971:15) This curriculum returned once again to child-centred principles. Education was designed to facilitate the full and harmonious development of the child, with inherent flexibility to adapt to the needs and abilities of the individual child. Subjects were to be taught in a seamless and integrated manner as opposed to the previous tradition of compartmentalisation. A focus was placed on making the school an enjoyable place for children to be and to make learning relevant to the interests of the child. An emphasis was also placed on the learning environment of the child and on small-group and individual learning. The creation of a disposition for learning was considered of paramount importance in the learning process.

–  –  –

A process began in 1990 to revise the working of the primary school curriculum. This was conducted through a process of consultation and partnership, culminating close to a decade later in the Primary School Curriculum (Department of Education and Science, 1999). For the first time in the history of the curriculum in Ireland in the twentieth century, the previous curriculum was used as the base from which to develop and thus ensured educational continuity for pupils. This curriculum is five years into implementation at this point and the NCCA are currently reviewing progress to date.

Within the education system, this era heralded the introduction of a child-centred curriculum in 1971, placing a special emphasis on the child as an individual. Methodologies were improved and greater use was made of the environment and previous experiences of the child.

Advancements include a special focus on children affected by disadvantage and those with special needs.

Conclusions Horgan and Douglas (2001:139) aptly summarise curricular provision in Ireland since the

inception of the national system in 1831:

In the State sector, in this country, the curricular pendulum since 1831 has oscillated back and forth from the traditional, didactic approach to child-centredness.

The curriculum in Ireland has been influenced, by varying degrees at different times, by national and international developments. The 1900 programme was greatly influence by international theorists, by the New Education Movement and the system in England (Selleck, 1968). In 1922, the system was national in nature and outlook and chose to ignore international models. This insularity continued until the 1960s when Ireland once again opened up to international models of policy and practice and adapted them to the needs of the Irish system.

We can see that the way in which the curriculum was developed and modified involved various ranges of stakeholders at different times. In 1898, the Commission on Manual and A Historical Overview Of Our Conceptualisation Of Childhood In Ireland In The Twentieth Century © 2004 CECDE Practical Instruction collected volumes of evidence from a host of witnesses at home and abroad, commissioned reports on various systems and distilled this to produce the 1900 curriculum. The range of players in 1922 was greatly reduced, with policy decided by the dominant forces in Irish education. This was to continue in Irish education until the 1990s, when the process of devising the 1999 curriculum adopted a partnership approach.

Profiling the conceptualisation of childhood is an ongoing and dynamic process. The Revised Programme of 1900 was child-centred in theory, offering a wide curriculum with heuristic methodologies, based on the needs and interests of the child. Following independence, the needs and interests of the child were relegated within the curriculum to accommodate the language revival movement, schools being used as the primary site of intervention for the revival. From the 1960s, and formalised in the curriculum introduced in 1971, a gradual journey towards child-centredness was undertaken within the curriculum in Irish schools. It is heartening that in recent years, curriculum development has become more democratic and participatory, rightly placing the needs and interests of the child at the core of the learning process.

A Historical Overview Of Our Conceptualisation Of Childhood In Ireland In The Twentieth Century © 2004 CECDE References Cleary, A., Nic Ghiolla Phádraig, M. and Quin, S. (Eds.) (2001). Understanding Children, Volume 2 – Changing Experiences and Family Forms. Dublin: Oak Tree Press.

Commissioners of National Education (1901). 67th Report of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland for 1900, Appendix F, Revised Programme of Instruction in National Schools – Notes, Hints and Observations for the Information of Managers and Teachers.

Dublin: Alexander Thom and Co. (Limited).

Commission on Manual and Practical Instruction (1898). Final Report of the Commission on Manual and Practical Instruction in Primary Schools under the Board of National Education in Ireland. Dublin: Printed for her Majesty’s Stationery Office by Alexander Thom and Co. (Limited).

Coolahan, J. (1973). A Study of Curricular Policy for the Primary and Secondary Schools of Ireland 1900-1935, with Special Reference to the Irish Language and Irish History. Ph. D Thesis, Dublin: Trinity College Dublin.

Coolahan, J. (1981). Irish Education - History and Structure. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.

Corcoran, T. (1924). The Language Campaigns in Alsace-Lorraine. Studies, Volume XIII, No.

50, pp. 201-213.

Corcoran, T. (1930). “The Catholic Philosophy of Education”, Studies, Volume XIX, June, pp.


Department of Education (1934). Revised Programme of Primary Instruction. Dublin: The Wood Printing Works.

Department of Education (1948). Revised Programme for Infants. Dublin: The Stationery Office.

Department of Education (1971). Primary School Curriculum: Teacher’s Handbooks (2 Volumes). Dublin: The Stationery Office.

Department of Education and Science (1999). Primary School Curriculum. Dublin: The Stationery Office.

Hayes, N. (2002). Children’s Rights - Whose Right? A Review of Child Policy Development in Ireland. Studies in Public Policy 9. Dublin: The Policy Institute at Trinity College Dublin.

Horgan, M. and Douglas, F. (2001). “Some Aspects of Quality in Early Childhood Education.” pp. 119-144. (in) Cleary, A., Nic Ghiolla Phádraig, M. and Quinn, S. (Eds.) (2001).

Understanding Children, Volume 1 – State, Education and Economy. Dublin: Oak Tree Press.

Lyons, F. (1971). Ireland Since the Famine: 1850 to the Present. London: Wiedenfeld and Nicolson.

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National Programme Conference (1922). National Programme of Primary Instruction.

Dublin: The Educational Company of Ireland.

National Programme Conference (1926). Report and Programme presented by the National Programme Conference to the Minister for Education. Dublin: The Stationery Office.

Nic Ghiolla Phádraig, M. (1990). Childhood as a Social Phenomenon – National Report Ireland. European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research. Eurosocial Report 36/8.

O’Connell, T. (1968). 100 Years of Progress – The Story of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation 1868-1968. Dublin: Dakota Press.

O’Connor, M. (1984). The Development of Infant Education in Ireland 1881-1948. M.Ed.

Thesis. Dublin: Trinity College Dublin.

O’Connor, M. (1987a). The Development of Infant Education in Ireland 1900-1971. An Múinteoir, Volume 1, No. 3, (Summer), pp 15-17.

O’Connor, M. (1987b). Infant Education in Independent Ireland 1922-1971. An Múinteoir, Volume 2, No. 1 (Autumn), pp. 5-7.

Ó Cuív, B. (1966). “Education and Language” (in) Williams, D. (Ed). The Irish Struggle 1916London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Ó hAohda, C. (1982). Bilingualism as an Objective in Education in Ireland 1893-1941. M.Ed.

Thesis. Dublin: Trinity College Dublin.

Selleck, R. (1968). The New Education – The English Background 1870-1914. Melbourne: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd.

Smyth, M. (2003). The Concept of Childhood and the Experience of Children in Violently Divided Societies. (in) Dunne, J. and Kelly, J. (Eds.). Childhood and its Discontents – The First Seamus Heaney Lectures. Dublin: The Liffey Press, pp 159-198.

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