Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

We don't need no education...

As the timeless Pink Floyd song goes: "Teachers! Leave those kids alone!" It now turns out some teachers in Northern Ireland have been doing exactly that.

The Assembly Public Accounts Committee has looked at literacy and numeracy - which translates for those with poor literacy and numeracy as reading, writing and doing sums.

Part of the blame, says the committee, can be laid at the door of not sacking poorly performing teachers. At this point please feel free to shout: "I blame the parents...".

However, the committee may have a point, with one in six children stepping forward into the brave new world of post-primary school (the Big School) unable to read, write, and count to more than 10 without taking their socks off.

The vast majority of our teachers in Northern Ireland are fantastic and inspirational; which means that the problem may lie a little deeper than a few bad apples at the blackboard.

What the committee did not seem to address is the social demographic, cultural and psycho-social aspects of schools failing children. Is it only the rich but thick experiencing these problems?

Or is it the case that those poorer families; families with generational unemployment and families with parents who have poor literacy and numeracy have children emerging from school as talented in every way except for how to read, write and count?

Minister for edschumakation, John O'Dowd, has already, with the support of executive colleagues started the process of employing newly graduated teachers to tackle the problems of literacy and numeracy; and minister for employment and learning, Dr Stephen Farry, is targeting adults who have problems reading, writing and doing maths.

As these long overdue initiatives are implemented, politicians of all shades, colours and opinions need to take a long hard look at themselves. And ask themselves what they have been doing to prevent the situation becoming so bad that one in six of our children are being failed.

We are not holding our breath for such introspection, but then again politicians need to be acutely aware that shouting about doing more is not enough; rather they should see what they can and must to do to be part of the solution.