Priority Action: Education
Life Long Learning
“I will campaign for the Government to put policies and resources in place to support lifelong learning and foster educational attainment across the lifespan.”
Providing support and resources for lifelong learning are essential if the Government are serious about realising the objectives of the National Positive Ageing Strategy. Public policies that support lifelong learning and foster educational attainment have an important role to play in addressing health inequalities and risk of dementia at population level. Sadly the share of adult learners, aged 40 and over, in Ireland is one of the lowest in the EU.
Access to Higher Education for Underrepresented Groups
“I will campaign for the Government to put policies and resources in place to address inequalities in education by increasing access to higher education for underrepresented groups”
A resourced research mechanism is needed to facilitate the systematic collection and analysis of data necessary to profile and understand the participation of underrepresented socio-economic groups across the education system and in all professional areas. This data could then be used to benchmark against the data from other jurisdictions, and to inform the development of policies and targeted action plans to address inequalities.
Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) the Action Plan for Educational Inclusion, was launched in May 2005 and remains the Department of Education and Skills policy instrument to address educational disadvantage.
Ten years on the time is right to move away from deficit concepts of schooling, teacher engagement and socio-economic status. We need to develop policies that cultivate a culture of empowerment for students in DEIS schools and areas with low higher education progression rates. We need to instil self-belief in students. All students in Irish schools should believe that all students can progress to post-secondary education. Students need to be aware that they will be provided with the information and networks, as well as a positive educational environment, to make informed educational and career decisions.
Education can contribute to increased health inequalities by perpetuating cycles of intergenerational and socioeconomic disadvantage. Breaking this cycle requires strategic investment in education and lifelong learning and cooperation between departments of health and education to harness education as a means to a healthier Ireland. Interventions to address inequalities in education must prioritise the most disadvantaged since initiatives that target all of the population may give rise to additional benefits for the more advantaged.
Schools Equality Bill
“I will table a motion to call on the Government to introduce legislation that will respect equally the rights of all children, parents and teachers from all religions and none.
This Schools Equality Bill will specifically address:
- Patronage to ensure that children have a right to attend inclusive public schools
- Access to ensure that children have an equal right to attend their local public school
- Curriculum to ensure that children have an objective pluralist education
- Teaching to ensure that children have a right to the best teachers selected on merit
State funding of schools based on a particular majority in any given area results in segregation, discrimination and denial of basic human rights. The provision of local schools for people of all religions and non-religions is financially and legally untenable. In contrast running state schools on a secular basis vindicates the rights of all parents to freedom of conscience, religion and beliefs.
Other education priorities include:
“Inequalities in educational outcomes affect physical and mental health, as well as income, employment and quality of life.’”
– Sir Michael Marmot, 2010
Education and Health
Health inequalities are preventable and unjust differences in health status experienced by certain population groups. Health inequalities exist between people of different socio-economic groups, different genders and different ethnic groups. Age-related health inequalities also exist and health policies can include implicit judgements on age-related inequality. Gender related inequality tends to be age-dependent.
Health Services Executive – (Annual Report & Financial Statement 2014)
● Life expectancy is greater in more affluent areas compared to deprived areas.
● Adults living in more deprived areas are more likely to be living with a chronic condition.
● Life expectancy is greater for professional workers compared to the unskilled. This pattern has increased since the 1990s.
● Death rates are two times higher for those who only received primary education compared to those with third level education.
● If economic mortality differentials were eliminated, it would mean 13.5 million extra years of life for Irish people.
● A larger proportion of people from lower socio-economic groups have high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and are obese. In addition, they report lower levels of physical activity, have a poorer diet, and are more likely to smoke and binge drink.
● There are significant health inequalities among marginalised and disadvantaged groups. Travellers for example have higher mortality rates and lower life expectancy than the general population.
In addition, approximately 12% of our population are born outside Ireland. We have increased ethnic and cultural diversity. We must ensure that our service delivery models are responsive to meet the needs of all our service users.
I know from my own work as a research psychologist that education is an important social determinant of health. A strong positive relationship exists between education and health outcomes such that those with more education live longer, and healthier lives, engage in healthier behaviours and have better health knowledge than those with less education. Many of the root causes of inequalities in education mirror those of health inequalities. Improving educational outcomes amongst the most disadvantaged groups has the potential to make a positive impact not only on the economy but also on health inequalities.
Those with more years of education are more likely to be employed, which is better for health than being unemployed. Greater levels of education help to create wealthier economies and impact on levels of social engagement. People with more social ties live longer, have better health, are less depressed and less likely to develop cognitive impairment. Loneliness and social isolation are as bad for your health as smoking and obesity.
Education impacts on physical, mental and brain health and education levels of parents influence child and family health. Evidence supports a protective effect of educational attainment on dementia risk in later life. Lifelong learning results in a range of positive outcomes including improvement to our quality of life and well-being, reduced risk of social isolation, and an overall increase in keeping mentally and socially active and in learning new skills as we age. I, myself attended university as a mature student, if elected I will advocate for adequate resources and public policies that support lifelong learning and foster educational attainment across the lifespan.
Education and Equality
It is a fundamental human right to be educated without being indoctrinated with or converted to any religion. The Irish State through its ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights and other UN Conventions has agreed to respect the religious and philosophical convictions of all parents within the Irish education system. However Irish schools can legally discriminate against children and teachers on religious grounds. The UN and the Council of Europe have warned that our schools breach human rights.
State funded schools should have an inclusive public ethos, to respect everyone equally under Articles 42.1 and 42.3.1 of the Constitution. Moral education should be separate from religion as per Article 42.3.2. The State should not cede control of education to private patrons.
The Republic of Ireland has approximately 3,300 primary schools. The Irish State ‘provides for’ education and almost all of our national schools are publicly funded. Our National schools are directly financed by the State, but administered jointly by the State, a patron body, and local representatives. This patronage system means that, in essence, our national schools are private with over 90% of them run by the Catholic Church.
In addition, under their ‘Catholic First’ admissions policy many of our national schools classify non-Catholic children as Category 2’. This means that if a local national school is oversubscribed a child from the school’s catchment area can be turned away solely on the grounds of whether they have been baptised or not. If elected to the 25th Seanad I will table a motion for the Government to introduce legislation, and if necessary to call a referendum, to address issues of patronage, access, curriculum and teachers.
Individuals from some SES backgrounds, ethnic minority groups, and members of the Traveller community remain underrepresented in higher education. If elected I will campaign for resources, policies and practices to address inequalities of access for under represented groups.
Schools Equality Bill (Background)
Patronage: Children have a right to attend inclusive public schools
State-funded schools should have an inclusive public ethos, to respect everyone equally under Articles 42.1 and 42.3.1 of the Constitution. Moral education should be separate from religion, as per Article 42.3.2. The State should not cede control of education to private patrons. Private ethos schools should be an optional extra, not the basis of the system. The Education Act needs to be amended to do this. Reform could start in the nine schools where the Minister for Education is the patron.
Access: Children have an equal right to attend their local public school
Children should have equal access to their local State-funded school, whatever their religion. The current Admission to Schools Bill will outlaw some discrimination, but it reinforces discrimination against atheist and minority faith families, calling it ‘lawful oversubscription criteria.’ Section 7.3(c) of the Equal Status Act needs to be deleted to prevent all religious discrimination. If oversubscribed, priority should be given to children with siblings in the school, then to local children, then use a lottery.
Curriculum: Children have a right to an objective pluralist education
Children should be taught the State curriculum, including teaching about religions and beliefs, in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, as per the European Convention on Human Rights. Faith formation should be outside the school day. Section 15.2(b) of the Education Act, and the curriculum need to be amended. Rule 68 of National Schools, that religious instruction is by far the most important subject and a religious spirit must inform and vivify the whole work of the school must be removed.
Teaching: Teachers have an equal right to work in state-funded schools
Children should be taught by the best teachers, and teachers should have equal access, based on merit, to jobs in State-funded schools. Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act allows schools to discriminate against teachers on the ground of religion. The current Section 37 Amendment Bill will protect Catholic LGBT teachers, but reinforces discrimination against atheist and minority faith teachers. Section 37 needs to be amended to prevent all religious discrimination against teachers.
Lifelong Learning (Background)
One of the goal-related objectives of the Positive Ageing Strategy is to promote access to a wide-range of opportunities for continued learning and education of older people. Lifelong learning results in a range of positive outcomes including improvement to our quality of life and well-being, reduced risk of social isolation, and an overall increase in keeping mentally and socially active and in learning new skills as we age.
Lifelong learning also benefits our brain health, reduces our risk of developing dementia and increases our chances of living independently in the community in later life.
Some of us are able to maintain better brain function as we age, even if we develop the physical damage associated with neurodegenerative disease. In fact, some people who show the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease in their brain do not show any perceptible symptoms of the disease.
This resilience, also known as ‘cognitive reserve’, appears to be linked to a number of modifiable factors, many of which are also associated with lifelong learning, such as; level of education reached, carrying out cognitively demanding tasks and being socially active.
Education is the most broadly and consistently successful cognitive enhancer, better even than drugs or sophisticated technology. Education can build up our cognitive reserve at any point during life.
Include hyperlink to my site www.hellobrain.eu for further information on cognitive reserve or maybe to one of my videos on it
Public policies that support lifelong learning and foster educational attainment have an important role to play in addressing risk of dementia at population level. Sadly the share of adult learners, aged 40 and over, in Ireland is one of the lowest in the EU.
With 90,000 of us predicted to be living with dementia in Ireland by 2031 we need to mobilise public health approaches to attempt to reduce the prevalence of dementia through primary prevention. A whole of government approach, as espoused in the Healthy Ireland Framework, that supports meaningful investment in lifelong learning has the capacity to reduce dementia risk and address health inequalities.
Increased investment in lifelong learning will pay huge personal and public dividends.
Access to education for underrepresented groups
The action plan focuses on addressing and prioritising the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities, from pre-school through second-level education (3 to 18 years).
DEIS provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and an integrated School Support Programme (SSP).
836 schools are included in the programme in the 2015/16 school year. These comprise 646 primary schools (330 urban/town schools and 316 rural primary schools) and 190 second level schools.
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