BellTime Magazine Spring 2018 BellTime 9-5 - Page 5

BellTIME BellTIME > > > FOREWORD Can Ireland become the best education system in Europe? It’s time for a discussion says the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon. As the Ombudsman for Children I am statutorily bound to promote the rights of all children in Ireland and that job description often brings me into the arena of education for those under 18 years of age. Last year, as part of a European Network of Ombudsman for Children’s Offices I had the opportunity to visit and meet with teachers and learners in Finland. I got to see their schools, experience their hot meals (which were very tasty and filling as well as Kosher and with vegetarian options), see their facilities, learn about their supports and discuss their successes and drawbacks. Minister Bruton has rightly set a target for our schools to become the best in Europe by 2026. Finland have spent 16 years at the top of the Pisa League Table and they credit that to a significant and deliberate shift of focus just over 20 years ago when, as a people, they agreed to a societal contract that essentially read: We (the Government) will provide small class ratios (1-13), better facilities and better staffing across a range of professionals (teachers, nurses, social workers, psychologists, catering) in every school in return for you (society) paying higher taxes. This contract was agreed to offer a more holistic, individual-centred education system from Primary to 8 Secondary level and the payoff is low absenteeism, lower levels of mental health issues, better physical and emotional experiences for all children and rising academic standards. I witnessed children doing their school work in the warm, airy and comfortable spaces along the corridor because they found it too noisy or distracting within the classroom and they had permission to absent themselves to the hall. I saw that the school was designed by the department of education with a huge input from children in the catchment area, hence there were soft furnishings in all the windows to allow sitting on wide ledges, there were little ‘nooks and crannies’ for small gatherings, there was a dance studio and martial arts room alongside the very well- equipped gym which also facilitated drama events. There was a walking track which circled the whole school for children who are not team orientated but still want to be active and we saw it being used by a class who wanted to learn while moving. This system is hugely impressive but there are some ‘flies in the ointment’. For example, teachers are not happy that their pay does not reflect the quality of the work they do. The country as a whole still has the highest teenage suicide rate in the EU though that is generally found to be a consequence of the long term darkness for six months of the year. There are valuable messages for Ireland from this type of system: • Finland recognised that a positive, person-centred education system which values, and caters for every individual child will produce the best academic results but with the bonus that many more children will maximise their potential. In reality, the Finnish education system has taken a proper children’s rights approach to how it fulfils its mandate – • The Finnish society, as a whole, all decisions are made in the best acknowledged such a system will interest of the children, they have cost more in taxes and were willing to ensured that children have a voice in pay for it. every stage of their edu 6F6FB@&W7BfG2FVBFW2BF67&֖FP( "fB2FVBFV w&VG2BV2B66&6fW"#V'2&Vv&FW72`VVB6G&VvBfR@v6ƗF6'Gv2vW '&Vf7Bf7W2&WGFW"FV"VGV6F&V6W6RFW&Rv27&72'GBVVB6&7VfVBvfW'Gw&VVVBBF6vRBf G&FW6RV2&Rf&RFƗF6v6G&V&Vv&FW72bV2( "FW&V6v6VBFBFV6W'2VV@F&RvVBFf7W2VGV6FrBFW&Vf&R&fFPWfW'66vFFV"v76v7B66v&W"@W'6PB"6VGV6FR&WGFW"vF6W"&F2B6'&VvB&RFV6W'2vF&WGFW VƖf6F2גff6R6GV7FVB67VFFvFfW"3VrVRVGV6F#2BRW'66@rBv2( ƧW7BfW'7G&W76gV( ePF( B&VǒvWBFfBWBV6&W@W'6VbF&VvVGV6F( vVFWvW&R6VBvBFWvVB7GVǐvBg&FV"66FWvW&RfW'6V#( F66fW'( bR6VBvWBFfBW@&RFw2&WBW'6VbF&VvVGV6F( bƖRF66fW"W"vFVG2B62&FW"FB&Vpf&6VBWRFBRfRFFF2F2BF2FvWB( ХF&V6RFR&W7BWW&R&V@vfRF&R&WGFW"FfB&VƖWfRFRf6fR6VvVBW0266WGF66FW"rvRv@W"VGV6F77FVFPvVW&Fg&rBF6&RvPvƖrFf"FCFW6RVW7F26BW7B&RVgBFƗF62"FW'FVBff62( 2FPVRVVBF&RV&BBF0W7V6ǒ6VFW26G&VBVpVRvv&R7BffV7FVBB0FRF&VvFRF67W76