There’s usually a positive response when people whose background becomes an obstacle to education manage to access it despite the challenges, and sometimes later in life.
Last Friday night’s Nationwide (RTE 1) was quite uplifting, focusing as it did on the Trinity Access Programme (TAP). We heard from several people, young and older, who had made their way into college under this scheme and finally and successfully reached graduation day, often surrounded by proud parents who never had that chance themselves.
It wasn’t all roses either. For example, one graduate, Dr Katriona O’Sullivan who had gone on to do a PhD and is now a psychology tutor, spoke of the distance that had come between herself and other family members because of the difference it made for her to be so highly educated. It was as if they were now moving in different worlds – she spoke of a bridge neither can cross.
Gavin Boyne from Ringsend spoke of inequalities in the education system, e.g. a 90% progression rate to college in Dublin 6, compared to a rate of 22% in Dublin 17. I thought he looked familiar and sure enough he played a significant role in the campaign to retain the Eighth Amendment, crediting the Eighth with saving his very life. Justine Halpin was a cheerful guest presenter whose enthusiasm for TAP was infectious. We didn’t learn a lot about the type of courses undertaken, and I did cringe a bit at the “privilege walk” exercise, but it was a short programme and I was happy for the emphasis to be on the individuals and their stories.
A similarly inspiring theme was taken up on that night’s Late Late Show (RTE 1), when Ryan Tubridy interviewed Gillian Quinn (wife of footballer Niall). She had left school at 14 because of family circumstances and her desire to pursue a career in drama and modelling. She described how she felt inadequate in various gatherings, but was inspired by the mature graduates she encountered at an Open University graduation – this led her to pursue a degree in psychology, when she had her own proud graduation day and has now moved on to study for a Ph.D.
A more controversial angle on education was taken up on Lunchtime Live (Newstalk) on Tuesday of last week when host Ciara Kelly spoke to David Quinn on an Oireachtas Committee report suggesting changes to sex education in schools. Quinn argued for parents’ choice in the matter to be primary, a reasonable and moderate point I would have thought, and perfectly in line with the pro-choice ethos of our times. And it’s also more in line with the Constitution – Quinn suggested that it would be unconstitutional if the State said that no school can have religious ethos in Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).
I was tickled to hear this from Kelly at one stage: ‘‘Surprisingly David Quinn I agree with you’.” He was suggesting that many parents would be unhappy with a model based solely on ‘consent’, and that it should be accompanied by promoting knowledge of a person, trust, respect and emotional fulfilment (“consent plus” he called it). Of course, he also pointed out that this wasn’t the full Catholic teaching.
Kelly thought religion shouldn’t have any role in RSE as sex was not a moral issue, but she was confusing morality and religion. Quinn assumed rightly she’d want some values like respect, and therefore morality was involved, morality being about how we treat others. She preferred talking terms of ethics, but gave the game away when she said “you bring a certain ethos to your whole life”. In other words ethos does come into it…it’s just a matter of whose ethos applies.
That issue surfaced again last Monday morning on Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) when the host spoke with The Irish Catholic Managing Editor Michael Kelly and Maria Steen of the Iona Institute. Steen feared Catholic schools wouldn’t be allowed to teach Catholic values, while Kelly was concerned about how authentically Catholic the existing Catholic schools really were.
There was a divergence – Steen seemed to favour the Church selling off a large number of schools to the state while maintaining some genuinely Catholic schools. Kelly didn’t think it was time to go that far, yet highlighted the problems created by the Church being the default provider of education for most students. Well worth listening back to.
Pick of the Week
Brainwashing Stacey: Anti-Abortion Camp
BBC1, Tuesday, February 12, 11.35 pm
Stacey Dooley travels to California to meet Survivors, one of America’s anti-abortion groups.
Biafra – Misean Dearmadta
TG4, Wednesday, February 13, 9.30pm
Repeat of fine film about the role of Irish missionaries in the Nigerian civil war of the 60’s.
The Tree of Life
Channel 4, Wednesday (night), February 13, 1.45 am
(2011) Terrence Malick explores the tension between brute nature and spiritual grace, with Biblical quotes to reinforce its leitmotif. With Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain.