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UCC Express W/C 13th Oct - Education

Albert Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results. But didn’t someone tell me that persistence pays off? The reality is that in everyday life, both and yet neither are fully accurate. But which might be more accurate, let’s say, in the case of the Irish education system? It seems to me, when observing specific government incentives and societal pressures on the youth within Irish society, all indicators would point to the fact that Albert Einstein was pretty much on the money.

When I was growing up, and very reluctantly completing the later half of my secondary school education, the volume of young men that left the education system to pursue careers in construction and other trades was staggering. By sixth year, the majority of my friends were no longer in school and instead were pursuing careers in everything from bricklaying to carpentry. This was encouraged by all elements of society. Money was to be made in construction, and the vision of well paid teenagers driving around in 4x4’s was not uncommon, nor was it scorned.

When the infamous economic crash happened in Ireland in 2008, and the bottom fell out of the property and construction market, it became apparent very quickly just how big a predicament a huge percentage of young Irish males were in. Tens of thousands became unemployed overnight. Young men suddenly had nowhere to turn. The trade that had coaxed them from completing their formal secondary education had suddenly abandoned them in their time of most need. As the months and years passed by, there was no let up. The unemployment queues grew and grew. Instances of suicide amongst young males became more common and “hope” became a rare commodity, a word you daren’t utter in public.

Nowhere to turn, Ireland weeped for it’s lost children as they emigrated in their droves, determined to make use of their skills on foreign shores. Families said their goodbyes in airport terminals, friends shared their last pints together, no one knowing when Ireland would open her arms and embrace her lost children again. I myself have lost contact with many friends I spent all my teenage years with, inseparable back then, disconnected now. The recession has been unforgiving, aggressive in it’s attack on every Irish community and home, from Malin head to Mizen head and even now, as we supposedly enter calmer waters, emigration continues to seep the life blood out of communities the length and breadth of the nation.

They say you should learn something from every life experience, especially from the most difficult ones. Being someone who has spent the last 3 years of my life recovering from a long illness, this is a virtue I have come to appreciate, and subsequently fully endorse. So what have we learned? Has Irish society, and more importantly the Irish state, learned from the mistakes of the past and our collective torturous experience of the past six years? Einstein is back to haunt us with his words I fear.

Where the construction industry's enticing embrace once was, a mirage of an orchard filled with endless blossoming fruit now appears. The fruits of delicious promises the IT sector now offers is irresistible, too good to be true yet too delicious to resist. As the youth are now led up the newly discovered garden path, en route to the awaiting mecca to sample the delights that flourish there, it is said that only the begrudgers try block their way, as they attempt to illustrate to Ireland’s children just how many other paths they can explore.

But a word of warning to these men and women who express a more cautious approach to the hoarding of our youth down the latest solitary path. Just as those who signaled issues with our overheating construction industry and economy were ridiculed, these latest batch of “begrudgers” will find themselves standing out in the cold, their green jersey stripped from them by the more patriotic, and equally scorned. One dare not mention that IT multinational corporations don’t care how many of our youth they will leave jobless, if, or most likely when they find somewhere cheaper to base their operations. Only the most negative would mention the increasing global pressure our corporate tax rate is coming under, and the implications that could have on our IT orchard, and more importantly those who will need it’s fruit to survive. 

But our government are now acutely aware of how dangerous it is to put all your eggs in one basket and so they won’t repeat the mistakes of the past surely? Yet that is exactly what they are doing. In an attempt to lure the youth to this new fruit laden orchard, our education system has been rigged. Students are either being punished for not embracing higher level maths, by being denied bonus points, or are being coerced into completing it to get these bonus points, and so are being actively encouraged to neglect their natural talents. Either outcome is depressing when you consider that the education system is in place to nurture all our children's diverse array of talents. 

And so today, as we still reel from an over-reliance on construction and the unsustainable jobs it created, a large swathe of our youth are being pushed to pursue subjects and careers which they quite possible are not suited to and won’t be happy in. And just like the jobs that have gone before, these careers are most likely unsustainable in the long term. All the while, those who are resilient enough to follow their true talents, in the pursuit of a career they feel they can truly embrace, are being disadvantaged and denied bonus points. We even have a scenario, where heads of firms like PayPal, and tax evaders like Google, are now attempting to dictate and influence how we educate our children. Have we learned anything? As we refuse to encourage corporations to leave heavier fingerprints on our tax books, we now embrace them leaving heavy handprints on our educational manifesto and as a consequence on the minds of our most treasured, our youth, our future, all the while convincing ourselves that history doesn’t repeat itself, that our newly discovered orchard will not wither with the onset of a new economic season.

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