The Classroom Divide, RTÉ One, Monday, September 18th at 9.35pm
Autumn 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of free secondary education in Ireland, a game changer in terms of class mobility in Ireland. The decision marked an unprecedented period of growth and prosperity as the Irish economy evolved from a poor, agriculturally reliant country to a more outward looking and innovative industrial economy.
Fifty years on Joe Duffy explores the Irish education system – he strongly believes educational attainment is still a guarantee to a better, more prosperous life and he wonders if the education system is doing enough to raise the prospects of those from disadvantaged communities?
As part of Joe’s journey up and down the snakes and ladders of class and education in Ireland, viewers meet ordinary families from blue collar workers to the unemployed and professional classes, all of whom are attempting to maintain their position or traverse Ireland’s social divide.
Joe himself climbed the slippery slope that is class in Ireland through educational attainment and hard work. The boy from Ballyfermot’s personal success story means he is comfortable and he would hope more young people are climbing the ladder that he climbed. So Joe Duffy is on a journey to explore the choppy waters of the Irish education system and social mobility.
Joe begins his journey in his old school St John’s College in Ballyfermot, where he asks why progression rate to Higher Level are below par for the entire area? On the other end of the country in beautiful Glenstal Abbey, Joe gets a flavour of the education it hopes to provide for some of Ireland’s better off students.
Across the episode Joe meets a mother’s group from St Ultan’s School in Cherryorchard, who are determined to send their tiny toddlers to college. He meets Alex Fay from Dublin’s Sheriff Street, who is the first in his family to go on to University and students in St Joseph’s Secondary School in Rush, which has dramatically climbed the Irish Times League Table in the last 10 years.
Away from Dublin, we see another socio-economic spilt emerging, as families struggle to send their children to college. We meet a working family in Donegal from the “Squeezed middle”, who are finding it extremely hard to afford to send their children to college. In Shannon, Co Clare we feature a high tech aviation mechanic apprenticeship, which provides a worthy and cost saving alternative to the university route.
The Classroom Divide looks at how free education has benefitted the vast majority of Ireland’s population but questions whether the current system is doing enough to raise all boats ? Is secondary education simply built around one set of exams in June every year, which itself is not fit for purpose?
Thousands of young people attaining degrees in fields were there are no jobs. Should the education system now be reworked to stop it failing many of Ireland’s underprivileged and under resourced children? Do we need a more vocational ethos? Less colleges come universities and more technical colleges? Could the state replicate the success story of the free secondary school education by implementing another equally dramatic policy change in 21st Century Ireland?
Featuring interviews with experts (Emer Smyth, Paul Mooney, Senator Lynn Ruane), teachers (Anne Looney) and historians (Diamaid Ferriter), The Classroom Divide asks can the State do more to ensure that all the nation’s young citizens are given the same crack of the whip afford to previous generations.