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Status of History in the Framework for Junior Cycle: Statements (Continued)

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 987 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy James Lawless: Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless] We know that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. Indeed, we are seeing that happen in many countries, not least in latest round of happenings relating to the protracted Brexit saga. Many reasons have been eloquently articulated in the House over the last hour or more as to why it is key that we learn from history, that we learn history and are aware of it. We know that multiple versions of events can be put forward and that history is often written by the victors. This is very relevant in this country in the context of the decade of centenaries. While it has been an excellent programme to date, we know that we have difficult times ahead. There are differing versions of history and historical events but I am sure we will manage that in the sense of having a much more rounded and fuller understanding of it. In the USA, issues with the confederacy, on one hand, and the slave trade, on the other, are coming to a head. Differing view points are being contested head on but there is an understanding to be gained from that. Those who understand history are better placed to understand the current world.

The importance of history has been well ventilated tonight. What has been less obvious in this debate is the importance of an analytical subject and the ability to digest a body of information. We can all access a phenomenal amount of information on our smart phones and online via Google and so on. In that context, it is very important that we learn how to process information, apply hypotheses, weigh up competing accounts and draw our own conclusions. That is what history at second and third level enables us to do. It is important that all students have that basic grounding because that is a skill that will stand to them in many positions and walks of life and not just in the traditional arts and cultural disciplines.

Deputy John Brassil: Information on John Brassil Zoom on John Brassil I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. I welcome the Minister's decision. Fianna Fáil has consistently campaigned for the downgrading of history to be reversed. My daughter will sit her leaving certificate examination this year and history is the subject into which she puts most time and effort. Her history teacher, Ms Barry in Presentation secondary school in Tralee, has been very vocal in requesting a reversal of this decision. She is, along with all of the other history teachers throughout the country, delighted with the Minister's decision.

I take this opportunity to mention geography, which is also a very important subject. Given the importance of climate change, migration, studies of population, ice caps, glaciers melting and so on, which are central to the geography syllabus, the Minister should seek to reverse the decision to remove geography as a core subject. There is an old saying in politics that every good deed deserves the appropriate punishment. The Minister will be punished for today's decision. Many times I have approached him looking for an extra teacher or SNA or have called for the retention of a teacher who is in danger of being lost to a school and he has stated that he cannot go against the recommendation of the Department because it is not within his remit to do so. Today, the Minister has gone against the recommendation of the NCCA. As a result, I will be reminding him tomorrow of the three teachers that are needed in Kerry and will be giving him the details forthwith.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Cuirim fáilte roimh an gcinneadh an stair a choinneáil mar ábhar lárnach sa teastas sóisearach. Is mar gheall ar bhrú ón bpobal a tharla an t-athrú seo.

While I welcome the news that history is to be a designated core subject for the junior certificate, I want to commend the efforts of the many individuals and groups who campaigned to reverse the original decision. The importance of history and an understanding of our past was underscored by the wide variety of people who came forward in that regard. It was not only teachers and lecturers who called for a rethink but politicians, business and community leaders, as well as many of our older population who were keen to ensure that this and future generations are aware of the story of our past and of our place in this world and the stories and experiences of all peoples across the globe.

One need only look at the ridiculous suggestion that emerged last night regarding the imposition of a hard border in Ireland to see how a lack of historical perspective leads to awful policy decisions at the highest levels. It was very clear from several media interviews of British Tory politicians earlier today that they have no grasp of the painful and protracted imposition of the Border in Ireland, the work of the Boundary Commission and all the associated British duplicity.

We await more detail on what form this core subject status will take. Any core status must not mean a watered down or condensed course. History and the study of the past should nurture key skills such as questioning sources, evaluating evidence and placing all of this in the context of momentous contemporary changes in society, changes to which every citizen should be a party, whatever his or her stance or view.

Again, I welcome this decision and hope that it guarantees that the status of history and its role in the development of students is assured forever more.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí as a gcuid teachtaireachtaí éagsúla tábhachtacha anocht. Chuir Baill na Dála an-bhrú orm thar an bhliain seo thart maidir leis an gcinneadh seo. Ba mhaith liom mo aitheantas a thabhairt do na dreamanna agus na heagrais uilig as a dtiomantas thar na blianta. Labhair go leor Teachtaí anocht faoi na múinteoirí staire a bhí acu sna scoileanna éagsúla.

Let me be clear on the question of special core status. Prior to my announcement today the study of history at junior certificate level was optional but that is no longer the case. I have made the decision to remove the optional aspect and to give it core subject status to ensure that history is a subject for every single student entering the junior cycle. It will not be a watered down version of the subject. I take the point made by Deputy Ó Caoláin that there was a fear in that regard. People were afraid that history would be a short course but it will be a core subject. As Deputies will be aware, for English, Irish and mathematics, there is a minimum of 240 hours which will also now apply to history but schools will have discretion and can increase that if they wish, as they can with the existing core subjects.

I want to be really clear about a particular matter because Deputies posed very important questions about it.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The media was briefed otherwise last night which was why I asked the question.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Core status means core status. It means ensuring the importance of history as students progress and transition from primary to secondary school. It also means looking at more creative and innovative ways of ensuring that the percentage take up of history after the junior certificate increases. At the moment, nine out of ten students study history at junior certificate level and while that is a good statistic, we are going to work to ensure it improves. I made this decision because there was a worry that the figure would decrease. The statistic for junior certificate to leaving certificate is two out of nine. There is an acceptance by all involved in this debate that we can do more to ensure that we move to that level.

Deputy O'Loughlin spoke about how she studied history for her junior certificate, or perhaps it was her intermediate certificate - I do not want to get into controversy about when she studied it - but she did not study it for her leaving certificate. She went on to study it at third level and it opened a window for her.

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