Literacy and Primary Education: Statements.

Thursday, 3 December 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 157 No. 11

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Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Is cúis athás dom bheith i láthar chun an óráid seo a thabairt, agus táim buíoch don Seanad agus do na Seanadóirí as ucht an deis seo a fháil. I am particularly pleased to be here to address the very important issue of literacy, a key ingredient in terms of the assault on educational disadvantage. During the course of my address I will outline some of the measures I outlined this [822] morning at a press conference pertaining to educational disadvantage and the Government's plans arising out of additional resources allocated in yesterday's budget.

In modern society, in spite of the massive changes brought about by information and communication technologies, print continues to be the dominant medium of communications. It is imperative, therefore, that all members of society are equipped with the literacy skills necessary to cope with the demands of modern living. Low or insufficient literacy skills have profound social and economic consequences for an individual's family and community. Inadequate literacy and numeracy skills put an individual at a great disadvantage both socially and economically. They can engender a sense of marginalisation and a fear of being stigmatised if the problem becomes known to employers, family and friends. Improving people's literacy skills, therefore, is a high priority for me and the Department of Education and Science.

Before outlining the Department's policy interventions which are designed to improve the levels of literacy in society in general, I wish to set out some recent data which underpin these interventions and which give cause for considerable optimism in this regard. First, the House might wish to know that retention rates at second level have increased from 20 per cent in 1965 to approximately 64 per cent in 1985 and 82 per cent in 1998. Similarly, the rate of transfer from second level to third level has increased from 11 per cent in 1965 to 28 per cent in 1985 and 50 per cent in 1995, a figure which has been exceeded in 1998.

According to the 1991 census of population, only 13 per cent of the adult population had a third level qualification while almost 37 per cent of the population had not completed second level education. Thus, the participation rates in the education system likely to lead to high levels of literacy among the adult population are only now being reached. This improving level of involvement in education will undoubtedly impact positively on literacy standards in future, but it will be quite some time before education levels are such that the literacy potential of the majority of the population has been maximised.

Recent international comparative research would suggest that the Irish education system is currently performing well and that standards have improved considerably over the past 35 years. I could produce substantial data to support this statement, but let me focus in particular on a small set of data which illustrate this point very well. Trends in reading development monitored by Department of Education and Science surveys over the period 1970 to 1993 show that there was a significant improvement in reading standards in Ireland between 1970 and 1980. Thereafter, the trend leveled off. The results of the 1988 and 1993 surveys indicated that we maintained the 1980 level but did not significantly improve on it. An international survey carried out in 1991 by the

[823] International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement showed that nine year old Irish children were performing as well as or better than all but eight of 28 countries surveyed. Irish nine year old children achieved a slightly higher score than a similar population in England and Wales surveyed using the IEA test in 1996. This is the first time that Irish children achieved a higher score than British children in a comparative survey of reading ability.

The Third International Maths and Science Report — TIMMS — published in 1997 showed that Irish students are performing significantly above the international average at the fourth grade and at about the international average at the eighth grade. Thus, the achievement trend in international comparative research has been positive in the past few decades and the most recent indications are that the trend is continuing in the right direction.

An area of concern is the estimation that approximately 8 per cent of students leave primary school with low levels of literacy. However, low levels of literacy are also found in other developed countries in about 8-10 per cent of the population.

In dealing with literacy problems, it is necessary to adopt a two-pronged approach to intervention and remediation. We must direct our efforts to improving the literacy and numeracy skills of school leavers. At the same time we must tackle existing literacy problems among adults who did not benefit from the education system the first time around.

Within the primary and second level systems the Department has in place a wide range of strategies aimed at supporting children who are in danger of succumbing to low levels of literacy and/or numeracy and I would like to briefly outline some of these.

It is widely accepted that the key to solving literacy and numeracy problems is to tackle them as early as possible. For this reason the Department of Education and Science currently supports a number of programmes targeted at children in the pre-school age range. These programmes include the pilot Early Start Programme, which is targeted on children in schools designated as disadvantaged, special educational projects in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, and traveller pre-schools.

I have often restated my commitment to the whole area early education. I am persuaded by the international evidence which states, in particular, that such interventions can be of immense use in tackling issues relating to early school leaving. It is for this reason that, earlier this year, I hosted the National Forum for Early Childhood Education, the purpose of which was to bring together all those with an interest in this area so that they might exchange views and indeed advise me on future strategies in the area. I have received the report on the forum and officials in my Department have begun work on the development [824] of a White Paper which will set out Government policy in this area.

In the interim, in the context of yesterday's budget, I announced that £1.2 million will be allocated for special initiatives on early childhood education in 1999 and 2000. It is intended that these will, in particular, focus on early education for children with disabilities. Schools designated as disadvantaged receive additional capitation payments and in many cases concessionary teaching resources. It is my intention and that of the Government to continue to target resources on such schools throughout the lifetime of the Government. In fact, in the context of yesterday's budget, I announced that an additional £2 million will be made available over the next two years to establish a schools development project. The aim is to encourage schools to develop their approaches to planning their teaching and learning strategies to meet the needs of students with particular needs, and specifically disadvantaged students.

One of the key findings of any special intervention in schools designated as disadvantaged, arising out of the breaking the cycle, youth start and other initiatives, is that giving funding and resources to school planning and in-service teaching for all teachers in disadvantaged schools can have a huge impact in terms of the strategy adopted by schools and its impact on children coping with disadvantage. School planning and in-service teaching for all teachers in disadvantaged schools can have a huge impact on the strategy the school adopts and on disadvantaged children. This is the first time dedicated funding is being put aside for the school planning approach to primary and second level schools that are designated as disadvantaged.

The purpose of the home-school community liaison scheme at both primary and secondary levels is to encourage closer links between homes and school with a view to enhancing participation in the education system. By any standards the scheme, which was introduced by Deputy O'Rourke when she was Minister for Education, has been an overwhelming success. I want to build on that success. I was not happy that the scheme was added to only intermittently. I pay tribute to the teachers involved, as they have adapted to this new role in an exceptional manner. The feedback from all sides has been very good. This morning I announced that I would be allocating additional posts to this service so that every designated disadvantaged school at primary and second level will have a home-school liaison service available to it.

There can be no doubt but that the longer a person remains in the education system the better his or her chances of success socially, economically and culturally, in later life. One of my main objectives as Minister for Education and Science, therefore, is to bring about a situation where more and more students spend longer and longer periods in the education system.

[825] To this end, last year I launched a pilot initiative focused on students aged between eight and 15 years, who were at risk of leaving school early. The aim is to develop a range of initiatives, starting at primary level, which will identify and assist children in danger of leaving school early. This innovative programme is supported by the European Union, and over £3 million is being allocated to this pilot project over a two year period. My aim would be to build, in subsequent years, on the positive aspects which emerge from the pilot project. In the context of yesterday's budget, an additional £1.5 million will be made available over the next two years for retention initiatives in second level schools. This arises from research being carried out entirely within the Department on examination and second level data. We know exactly where retention rates are low, so we are now in a position to intervene in those areas. We will have specially targeted interventions where retention rates are low. This is to complete the upper secondary completion rate.

The curricula offered in Irish schools must develop in response to changing circumstances if they are to remain relevant, and if Irish students are to be able to make the choices which will enable them to lead satisfying lives in the changing economic and social circumstances which will face us all in the future. The provision of a range of curriculum options which addresses the needs of children who would not benefit from participation in the traditionally academically focused curriculum is an important part of any plan to facilitate retention in the education sector. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment — which will be placed on a statutory basis following the enactment of the Education Bill — advises me in this vital area. The council is currently coming to the end of a major review of the primary curriculum, which will place increased emphasis on literacy and numeracy at primary level. Implementation of the revised curriculum, which will be a huge undertaking for all concerned, will begin during 1999.

The restructuring of the curriculum at second level is also continuing. Included in the restructuring are the revision of syllabuses and the expansion of innovative programmes, such as the junior cycle schools programme, the leaving certificate applied programme and the leaving certificate vocational programme. A new junior certificate elementary programme has been introduced to cater for a small number of students whose learning needs are not adequately met by the current junior certificate. The leaving certificate applied and the leaving certificate vocational programmes are similarly focused on non-traditional subject and learning areas.

Early assessment is the key to early identification of difficulties which might lead to problems with numeracy and literacy later in the school career. It is with this in mind that I have committed myself to establishing a national educational psychological service. On taking office last year I immediately established a working [826] group to advise me on matters connected with the establishment of such a service. The group reported in September last, and I and my officials are currently considering the best way of implementing the group's recommendations with a view to making an early psychological assessment a reality for all children who need such a service. The group reported that 30 additional psychologists per annum over the next five years would be required to reach the optimum level. In yesterday's budget I announced the funding to make those additional appointments this year, in 1999 and in 2000. We are on target to achieve the national educational psychological service with the requisite staff in the field.

The Department of Education and Science has in place an extensive system of remedial teaching to address the needs of children in primary and second level schools. These teachers are a particularly important resource in catering for children with less serious learning difficulties, generally in literacy and numeracy, by directly teaching individuals or small groups on a withdrawal basis.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to ensuring that every primary school has access to a remedial service. In a move towards fulfilling this commitment, in September last I allocated an additional 60 ex-quota remedial teaching posts to primary schools.

A total of 1,302 remedial teachers are now in place in primary schools and it is estimated that 91 per cent of all primary pupils have access to a remedial service. Meeting the needs of the remaining schools is not an easy task, given the very small size of some of the schools. However, conscious of their needs, in the context of yesterday's budget I announced this morning that additional posts and part-time posts will be allocated to schools in 1999, to ensure that all schools with a remedial need will have this need met from next September, both at primary and second level. The presence in the system, for the first time, of part-time posts will enable us to meet the remedial needs of very small schools flexibly.

In this context also I draw to the attention of the House another important initiative — the retention of teachers in second level schools who might otherwise be redeployed to provide increased remedial services. This will give a substantial increase in the remedial service and will be focused on pupils with particular needs. It is vitally important that the remedial resource should be used to best effect and deployed in line with evolving needs. To this end, a review of remedial education has recently been conducted on behalf of the Department by the Education Research Centre in Drumcondra. The report on this review has recently been presented to my Department and is currently being considered. The review will be immensely helpful in basing future advances in the remedial service on up to date research, on knowledge of precisely how the current remedial provision operates and on knowledge of precisely what progress has been made by pupils. It is important that we not only [827] appoint extra people but that we have a good evaluation of how the service works in terms of impact and output.

To address more serious needs where they arise, I announced a major new initiative last month. This initiative provides the first ever automatic supports for many children with disabilities. The measures involved are aimed at ensuring that all children with a special educational need, irrespective of their location or disability, will receive the support they require to participate fully in the education system. The measures, which extend across the entire spectrum of special needs, will cost £8 million over the next two years, will deliver extra teaching and, most importantly, child care services to all special needs children whether in groups or in individual isolated settings.

The availability of books and reading material is vital for the development of literacy, a point which was highlighted in the International Education Association Reading Literacy Survey in 1992. In Ireland the survey found that four of the ten most important factors which differentiated between more effective and less effective schools in the teaching of reading related to the availability of books and reading materials. Research carried out in several countries has shown that voluntary reading as a leisure time activity among schoolgoing children is on the decline. This is not surprising given the popularity of television, videos and computer games. If high standards of reading literacy are to be achieved and maintained, children must have easy access to a wide range of books and reading material. It is also the case that technological advances have led to the expectation that libraries should provide other materials, such as videos, computer software and taped material, which are frequently used in teaching and learning situations in primary schools.

My Department operates a scheme through which it provides a per capita grant to the chief librarians of local authorities, based on the number of national school pupils enrolled in each local authority area. The local authority librarians use these grants to select, purchase and deliver books to primary schools. The primary schools in their turn provide a lending and reference service to pupils. Local authorities supplement, and in many cases exceed, the Department's grant in operating this scheme. In 1998 the total allocation to this scheme was £1 million approximately.

My Department also assisted in the distribution of vouchers to all primary school children earlier this year in connection with World Book Day on 23 April. World Book Day is about helping children to explore the pleasures of books and reading and underlining the importance of reading, for both learning and pleasure. In order to heighten awareness of the day, Irish publishers printed £1 book vouchers for each school child, and the Department of Education and Science distributed these vouchers to schools. Within the [828] next ten days, I will announce details of a once-off special initiative in the area of literacy and schools which will cost £6.5 million. I am not in a position to go into the details of that scheme because we are fine tuning it, but it will be very significant in the context of this debate.

I have become increasingly aware of the scale of the problem of adult illiteracy. Inadequate literacy and numeracy skills put individual adults at a great disadvantage, socially and economically. Of all the disadvantages faced by people, problems with literacy can have the most profound effect in excluding individuals from participation in many walks of life.

In today's increasingly complex society, with the revolution in information technology and the need to constantly update one's knowledge and skills, people with poor literacy skills are in danger of being left behind, unable to take advantage of the job opportunities which their abilities otherwise merit. Not only does the individual lose out but society is deprived of the contribution they can make to its development.

Low levels of literacy will have a marked impact on competitiveness, particularly in the context of a falling young population in the years ahead, when the outflow of highly qualified young school leavers and graduates reduces in line with the falling birth rates during the 1980s.

As the House will be aware, a report in October 1997 on the findings for Ireland of an international adult literacy survey revealed a serious problem of functional illiteracy among Irish adults. Irish respondents performed comparatively poorly when compared to adults of other developed countries. Approximately 25 per cent of Irish adults between 16 and 65 years of age, about 500,000 people, had low levels of functional literacy. Many of those with low literacy skills were unaware of their deficiencies in this regard.

The main conclusion for the Department of Education and Science is that there is a significant literacy problem among Irish adults which must be addressed by effective policy measures. The Government is strongly committed to addressing and resolving the problems of adult illiteracy and promoting adult education in general. This commitment is reinforced in Partnership 2000 which points out that policy and strategy will give priority to a number of key goals, one of which is providing a continuum of education for adult and community groups, including second chance education.

Already there are links between literacy training and the vocational training opportunities scheme, the community employment schemes, FÁS and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, through its centres for the unemployed. I support the extension of the existing links in a range of different settings.

A number of particular initiatives bear testimony to the Governments commitment in this regard. The first of these was the appointment of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, as the first [829] Minister of State ever with specific responsibility for adult education. The most recent initiative was the publication last month of the Green Paper “Adult Education in an Era of Lifelong Learning”. The Green Paper provides a basis for the development of a policy framework for all aspects of adult education and recommends that priority be given to those who left the formal system without qualifications.

The development of adult literacy services is a prominent feature of the Green Paper. It will, therefore, be the subject of an extensive programme of consultations with a wide range of interest groups. Following this consultation process, a White Paper will be published which will set out Government policy in this most important area. In the interim, the Departments policy on literacy development is operated mainly through the adult literacy and community education schemes and, to a lesser extent, through Youthreach and VTOS.

An increase of £2 million — a doubling of the total fund — was provided in 1998 for adult literacy initiatives. A key objective is to use this investment to support the strategic development of a national adult literacy strategy. Following consultation with key interests, the additional funds have been allocated for a range of pilot actions which test models and innovative approaches which will inform future practice with regard to key objectives for the service. A key goal in this approach is to inform future practice, to identify and share the most successful strategies and systematically enhance the capacity of the system to address literacy needs.

At present, an estimated 5,000 adults participate in existing adult literacy programmes every year and this number is expected to double with the additional funds. A pilot literacy project through the medium of radio transmissions is also being funded by my Department. This enables adults to participate in literacy classes from the privacy of their own homes. If this pilot project is successful, the model has great potential for improving the quality and scope of the overall service, particularly for isolated rural dwellers.

An interdepartmental working group on literacy initiatives for the unemployed has been established to identify the strategies which are successful in targeting the unemployed, the barriers to their participation which need to be overcome and how these approaches can be incorporated systematically into the emerging literacy framework.

It might be worthwhile at this stage to mention two valuable initiatives launched last year. The first was the allocation of funding in 1998 and 1999 to enable vocational education committees to support child care for participants on Youthreach and VTOS programmes. The intention is to bring about a greater participation of women on these programmes by facilitating access to child care services. The second initiative is designed to enable educationally disadvantaged women to pursue lifelong learning education opportunities. [830] Substantial funding is also being allocated over the 1998-9 period for this project.

It is clear, however, that much more needs to be done in the area of adult literacy provision and a start has been made. Following a substantial increase in the provision for adult education in 1998 to £4 million, I announced this morning as a result of the budget that an additional £3.2 million will be made available over the next two years in addition to the £4 million already allocated for adult literacy. The provision of this additional funding clearly indicates our commitment to place adult literacy at the centre of adult education.

It would be remiss of me to conclude today without mentioning, albeit briefly, the area of computer literacy and, in particular, the IT2000 project. It is important that, while focusing ourselves on improving the more traditional literacy skills of the population, we do not fail to acknowledge that computer literacy skills will be increasingly important in years to come.

The aim of IT2000, which involves a State investment of £40 million over three years, is to upgrade the level of computer literacy throughout the school system. The package is a balance between capital investment and the training and support of teachers and involves, inter alia, connecting every school to the Internet, ensuring that there are at least 60,000 multimedia computers in schools within the next three years and providing training to at least 20,000 teachers over the same period.

We will have exceeded these targets in two years and we will go well beyond them in terms of the numbers of teachers trained and the numbers of computers in schools. By December almost every school in the country will have been connected to the Internet, courtesy of Telecom Éireann. We are one of the few countries in the western world that can make that boast. It is a significant achievement and I wish to thank everyone involved, particularly the teacher unions for coming behind this national initiative for the benefit of the nation's children.

This is an integrated strategy which does not concentrate on one age group or level. It must operate from early education to third level and adult literacy programmes so that we can tackle the problem of illiteracy. I apologise for not being able to remain in the House for the duration of the discussion but the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, will take my place.

Mr. McDonagh: Information on Jarlath McDonagh Zoom on Jarlath McDonagh Cuirim fáilte roimh an tAire leis an díospóireacht fíor-thabhachtach seo. Molaim an éifeacht atá sé ag déanamh agus tá súil agam go mbeidh an tádh leis lena héifeachtaí.

The economy continues to boom and we rejoice in our new found wealth. However, in our euphoria we must not forget our problems. The Minister has acknowledged that among the greatest problems facing the nation are illiteracy and adult education services. It is frightening to realise that one in every four adults has literacy [831] problems. Ireland has one of the worst records in the developed world in providing second chance adult education. The startling reprecussions are that 500,000 adults are denied the benefits and pleasures of full literacy and numeracy. Many of those with literacy problems are young people who will come on the labour market where there is already a shortage of skilled labour. Literacy and numeracy are essential in the labour market.

It is incumbent on us to devote more thought and resources to literacy. I welcome the initiatives the Minister has outlined. We cannot afford to allow young people to leave school illiterate and we must invest more in the education and training of the unemployed and adults who wish to re-enter the workforce. The statistics have shattered the image we had of a well educated, newly industrialised nation but we must not put our heads in the sand — I gladly concede that the Minister is not doing that. We must face up to illiteracy and endeavour to include all of society in the rewards that come from our growing wealth.

The vocational training and opportunities scheme and Youthreach programmes already exist for people who wish to return to work. Both have made an enormous contribution but they must be strengthened and further resourced. People going on VTOS retain their current entitlements but they should be given a further incentive. They receive travel and meal allowances but they are not much better off by attending these schemes — some people might think themselves as well off staying in bed because they would not be well rewarded financially. I deal with these schemes on a daily basis and they would make an impact on these problems if more people took part in them.

There are 107 literacy schemes providing tuition to adults on a one to one basis. Over 85 per cent of the tuition is provided by volunteers. An insufficient ALCES budget of £4 million has meant that adults can only access two hours tuition per week. Adult education is gaining momentum, through the Green Paper, increased funding in the ALCES budget, and the further increase announced by the Minister today, but money should be made available for more intensive literacy programmes.

Investment in literacy education will be cost effective as well as crucial to the development of a just society. We once prided ourselves on being a nation of saints and scholars. We must now address inadequate provision for literacy and in so doing proper and adequate funding must be made available to literacy providers. We are relying on volunteer tutors and this is neither fair nor good enough. These people give generously and unselfishly of their time and we should now reward them. They must receive in-service training and be brought up to date with modern trends and techniques.

I appeal for more funding in this area and for every VEC to be allowed employ at least one, and preferably two, literacy organisers because [832] they are an integral part of any literacy provision scheme. This will be a measure of the Government's commitment, because it is those people who have deep knowledge of the matter. If they were in place more would be done in this area and the initiatives announced by the Minister would be more quickly brought on stream. The literacy providers should also have more say in decisions, as I said on the Education Bill. Those involved in literacy and adult education should be given places on vocational education committees and adult education boards. They have the expertise but up to now they have not been recognised. If the problem of illiteracy is to be overcome they must be heeded.

I agree with the Minister that the roots of literacy lie in primary education. There are still 200,000 pupils in classes of 30 or more, which is unacceptable and at variance with thinking on education. Over 500 schools do not have access to a remedial teacher, but the Minister is addressing this issue and I hope it is solved sooner rather than later. It is also unacceptable that 42 per cent of substitute teacher hours were provided by untrained personnel in 1997. There are 8,000 pupils with special needs attending mainstream schools on an integrated basis without minimum support services. The pupil-teacher ratio for special classes, set out in the special education review committee report, has not yet been fully implemented. Half the State's full-time students are at primary level but it receives only one quarter of the funding. The main literacy problems start in the national school system. Tosach maith leath na hoibre, and we have started, but I hope it is not too little, too late.

I commend the budget initiatives announced by the Minister. However since the coffers are flush with cash could the Government not have done more? We are still at the bottom of the ladder and have a long way to go. Until proper structures are put in place and the providers are given recognition, we will not break the barrier. The torch has been passed to all of us as legislators, whether in Government or Opposition. We have the finances, the question is whether we have the will. The Minister said the psychological services will be improved by the year 2000, why not improve them now when we have the cash? Why adopt a phased approach?

Betting tax was reduced in the budget and I welcome this, as someone who has been known to bet on a horse. This provision will be introduced by next summer but the Minister says his improvements in the education system will be phased in over the coming years. Why not introduce them now? Have we our priorities right? Although I am a strong supporter of the horse racing industry, education is more important. While I welcome the initiatives I am disappointed they are not coming on stream sooner.

Literacy problems, which are first seen in national schools, are being tackled. As a teacher and a parent, I hope the initiatives will be successful because we have a major problem on our [833] hands. The major initiative which should be taken now is to give every county and city a full-time literacy organiser so that the various schemes can be co-ordinated. The volunteers, who provide 85 per cent of literacy tuition, should be brought into the structure, given recognition, receive in-service training, and be given expenses or some form of remuneration. They have made an enormous contribution and saved the State a vast amount of money but it is not right that literacy tuition is provided by volunteers.

I hope the Green Paper, which will lead ultimately to a White Paper, will ensure that the people involved in adult education and literacy schemes are given places at the table where decisions are made because they have the expertise and the knowledge. If the Government adopts that policy and listens to those people, the problem will be addressed. This will ensure that in the future, our levels of literacy and numeracy will be on a par with any country in Europe. We will revert to the proud title we once held in terms of education and learning of the island of saints and scholars.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde This debate on literacy in primary and second levels and adult education is timely. As Senator McDonagh said, tosach maith leath na hoibre. That is a clear indication of our position today. It is a good start and the will exists. I am pleased to contribute to a debate on literacy, knowing that we have a future and can work through the weaknesses in the system.

I was thinking earlier that I am sorry I left the education system. I should be in my job now with all the goodies that have been given to the psychological service, the remedial service and special resource teachers. Often in the past I did not have these resources. It would be nice to be in the system now and to be able to avail of all the extra support that is coming on stream. I am always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nevertheless, I am glad to contribute to this debate.

I wondered initially whether the topic related to people who cannot read or write or make simple calculations. To me, literacy is the ability to read simple material and to cope with the normal demands of everyday life. In the school system, a percentage of students cannot read or write. These deficiencies were not addressed in primary schools because of lack of resources. Problems were not detected when the children first went to primary school.

This always concerned me because if children missed out at primary level and slipped through the net, there was no hope that they would catch up when they reached second level. These children left school early and were not equipped for any type of work. Often these individuals go back into the system as adults trying to cope with simple reading, writing and numeracy. It is wonderful that extra money will be provided for an extensive remedial programme with resource teachers [834] working on a one to one basis and that there will be early assessment.

Children of parents who can read well, write and calculate often will have no difficulty. However, children from homes where the television is the focal point, where there is no printed material of any type and nobody suggests that books should be read, are caught in the web of the inability to read and write when they reach school going age.

The issue is how to improve intervention and remediation services. I welcome the breaking the cycle scheme and the early start centres. I hope there will be community involvement in these centres because parents and grandparents should be involved. This issue must be brought into the community because often fault does not lie with the schools. Resources will be available in schools now but I hope when classes are finished in the evening that parents will take over and become involved in their children's education. Parents must be involved at an early stage to break the cycle.

I welcome the Minister's comment that there will be a White Paper on early childhood education. Breaking the cycle at that level would provide a gateway. It would prevent the problems facing children of moving from class to class or getting through examinations. It would be also the gateway to work. There should be assessments in first class and the introduction of remediation if necessary. I do not suggest every child will have the same chronological and reading age. Some children are behind, but they must be brought to a level where they can read and write and deal with modern day chores. That is all we hope for because not every student can achieve the optimum.

Curricular reforms are good. The introduction of new courses and the variation in the leaving certificate programmes will help students to make choices. These cater for weak students who did not get a foundation. An opportunity will now be provided to students aged 13 years who come to second level with reading ages of between six and seven and who cannot cope with the ordinary curricula. It is wonderful that the curricula will be reformed to deal with students who are not academically oriented. Tasks should be provided for them which will give them a sense of achievement and self-esteem.

The free books scheme and the extensive remedial programme are useful. Students should be motivated to become involved in other activities, such as sport and leisure, chores in areas about which they feel good; it does not necessarily have to be subject oriented. Many students would gain from certain activities which do not require books. They should be comfortable with what they are doing, such as reading simple material.

We became unstuck over the years because there was a fixed type of curriculum and subject oriented programmes. It was not detected that since many students came from environments [835] which did not have printed material, they were at a loss. It was not important to them to read or write as long as they could watch television and communicate verbally. It was only in later life that it became a huge issue.

Students aged 15 and 16 years often came to me because they did not want to go on work experience programmes. They felt they would not be able to read simple instructions. I hope the new measures will end this problem. It is a new beginning. Success cannot be achieved overnight but the will to solve the problem exists. These measures will be phased in. I received many telephone calls this morning from people congratulating the Government on the new measures which are a start in terms of literacy intervention and remedial programmes at primary and second levels. It is a breakthrough.

I read the research but I am not convinced that it is absolute. One of the criteria used related to students who could not read instructions on medicine bottles. I often read such instructions and I do not always understand them. This should not be used as a criterion for determining literacy. Occasionally, such instructions are so vague that one must read them 100 times before one is happy that one understands them. This type of research is not good enough. It is scaremongering to suggest one is illiterate if one cannot read the instructions on a medicine bottle.

I hope we will have another opportunity to discuss adult literacy in the context of the Green Paper. Adult literacy must be approached in a different way to child literacy. Some of the people involved in one to one remedial tuition with adults are often not the right people for the job. It is very important that tutors make adult students feel comfortable. If that is not the case, students will only attend tuition on one or two occasions. Not every teacher will be good at resource or remedial teaching and it is important we select teachers properly. Teachers who are good in a group setting may not necessarily be good on a one to one basis or in a small group. It can be disturbing for an illiterate person to find himself or herself in a situation where the teacher does not encourage or motivate them. We must select the proper personnel and ensure we get value for money.

I welcome the proposed establishment of a national psychological service. I did not see any reference in the Minister's speech to career guidance counsellors. Coming from a career guidance background, I would like to think that the quota of 500 students per guidance counsellor would be reduced in light of the introduction of the extensive remedial programme. As well as offering career guidance and counselling and assisting students in their transition from primary to secondary schools, career guidance counsellors also teach. They should be allowed to spend more time on the things they do well. That would assist the provision of remedial and intervention programmes. I did not want to leave this House without [836] making a plug for the Career Guidance Institute.

I welcome the measures announced here today. We have an extensive remedial teaching programme backed by the necessary resources and one to one tuition where required. With the assistance of our excellent teachers, Ireland's education system could be one of the best in Europe.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole Senator Ormonde should not get too carried away with enthusiasm; we still have a long way to go in the education area. It would be churlish of me not to welcome the Minister's announcements on remediation and disadvantage today. The INTO certainly views this as a move in the right direction. The fact schools now know they will have access to remedial teachers over the next two years has huge implications and will allow them to plan ahead. At an INTO conference earlier this year, I told the Minister that if he delivered on his promise to allow every primary school in the State access to a remedial teacher within two years, I would personally seek his canonisation. If he comes through on this measure, he can hold me to that. I will be happy to eat humble pie.

This is a very creative move, particularly in the sense of allowing part-time remedial hours for smaller schools which have always found it difficult to offer a service. I would like to see the part-time hours concept being extended to give support to teaching principals in primary schools to allow them carry out their administrative functions and duties. The INTO has been in discussion with the Department on that issue for a number of years. Part-time hours might offer a formula through which a number of problems could be resolved.

It is important that Members understand the current position in regard to the funding of primary schools but we still have a long way to go. The level of grant per pupil at post-primary level will be approximately £180 per pupil; comparisons cannot easily be made with primary school funding. The current grant of £50 at primary level is set to increase to £60 next year. We must attempt to bridge the gap in funding between primary and post-primary level. The measures outlined in the budget represent a step in the right direction. I would like to see the grant per pupil at primary level being increased to £130, £140 or £150.

It is unacceptable that primary education — the one element of our education system which has a constitutional base — is the only sector in which a local contribution is required. The Department's rules require that before a board of management receives funding, it must demonstrate that a local contribution has been paid into the account. I concede that the amounts are diminishing. Previously, schools had to provide 25 per cent of the cost per pupil but the amount has been frozen at £10 per pupil in recent years. The £50 grant per pupil is set to increase to £60 per [837] pupil from next year and the £10 contribution will represent a contribution of 16.5 per cent. We should aim to wipe out the local contribution completely.

We have spoken about the recognition and identification of pupils with learning problems. The INTO has been arguing that children with reading and learning difficulties should be able to obtain remedial support from the earliest age. The Department has resisted that for many years and there have been constant rows between the Department and school staffs and principals who have assigned infant pupils to remedial classes where they have found that to be useful. It is only in recent years that the Department of Education and Science has come around to that point of view. I was delighted to hear the Minister say today these problems need to be identified at an even earlier stage, at pre-primary if necessary. I presume by that he means that intervention should also take place. For years a ridiculous rule existed in the Department that infants did not get access to remedial classes, but that was changed some years ago. I am glad the Minister reinforced his position on that today because it is very important.

If classes have 35 or 40 students — a few days ago I talked to a teacher with 44 pupils in a class — it is impossible to cope. There is no teaching, learning or discipline, it is simply crowd control and it does not work. The needs of principals in those situations also become hugely important.

The greatest problem in primary schools after funding, class size, remedial education, which we dealt with and will return to, is teacher supply. In the past few weeks Members have talked about schools in their constituencies which have advertised for teachers and cannot even get applications for the jobs. There is a huge problem. The Minister has taken a firm and important initiative in increasing intake into colleges, so much so that the current intake is approximately double the 1996 intake. That is very welcome. I regret he did not take immediate action last year.

The Minister of State should have particular interest in what I am about to suggest as it is relevant to Limerick. In every other European country, there are so-called conversion courses at third level in colleges of education to allow post-primary teachers to convert to primary teachers and vice versa. It is my view, as general secretary of the INTO, that there is too much inflexibility in the way teachers are prepared. There has been a long discussion for years in colleges of education about whether primary teachers should be trained concurrently, in other words whether they should study professional subjects as well as educational subjects. They would learn about teaching, methodology, content and curriculum while at the same time learning Irish, English, maths and European languages. They would learn them concurrently.

That is the traditional model of primary teaching preparation. In the Minister of State's city, [838] Mary Immaculate College has been doing that for 100 years. That college celebrates its centenary this year. There is also a postgraduate course in that college whereby students first do a university degree and then do a top-up or further course in the college of education to become qualified primary teachers. That is the consecutive model. There has been too much debate about which course is good and which is bad. They are both very good courses. It is a matter of determining quality and standards and having variety and flexibility of approach in the training, education and development of teachers.

One of the issues raised earlier by the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, was that we are now approaching another aspect of primary education, that is the area of specialisation which is not uncommon in most professions. This is also a huge debate. The colleges of education can consider this and ensure that if we need people who are specialised in particular areas, whether it be in curricular development, teaching in disadvantaged areas, remedial education or counselling, teachers should be able to do a top-up qualification in the subject in which they specialise. They could be generalist teachers who are specialised in an area. We must examine this approach. There will be massive resistance from traditional forces in education, including many of my own members, to these suggestions, but that is not the issue. These matters need to be dealt with and approached in a challenging way.

The Minister stated earlier that he will discuss the conversion course with the University of Limerick, as a college which may provide it. That is an important course and it should be set up quickly.

There should also be a greater opening here for teachers trained in the UK and Northern Ireland. It is currently open to teachers from Northern Ireland who have a qualification in Irish to teach here, but we can go further than that. At a conference on education held in Limerick two weeks ago, Bord na Gaeilge was the first Irish language group to agree with the INTO that there are many teachers working in the system — for instance in remedial and special education and home-school teachers — who never use Irish in their teaching. Some of those jobs could be open to teachers trained in colleges of education in Northern Ireland or the UK who do not have a qualification or degree in Irish. This should be examined.

On the issue of literacy, I am very pleased that we have included literacy with the general topic of primary education. Literacy was almost a taboo subject for many years. At primary level we did not like to talk about the matter of illiteracy because in some way it seemed to reflect on us as professionals as though we had created the problem, but we are long past that. We are able to stand back and take a professional, self-confident look at it and say if there are flaws in the system let us repair them or respond to them and if there is a problem with resources let us deal with it.

[839] Illiteracy is far more than an educational problem. It is an economic and social problem. It relates to issues such as employment, participation and the foundations of democracy. People with literacy problems cannot participate in society to the fullest extent. We need to recognise the well-known link between education and qualification and employment. Every study in developed countries has proven this. When we know that and accept it, let us go back to the foundation of education. Part of the foundation of education must be literacy. The child who cannot read will have great difficulty in being educated. Literacy is the key, so how do we address it?

I agree with Senator Ormonde's view about the OECD survey's finding of 25 per cent of people with reading difficulties. I rubbish it, and I am not saying that in a defensive way as general secretary of a teachers' union. From my experience as a teacher, my knowledge from other teachers and my day-to-day work, I do not believe the findings of the survey. I have not found anybody who would agree with that figure. No commentator would. The Minister has been slow to say that but I am sure I will not embarrass him by saying I know it is his private view that the 25 per cent figure is a nonsense figure. It makes it difficult to deal with.

Having said that 25 per cent cannot be right, there is a problem and we need to consider it. The Minister stated that in his estimation, 8 per cent of children leaving primary education have low literacy skills. I do not know whether that figure is right or wrong any more than the Minister does, but it is probably between 6 and 12 per cent. In order to jointly attack this issue of literacy, teachers must agree. We do not need to spend huge amounts of money identifying the problem. We can do that easily. Every teacher in the system can say there are two or three pupils in his or her class who are experiencing learning difficulties with reading. That is the problem identified. Now what do we do about it? We must use the psychological or remedial support services. We can do that locally, we do not need to get involved in national assessment. Every year or two, the class teacher can assess whether the child has made progress and when the child comes to the end of primary level we know where he or she stands. I would like teachers to do that. I know the INTO would support that kind of initiative. Some teachers may feel a little threatened and we would have to encourage people to see it as the way forward.

One way to deal with the OECD survey is to carry out our own survey. I would like the Minster to agree to a national literacy survey being carried out which would include the partners in education. We can agree the kind of questionnaire, the form of the survey, how it will be carried out and funded and where it will be put together. It can be done independently and then we will know the size of the problem outside of [840] school. That way we will have attacked literacy at school level as well as at community level.

The Minister's contribution was of huge importance. He put a lot of things on the record. He covered a lot of areas that showed the way forward. For that reason alone this debate has been very worthwhile.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald Regrettably, I missed the Minister's contribution. It was very heartening to listen to contributions made by Senators O'Toole, Ormonde and McDonagh because they endorsed the Minister's statement. They found that the many new initiatives he outlined are very much in keeping with the challenge of dealing with illiteracy.

This debate is taking place in the context of two recently published reports on literacy. The OECD international report was published last year and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science published a report in May of this year. This debate is also taking place against the background of the massive injection of investment in science and technology by the Minister for Education and Science in the Scientific Technology Bill of last year. The first of the two reports has already been commented upon at great length. There is considerable dispute as to the veracity or accuracy of the reports given the terms of reference. Comment has been made reading prescriptions and what is on medication bottles but to base a finding on this type of strategy would not be scientific or what we believe to be literacy problems for adults. That report emphasises this problem and we must take it on board even if many educationalists think it is not in accordance with how we would want to identify and solve the problem of adult literacy. However, adults have problems with literacy and these problems must be addressed.

Where problems do exist they extend into an adult's social and working life. There is a definite correlation between the level of literacy attained by an adult and their employment prospects. We have also established a correlation between the level of literacy and the level of income that can be attained by an adult. These correlations are so well established that the problem of adult literacy must be addressed. In that context it is heartening to discover that Deputy O'Dea is the first Minister of State at the Department of Education of Science with special responsibility for adult education. The Government has to be commended on taking this initiative because it acknowledges the problem of adult literacy.

The appointment of the Minister of State has brought about the publication of the Green Paper on adult education —“Adult Education in an Era of Lifelong Learning”. The decision to set out a strategy for the development of a policy framework for all aspects of adult education giving priority to those who left the formal education system without qualifications is an extremely important initiative. Until now adult education [841] lacked a coherent policy framework but that has been addressed by this initiative.

I congratulate the Minister of State for the expeditious manner in which he went about identifying problems. He worked on the basis of all the information available to him in the public domain and then he published the Green Paper within the time limit he had set himself. We look forward to a more detailed debate on the Green Paper. He has incorporated features in the document which will be discussed by the public and Oireachtas Members alike. These features challenge us, they are visionary and they are the hallmark of his initiative and the collation and aggregation of information that he has had available to him. Again, I congratulate him on its publication and look forward to subsequent debates.

The illiteracy problem has been traced back to primary education. Pupils left primary education with illiteracy problems and either entered second level education or opted out altogether. In May 1998, the Oireachtas Joint Committee published its report and it established that 8 per cent of pupils leaving primary school had literacy problems. Given the huge revolution in the areas of primary education with the transition to the concept of child centred curriculum and classrooms, it is challenging and disappointing to some extent that, despite huge advances being made in tackling the problems of illiteracy, almost 5,000 pupils who leave primary education each year and enter post-primary education experience problems in reading or numeracy.

The most challenging areas of literacy development in primary education has been referred to. One of our biggest challenges is class sizes. The modern curriculum is geared towards a child centred classroom and in keeping with that there is a lot of freedom of movement. In this type of classroom situation a child who needs special attention or remediation cannot get adequate attention. Therefore, the pupil-teacher ratio is very relevant when addressing the problem of illiteracy or inadequate levels of literacy within the primary school system.

As Senators Ormonde, McDonagh and O'Toole and the Minister mentioned, remediation has the greatest contribution to make to the solution of this problem. The Minister gave a commitment today, as part of what he referred to yesterday in the Dáil Chamber as the strategic approach to the whole area of remediation, that a remedial resource will be available to all pupils in primary schools within two years. That is a most heartening and welcoming announcement which will be welcomed by teachers and parents all over the country, particularly the parents of pupils who needed a remedial service and have not been able to avail of one until now.

I have heard teachers down through the years, even since I left teaching but particularly in the past few years, talk about the effectiveness of early intervention. Teachers of infants have informed me that it is possible for them to identify a need for remediation as early as the end of [842] junior infants. There have been pupils who, at the end of junior infants, have been discovered to have problems with reading, writing and numeracy and have been able to avail of remediation in senior infants and subsequent classes. There is a very significant body of evidence available among primary teachers who tells us that where pupils in need of remediation availed of it immediately, or at the earliest opportunity, very significant progress was made by the middle primary school classes. Again, I commend the Minister for adopting a strategic policy framework for the area of remediation.

In this information age, when information is doubling every five years, access to information will be one of the most required skills. In that context I commend again, as I did earlier this year, the decision by the Minister and the Government to make a £250 million investment in the area of technology and education. This innovative approach is visionary. It recognises, identifies and acts upon the awareness that access to information is the way forward in substantially enhancing the literacy of all students in the system.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I thank Senator Cassidy for arranging this debate. He promised to ask the Minister to attend the House before Christmas. I welcome the Minister's statement which is heartening. While great advances have been made in education there is still much work to be done and we still have a long way to go. While the Minister said he would like to phase in many of the initiatives he referred to, it would be more appropriate if he could introduce them more quickly. Many of them could be introduced immediately.

With regard to primary schools, great concern has been expressed by teachers, parents and boards of management about a number of issues. Small, one-teacher schools are at a disadvantage, and not only with regard to the capitation grant. The Fianna Fáil general election manifesto suggested that the grant would be increased significantly and that the gap between £50 for primary school students and £177 for secondary school students would be closed. I hope the Minister makes a significant move in that regard.

More than 200,000 children still attend school with classes of more than 30. That is unacceptable. The national average is 24.5. The Minister must look at one-teacher schools and those schools with classes which have pupil-teacher ratios of more than 30. It is not good enough to rely on substitute teacher panels with people who are not trained. Improvements cannot be phased in here. Radical change is required.

Teachers will have to attend courses to learn computer skills. It is unfair that they must learn these skills at their own expense and in their own time. Teachers have been making great strides in this area and there is an onus on the Department to provide extra funding and courses to train them and to make time available to enable them to learn the necessary computer skills.

[843] On the question of special schools, teachers must leave the classroom to help take students from the school bus. An extra effort must be made to provide care for children with special needs who travel to school by bus. Perhaps FÁS courses could be extended to address short-term needs in this area. It would not cost too much extra money.

Pupil-teacher ratios must be looked at in the short-term, especially in one-teacher schools in rural and isolated areas. With regard to capitation grants, the one-teacher schools are also at a disadvantage because the grants do not cover all of the costs of running the schools. I welcome the Minister's comments on and commitment to remedial teachers. Other areas also need urgent attention. Measures to deal with some of them would not be costly.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello I welcome the Minister to the House. He has spent much time here recently. I am glad that, at last, education is being seriously addressed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. There has been a shortage of legislation in this area and I hope this will change in the future.

I was disturbed to hear Senator O'Toole effectively rubbish the OECD report which indicated that 25 per cent of Irish adults between the ages of 25 and 64 have serious literacy and numeracy difficulties. It is unfair to rubbish a report without indicating why. The OECD report was comparative, and the standards and criteria used to compile the Irish section were also used in the other countries surveyed. Apart from Poland, we ended at the bottom of the list. That is a serious matter, regardless of what one's views might be as a practitioner in education.

The Department of Education and Science has always taken the view, without any figures or surveys to back it up, that approximately 10 per cent of the population had literacy problems. That is a grossly inadequate indication of the true number. We have no reason to suspect that the OECD figure of 25 per cent is high and we should not rubbish it until we know if there is a basis for questioning it. Another international survey indicated that 23 per cent of the population had literacy difficulties, which was the highest level in terms of comparison with other EU countries.

The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science indicated that 8 per cent of those leaving primary level had serious numeracy and reading difficulties. The Minister's announcement that he was putting 225 remedial teachers into primary schools and a similar number into post-primary schools is an admission of the very serious literacy problem, not just in the 25 to 64 year age group, but also at the lowest learning level, which has not been adequately recognised. Remediation was and is necessary. If we are now appointing this number of teachers, many students must have previously slipped through the net without receiving the necessary remedial attention which they needed at the time.

[844] The Minister for Education and Science does not take an integrated approach to education. I was disappointed with his approach to the Education (No. 2) Bill where he rubbished educational structures but put nothing in their place. He is an exponent of the stand alone school. Everything in this document reflects that ethos, with schools doing their own thing, with a small amount of extra money here and an extra teacher there.

The Minister's speech was full of ad hoc initiatives — more money to home-school liaison and a few million into pre-school programmes, special needs, the library service, world book day, vouchers for primary schools and computer literacy. We do not have a system to deliver that. Stand alone schools do well in some areas but ineffectively in others. It is a strange belief for a Minister for Education that a building, to which a certain number of teachers commute to five days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., can solve the problems of an indigenous community, such as housing, unemployment, dysfunction, motivation and drugs. Stand alone schools will not solve those problems. We could pour money into that system from now until kingdom come and there will not be an adequate response because the structure is inadequate. That is no reflection on the quality of our teachers, which is second to none.

The Minister of State recognised that in the Green Paper. He is the first person in this Government to propose a local adult education board which would provide adult education. That is what is needed. I look forward to progress in that area in the months to come. I am also delighted the Minister of State is coming forward with proposals to introduce adult education into the mainstream so that it can claim its rightful place in the budget. Adult education will receive a total budget of £2 million in 1998, double what was given in 1997. That shows that adult education operated on a shoestring, run by volunteers trained by the vocational education committees who give of their own time. Adult education is not delivered as a professional service. Again this is not a reflection on the people involved but on a system which is not fit to deliver. I hope the Minister of State will establish a system which will be effective in its delivery.

The unemployment figures demonstrate that we need considerable movement towards providing literacy skills and training. A high percentage of those unemployed for over a year — 56 per cent of the 210,000 on the live register and 63 per cent of the unemployed — have not completed secondary education. We compare poorly with the country at the top of the list — Sweden. It has only 5 per cent adult illiteracy whereas our rate is five times that. We are third from the bottom in terms of participation in adult educational training courses in OECD countries. Why is that the case? It is because we do not have an adequate mechanism for the delivery of services. There are a great many people doing their best [845] but they are doing it on a hand-to-mouth basis in terms of funding and resources.

Primary education must begin with pre-school, not at an artificial age of four to six years. That is not primary education even though that is what the Department of Education and Science provides. We should provide primary education from age two. It must be provided from the earliest point of learning, otherwise children lose out. Those who can afford it, provide education for children of two years but those who cannot are disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. The Minister, Deputy Martin, gave no indication that he has an interest in providing a national system of pre-school education.

The budget gave no incentive to the business sector to provide créche facilities. Nothing was given to the working parent or the parent on social welfare to assist with child care. That is a disgrace. Child benefit was increased by a miserly £3. This was the budget of the Minister for Finance who had more money in his coffers than he could spend.

The Minister announced that he has provided £1.2 million for early childhood education. Now we find that will be directed to children with disabilities. That is a drop in the ocean for early childhood education. What will be done with that? Much more money should go into the whole area of special needs and disabilities. The Minister has not implemented the O'Donoghue judgment in relation to the severely disabled and mentally handicapped. Another constitutional case will undoubtedly be taken. The Department will once again be taken to court and will lose once again because it has not provided the services. The Minister was not even interested in addressing educational disadvantage. He set up an ad hoc committee which is no substitute for an adequate structure.

I do not know what Senator O'Toole said about capitation but the INTO suggested an increase from £50 to three times that amount, the level available in secondary schools. That has not taken place. How will primary schools function when the general view is that they need three to four times that amount of capitation grant per pupil to be able to function effectively? Parents cannot go on forever holding cake sales, flower sales and various functions to keep schools running.

I welcome the allocation of 450 remedial teachers. That is the only good thing provided in the budget. We need more remedial teachers but I welcome this as a starting point. I would like to have seen the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, go down the road proposed by the Labour Party of allocating medical cards to all children under eight years of age. That would have released funds to less well off parents.

I am very disappointed with the thrust of the Minister's thinking. There is lack of vision. He will certainly keep the ship steady as she goes, but we know that as she goes she is not carrying all the passengers on board in the same manner [846]— there are too many passengers down at steerage who are not getting the full attention of the crew. The Minister should have better vision in terms of education. I welcome the direction the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, is taking in relation to the Green Paper. I look forward to development in this area in the next couple of years in terms of providing a well-funded and well-structured base for adult and continuing education and literacy education.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea): Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey I thank Senators for their contributions. There are two aspects to the problem of literacy. We must ensure that as many students as possible leave the school system with adequate literacy and numeracy skills. In relation to those who unfortunately slip through the net, there must be an adequate system in place to pick them up afterwards.

The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, announced a range of targeted interventions. These include developing successful interventions that have existed for some time, albeit on a pilot basis — for example, the Hunt school liaison scheme, the remediation and pre-school education initiative, the disadvantaged schools initiative, the various retention initiatives, curricula reforms and so on. These will be designed to ensure that as many children as possible leave the school adequately equipped to function properly in the information age.

In relation to those who unfortunately slip through the net, there is some dispute about the figure of 25 per cent. Senator O'Toole suggested that my private view is that the figure is not 25 per cent. My private view on the matter is exactly the same as my public view which I will restate. A respected OECD survey has concluded that 25 per cent of adults in this country have insufficient literacy and-or numeracy skills to function properly in the information society. It does not say that 25 per cent of adults are illiterate in the commonly understood sense of the word. I respect the findings of that survey. I am not saying they are absolutely accurate but the anecdotal evidence suggests that they are more accurate than some of us would like to believe.

Senator O'Toole referred to the question of remedial teachers. I have no doubt that following the initiatives announced by the Minister today and the initiatives contained in yesterday's budget, within two years or less all pupils will have access to remedial teaching.

On capitation grants, these grants were frozen by the last Government. In the past 17 months they were increased by approximately 30 per cent. We said in our election manifesto that we would close the gap between the primary sector and second level, but we did not say we would do it in 17 months. We said we would do it over the lifetime of the Government and we have made an excellent start.

[847] Senator O'Toole raised concerns about local contributions. I understand where he is coming from. The figure has been frozen at £10, therefore, it is becoming a smaller percentage of the total contribution. This is a welcome development. Many schools have difficulty collecting these contributions, particularly from parents of children who have moved on. If parents do not have children at a school, they resent making this local contribution. This has undoubtedly created difficulties.

I agree with Senator O'Toole in relation to inflexibility in teacher training. There is too much inflexibility in the education system generally at third level. I am hopeful that this problem will be ironed out in the forthcoming qualification legislation which will be introduced in the next session of the Dáil as a result of the Teastas report.

Senator Burke referred to a problem in Castlebar where teachers had to assist to bring disabled children into the school. Funding has been allocated in the budget to provide an escort for every bus in the country carrying special needs children. When the Minister and I took over in the Department of Education and Science there were 430 such buses in the country. Funding was allocated to provide an escort on 38 buses and the rate of pay was £3 per hour. That left 392 buses unprovided for, which was very dangerous. I heard heartrending tales from parents in the past 17 months in this regard. Parents in my part of the country and elsewhere have had to make round trips of 100 miles a day to escort special needs children to school. They felt it would not be safe to allow their children on the school bus in view of the fact that there was no escort available. I am pleased to reiterate that funding has been made available to provide escorts on every bus throughout the country carrying special needs children. Escorts' pay has been increased to a more realistic level of £4 per hour.

Senator Costello said that the amount of money being spent on adult education is derisory. I would like to see more money invested in adult education. My objective is to mainstream adult education during my term in office. It is incorrect to say that the adult literacy budget represents the total expenditure in adult education. It is only a small fraction of the allocation. Senator Costello knows that there are many players in the field of adult education. Money is being contributed by the Department of Social, Community [848] and Family Affairs and various other Departments. Expenditure in this area last year amounted to approximately £85 million.

In relation to the specific literacy budget, when I took office 17 months ago, there was a budget of £2 million per annum to cater for the needs of people who wished to go back to school and acquire literacy skills. That was absolutely derisory and incomprehensible in a Christian society which must focus on upskilling more people to meet the skill shortages in the economy. The increase allotted by the previous Government in its last budget was £60,000, to be divided among 38 vocational education committees. That is a grand total of £1,400 per VEC, which was inexplicable. My party committed itself in our manifesto to doubling that figure over the lifetime of the Government. We more than doubled it in year one to £4.1 million. We have increased it by another £1.6 million this year to £5.75 million. The reality is that this year I will spend 280 per cent of the budget that was available when I came into office on adult literacy. That is a significant advance. We need to drive that figure up to about £10 million a year, which is what the experts estimate we will need to have a proper literacy strategy.

Reference was made to the Green Paper. I thank Senators Costello, O'Toole, Fitzgerald, Ormonde and others for their kind remarks. I am looking forward to a comprehensive debate in the Seanad on the Green Paper. It has been repeated ad nauseam that we are moving on to publish a White Paper which, to continue the colour analogy, will be our blueprint for action. However, that does not mean we are going to stand still. There are various initiatives mentioned in the Green Paper which we will be developing during the consultation process. Some matters, such as the delivery structures, will have to await the outcome of the consultation process. However, Members can rest assured the Government will not be standing still in regard to most initiatives mentioned in the Green Paper but will be developing them as best we can, so that no time will be in lost in this vital area.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly When is it proposed to sit again?

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.55 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 8 December 1998.


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