Case Studies - Practical subjects (Ireland)
If young people are to lead fulfilled lives, achieve their full potential and contribute positively to their society as adults, they need to make full use of the opportunities available to them, in particularly during adolescence. They need to be empowered to take informed decisions about their futures and enabled to develop the skills necessary to turn their dreams into reality.
Young people going through adolescence are faced with many decisions. If they come from deprived backgrounds with limited opportunities for developing the sound skills necessary for success they are less likely to do well at school. Without success at school they have reduced opportunities to continue into further education and training and subsequently obtain satisfying work as adults. Underachievement at school is an early indicator that something may be very wrong, if this leads on to occasional truanting and eventually dropping out of, or excluded from school , a young person is at a very severe disadvantage, and is more likely to be involved in other “risk” behaviours.
One major factor influencing young people’s lifestyle is their self-esteem, self-image, and their view of what life holds for them, whether the future is worth waiting for. If their perception is that their future is bleak, with very little chance of obtaining work and a reasonable income, then they will live for the present and obtain their self-esteem from their peers through whatever activities give immediate gratification. The misuse of drugs, irresponsible sexual behaviour leading to unintended pregnancy or HIV/Aids and criminal activity are all potential consequences of a no hope attitude to life.
All these behaviours are related, so that any programme intended to address “risk” must first address the underlying problems, not the symptoms. In other words, a holistic approach is needed which emphasises the importance of individual empowerment rather than focus on a single issue.
(Working with young people at risk – a discussion paper, Hoskins John, 1996)
The history of the development of Irish technical education traces back to from the first Mechanics’ Institute in Dublin in 1824, to the first Technical School (Kevin St.) in 1887, the Vocational Schools of the 1930s and the Community Colleges of the 1980s. Vocational Education Committees (VEC) were originally created by the Vocational Education Act 1930, as successors to the Technical Instruction Committees established by the Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act 1899. The original purpose of the committees was to administer continuation and technical education for 14 to 16-year-olds. Continuation education was defined as "general and practical training in preparation for employment in trades", while technical education was described as "pertaining to trades, manufacturers, commerce and other industrial pursuits". To this end the VECs were charged with the duty of setting up and maintaining vocational schools. Through their dedication and determination, Ireland became endowed with a statutory system of education that is democratically controlled, multi-denominational, co-educational and highly responsive to local and emerging needs. From early in the last century there was a firm focus on the delivery of practical subjects for all students in the Irish educational system. Students are offered practical subjects from the age of 12 to cater for all learning styles and abilities with the focus of getting them work ready.
In a secondary school like Ennis Community College which is classed as a Band 1 DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools) school catering for students from disadvantaged backgrounds providing a vocational focus, many of the students from other nationalities have little English and in some cases none. And many of their parents are in a similar situation. Due to financial constraints and language difficulties amongst these families education at 2nd level is not always a high priority with parents or students and this in turn leads to early school leaving with no certification or qualification which makes gaining meaningful employment very difficult for them. Students from Irish traveller and Czech / Slovak (Roma) communities are the most likely to drop out early. These two communities alone account for 28% of the total school enrolment and very few of these would attend school beyond the age of 16 (the earliest age at which students can legally leave school in Ireland) with many of them leaving school, or at least attending poorly, well before this. This makes it very difficult for them to gain employment and can lead to anti-social behaviour as there is little else for them to do but walk the streets. 33% of the school population has a diagnosed special educational need, another risk factor in relation to early school leaving. Out of a total school population of 260 students we have 28 different nationalities with varying degrees of English fluency.
This profile of student has traditionally struggled with the more academic subjects and underachievement and low grades would be common. The College has put effort and resources into ensuring a wide variety of practical subjects are available to students with 7 choices in the Junior Cycle. This practical focus gives the students the opportunity to succeed in subjects which most interest them and provides an opportunity to overcome barriers to education.
DEIS has enhanced delivery of services to disadvantaged students by its stated aim; “the challenge for the education system is to work, in partnership with others, to overcome as many of these barriers as possible in a way that is learner-centred, systematic and effective in terms of educational outcomes”. (DES, 2008, p.3) DEIS identifies the barriers to school achievement as “often caused by issues outside the education system”. (DES, 2008, p.15) From financial, family, health issues to cultural or social community concerns the students of DEIS schools face far greater obstacles to achieving and completion of school. Concentration of large numbers of students from one socio economic background compounds this exclusion and often leads to lack of motivation or direction within school. Coupled with lack of familial interest and support for education the barriers often become too great to overcome. Underachievement is a fact in disadvantaged schools and was recently outlined within the National Competitiveness Council’s (NCC) Statement on Education and Training;
“While the nature of educational attainment is multi-faceted and schools alone cannot solve deep rooted societal problems, there is a need to ensure that the programmes in place are as effective as possible. Concerns remain over the quality of education in disadvantaged areas” (NCC, 2009, p15.)
DEIS aspires to the concept that the education system is inclusive and enables every student to reach their potential. Education is viewed as “critical in nurturing children’s development across a range of intelligences and skills, and in laying the foundations for successful participation in adult life”.
DEIS aims “to challenge under-achievement in schools, which can have profound consequences for children and adults in later life, not only in terms of economic uncertainty, but also in terms of well-being, health, self-esteem and participation in family and community life."
In an effort to stop children dropping out of school, the School Completion Programme (SCP) was set up in 2003 through DEIS with its primary aim of “breaking the pattern of early school leaving and tackling educational disadvantage”
“Underperformance at primary level means that significant numbers of Irish children enter second level schools at a disadvantage and with a limited range of skills. The 11.5 percent of Irish people aged 18-24 who have not completed the Leaving Certificate or equivalent remains too high. There are significant concentrations of underperformance in certain locations”. (FORFÁS)
2. Institutional implementation
SCP works in the Ennis Community College to enhance the supports offered by the school by providing
Increased participation and sense of success amongst students and building on practical transferable skills fits into the National Skills Strategy aim which states that
“in order to achieve the participation targets set in the National Skills Strategy, patterns of educational disadvantage in Irish schools must be tackled. Investments in tomorrow’s labour force should begin as early in life as possible”.
Additional supports are provided in the following areas:
Home Economics is a subject where students learn how to take care of themselves, others, their homes and their environment. As Home Economics is a very practical subject, they carry out a lot of activities in school and at home.
Students are shown how to use the information they have learned in everyday life; from looking after themselves, to shopping and caring for others. They gain experience at managing their resources and time.
There are many jobs and careers that they can work in, e.g. chefs/cooks, catering, fashion and textiles, child care, teaching, food industry, tourism, and health and nutrition.
Materials Technology Wood (MTW) is one of the technology subjects offered at Junior Cycle. In MTW students learn to design small projects and the skills required to use tools and equipment to make these designs. They work mainly with wood but also with other materials.
Students learn the correct procedures to follow when developing an idea into a finished artefact e.g. a piece of furniture or a child’s toy etc. They are able to identify different trees, recognise their importance to us and our environment and learn the skills to make objects from wood and know how to apply appropriate finishes to them, e.g. paint, varnish, stain or polish.
Metalwork is one of the technology subjects offered at Junior Cycle. It is an activity-based course focusing on metal, how to work with it and how to assemble different parts. Other materials such as plastics and wood are also investigated and used in project work. Students work with basic electronic components too.
Students learn how to assemble these materials into useful and interesting items know the most suitable finish to apply to their projects.
In Art, Craft & Design students have the opportunity to create images and objects using a variety of tools, materials and special equipment. To understand Art, Craft, Design it is important to make things oneself so that one learns and understand by doing
Many of the skills students learn while studying Art, Craft and Design are very useful outside of school and in whatever job they choose to do in the future. There are many career opportunities in Art, Craft and Design - areas such as: photography, illustration, interior/industrial/fashion design, education and architecture.
Providing additional supports to students in these subjects and ensuring they have success and better grades changes their often-held perception that their future is bleak and that they have very little chance of obtaining work and a reasonable income to one of success and personal satisfaction with a personal relevance for the future.
Out of the 40 students who completed the junior cycle course it’s worth considering that:
It is also worth noting that out of the 40 students, 32 students took at least 2 practical subjects as part of the junior cycle course.
It is important to note that out of the 8 students who dropped out, six of them were members of the traveling community.
SCP were supporting 34 students from this group. These students were targeted for various reasons but all shared the risk of dropping out of the education system. The final chart demonstrates how many of the students out of these 35 students succeeded in completing the junior cycle course through the support of SCP.