Home Columnists Fr Paddy: Education can give us the best possible start in life

Fr Paddy: Education can give us the best possible start in life

Education is a right, not a privilege. It is a right that can make all the difference to a child. Education can give children the best start possible in life and set them on a path to opportunity and hope for a bright future.

Education is intrinsic to ensuring that children and young people develop intellectually and socially. It is also a powerful predictor of adult life chances. And yet inequality in education means that some children in Ireland do not reach their potential because their opportunities are limited before they begin.

Without proper supports, many children living with disadvantage simply don’t have the resources they need to get an adequate education. Giving these children the tools they need to get their education is key to breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and redressing inequalities in Irish society. All children deserve to be supported fully to get the most from their education. Free education is arguably a total myth.

The Class of 2017 this week receive their Leaving Certificate Results. A group of over 60,000 young people, who are our future parents, professionals and leaders of this republic’s future. The vast majority, now begin to study in Third Level. A journey towards hopefully, employment and opportunity. This is a time of anxiety and indeed burden for students and their parents.  Not just trying to secure that coveted college place, but also the enormous financial cost, of beginning student life.

Sure, there is life after the Leaving Cert, but when it is happening, one can be consumed by its enormity, expectation, anxiety and pressure. The points system as it is, determines so much, in a time when so many young people are starved of opportunity, in terms of employment.

The ‘Points Race’ becomes even more competitive and difficult for students to gain access into coveted careers such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Veterinary Science and Primary School Teaching.

The results of last year’s Leaving Cert exams and the final points tally, tells its own story. The vast majority of students gaining access to university courses are from the middle classes. Students, whose parents can afford to, pay for grind-schools, and every extra resources to encourage their child to maximise the best possible result.

Education mirrors the great inequality that now defines our economy and society. The poor, by and large, because of being poor, don’t go to university. Those who have resources and who can afford to pay, go to Third Level. It’s a vicious and terrible cycle, that replicates itself through successive generations.

The quality of our Primary and Secondary Education fundamentally determines the amount of points achieved in any Leaving Cert. When our government cut Special Needs Assistants and Resource Hours, increase pupil-teacher ratio at Primary Level, this action seriously diminishes the chances of vulnerable young people making access to Third Level, and ultimately gain employment opportunity. Cut-backs affect the disadvantaged most.

Education is a fundamental right of every citizen. Education helps us to grow, to see beyond this moment and it helps us to dream imaginative and creative thoughts. Education is a life journey, education is the medium, perhaps if funded and valued, can truly break the structures of inequality and discrimination felt by so many young people at this time.

During the coming weeks, government ministers will be assessing their departments in the context of the forthcoming budget. Budgets are about balancing books, prioritising what’s important and offering renewed opportunity.

Education is so important when we consider the Class of 2017. Our greatest strength and hope are contained in the gifts and talents and abundant intelligence of our young people. Their ability and hope will bring us out of the uncertainty and grey clouds of this recession if we truly support and prioritise education as that necessary vehicle.

We remember all the Leaving Cert students receive their results this week, and we pray for them as they embark on the road that lies ahead for each of them.

May God bless them as they face new challenges, and new adventures.

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Fr Paddy is a curate in the hugely vibrant Portlaoise Parish. From Carlow town, he was educated in Carlow CBS and studied Business and Politics in Trinity College Dublin before training to be a priest in Carlow College. He is the youngest priest in the Kildare & Leighlin diocese and writes for a number of media outlets. He has almost 14,000 followers on Twitter.