The ironic consequence of treating education as a means to an end, in order to pass the Leaving Certificate Examination and consequently obtain financially rewarding employment, is that we will no longer be properly educated, according to Dr. Rik Van Nieuwenhove, Department of Theology & Religious Studies at MIC, who was speaking at a conference entitled Education in Crisis held in Mary Immaculate College (MIC) Limerick.
Dr. Van Nieuwenhove believes that in terms of education Ireland has been subjected to processes of instrumentalisation at different levels with the Leaving Certificate examination creating a mindset of rote learning for the end result – good exam results for both students and teachers. For this reason Dr. Van Nieuwenhove believes that the Leaving Certificate examination should be abolished so that the “old ideal of the pursuit of learning for its own sake might begin to flourish again”.
The two day conference, which was the eight in the McAuley Conference series, explored the resources that exist within the Christian tradition to foster human growth and maturation, and to educate for the common good.
The key note address, entitled Why Children Centered Education is a Contradiction in Terms, was delivered by Prof. Frank Furedi, University of Kent, who spoke about children’s need to an education that is “centred on the integrity of the subject they learn and authoritative teachers who are prepared to lead and guide them”. Prof. Furedi, formerly Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury, has written extensively about issues relating to education and cultural life. His book, Wasted: Why Education Is Not Educating (2009) deals with the influence of the erosion of adult authority on schooling, whereby the traditional school role of passing knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next has been eroded through the introduction of pedagogical, child-centred paradigms which impact negatively on the educational process.
Other speakers at the Education in Crisis conference included Rev. Ronald J. Nuzzi, Director of ACE RISE in the Alliance for the Catholic Education, Institute for Educational Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame; who spoke about the transformative dynamics of Catholic Education and Prof. William Desmond, Professor of Philosophy at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Institute of Philosophy; who questioned whether a Catholic education can offer any resources to resist processes of instrumentalisation. Prof. Lieven Boeve from KU Leuven, Belgium and Director-General of the Flemish Office for Catholic Education looked at Catholic Education in a pluralistic and managerialist culture while Prof. Mary Gallagher, School of Languages & Literature, UCD and author of Academic Armageddon: an Irish Requiem for Higher Education; offered a trenchant critique of the way higher education in Ireland has been made subservient to the ‘knowledge economy’ in that the processes of instrumentalisation, bureaucratisation and managerialism stifle the work of academics who still try to uphold the traditional ideal of learning for its own sake. Other speakers included Prof. Con Hussey, University of Limerick whose talk also focused on Irish education in crisis and Sr. Mary Jo Martin RSHM, Chief Inspector of Schools, Education Commission of the Archdiocese of Westminster, UK who recounted one diocese’s attempt to scrutinize and inspect the vision and provision of its Catholic education in the context of present day culture.
Bringing the conference to an end Prof. Eamonn Conway said “Many important questions surfaced over the last two days that need to be addressed urgently. Greater clarity is especially needed regarding precisely what it means to refer to a school or college as Catholic.”
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