Sunday, May 29, 2011

Transforming Education in Ireland

The second Intel forum on education, entitled “Transforming Education in Ireland”, was held in Trinity College, Dublin, on Thursday, May 26th. The keynote speech was given by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. Panel members included Jerome Morrissey, Director of the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), Regina Moran, CEO, Fujitsu Ireland, Tommie Walshe, President, National Parents Council post primary (NPCpp), Moira Leydon, Asst General Secretary, Education and Research at ASTI, Tony Donohue, Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) and Peter Hamilton of Intel Performance Learning Solutions.

The forum also provided an opportunity for Intel to launch its Smartclass post primary schools competition, details of which can be found at

The Taoiseach’s words on the commitment of the government to change in education were welcome, although his appearance at the forum meant that mainstream reportage of the event was largely confined to his contribution. This is a shame, because many topics were also of interest, from the concern at the weight of schoolbags, which was mentioned as a priority for parents by Mr. Walshe, to the reminder from an audience participant that the former CEO of Intel, Craig Barrett, whose commitment to education, worldwide, is total, is on record as saying that Ireland is in effect deluding itself by continuing to hold the belief that we have an education system that is world class.

However, there is an air of change in education these days. How much of this is government policy being implemented or how much is due to the personal commitment of Ruairi Quinn, the Minister for Education, is yet to be fully revealed, but a number of initiatives have already indicated a breaking of the inertia that had characterised the previous administration. One is the setting up of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector and the other is the announcement that Educate Together, the body that has already established a large number of multi-denominational National schools, to allow a choice to those parents who do not want their children to have to attend a church-dominated school, will now be considered for the management of secondary schools also.

As with the first Intel forum on education, this reviewer was left with the impression that there are a great many committed and responsible players in Irish education. That they were starved of resources during the so-called “Celtic Tiger” period is reprehensible, and it would be a tragedy if the current economic circumstances were used as an excuse for a continuation of this situation.

Once again, Intel is to be thanked for making it possible for people involved in education in Ireland to have their voices heard outside of the profession.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Queen and Mr. President

I can’t help wondering whether some mischievous agency was responsible for the close juxtaposition of the visits of Queen Elizabeth of Britain and Mr. Barack O’Bama (sorry – Obama), President of the United States of America, to our fair shores this month. Here we will have, in a country with a long, deep and often complex relationship with both jurisdictions, the opportunity to be host to what will inevitably become a comparison between ancient, inherited status on the one hand, and the quintessence of the Republican ideal on the other.

The comparison will not, of course, be confined to the ideological differences between the two heads of state. Their motivations, and therefore what we can expect of them in public, could not be more different. The Queen does not need to be re-elected and so does not require the support at the ballot box of that proportion of the large Irish Diaspora that inhabits her country. Her Majesty, by her nature and upbringing, is not prone to pressing the flesh and relating closely to the person in the street. Mr. Obama, by sharp contrast, is charisma personified.

All in all, despite the promised disruption to our lives and the controversy that the visit of each, in its own way, will give rise to, I look forward to taking part in whatever events are arranged to allow us mere mortals to participate in the festivities. Somehow, though, I cannot see the second Elizabeth arriving in College Green on an open-topped bus. That Mr. Obama is not likely to do so has far more to do with considerations of security than with any other inclination that he, or his political advisors, might have.

And when it’s all over, can we expect to see composite photos of the two of them, of the sort that was popular in the ‘Sixties of JFK and Pope John XXIII, on every Irish mantelpiece for years to come? Somehow, I think not.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A great evening was had by all

A large crowd greatly appreciated the Chamber Philharmonic Europe when they played in St. Ann’s Church, Dawson St., Dublin last Friday (May 6th 2011). They applauded until the rafters rang, and well they might. This is a world-class chamber orchestra. The tour is called the “Powerful Emotions Tour” and it is well named. We went from being stimulated by Hummel’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E-flat Major to being deeply moved by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor. Time stood still during their rendition of Faure’s Pavane (Op. 50). The seven violins, one cello, a double bass and the trumpet perfectly recreated every nuance and mood of all the great pieces that were played.

You might think I’m going on a bit here but I can assure you it was not only me. People practically embraced the musicians in the church porch after the performance.

They play in The Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray tonight (Saturday) and then in many other locations nationwide. Full details are
here. They’re back in St. Ann’s Church, Dublin on Sunday 22nd. May. It’s incredible to think that you can have a performance of this standard for only €18.00 entry.