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Child not read to at bedtime is ‘abused’, says Quinn

March 28, 2011

A CHILD not read to when going to bed at night was an abused child, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn told the Dáil.

“If a home does not cherish literacy, it is a form of abuse,” he said. Mr Quinn said literacy started in the home. “By the time a four-year-old arrives in junior infants, outcomes in literacy have already been significantly determined by the commitment of parents, no matter what class or socio-economic group,2 he added. The Minister said he had raised concerns in the past about the State’s “wonderful” education system not delivering. He added that party colleague Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, a primary school principal in Dublin’s inner city, was the first to highlight the need for a right-to-read programme.

“I will be looking at that not to scapegoat teachers or schools, because we are all failing, as parents, society and families, and we must find a way collectively to deal with the issue,”said Mr Quinn. Mr Quinn said a middle-class child from a committed family arrived in school at four years of age with a vocabulary that was twice that of a child from a disadvantaged family. A working-class boy who left school at 15 years of age, unable to read or write, was destined for a future of intermittent employment and, possibly, crime. He said the electronic media had reduced the necessity for reading as a form of entertainment. He intended, he said, to devolve back to school principals more autonomy and independence to do what they considered to be best. “It is wrong that we have 3,200 primary schools, stretching from the Aran Islands to the inner city of Dublin, or disadvantaged rural areas in Border counties, with a one-size-fits-all curriculum and little discretion for the principal.”

The Minister said a key commitment of the programme for government was the development and implementation of a national literacy strategy, which included the production of action plans by schools, with school-level targets linked to national targets. There had been more than 460 written submissions to a public consultation process on a draft national strategy on literacy and numeracy covering the period up to 2020, he said. In parallel, focused consultation meetings were being held with groups of key stakeholders with a deadline of early May. “Implementation will require a sustained commitment from schools and other stakeholders and I want to ensure their input is considered in finalising the strategy.” Mr Quinn said he intended that the literacy and numeracy skills of students would be improved very significantly so that the decline of recent years could be reversed and Irish students would again be among the best-performing groups internationally.

Brendan Smith (FF) said the Minister might have pre-empted him when he said a revision of the curriculum was necessary to ensure literacy and numeracy skills were adequate for children in primary schools. Seán Crowe (SF) said a family with a literacy problem would not have any books or magazines in the house, so if a parent went back to education and was supported, the children’s literacy standard would increase. Mr Quinn told Peadar Tóibín (SF) that the status of Irish as a compulsory examination subject would remain.

The Irish Times – Michael O’Regan