A primary school teacher from Cork demonstrates how his youngest students are creating e-books they have written, illustrated, assembled digitally, and narrated (as alternative output), and then notes that the secondary school most will attend insists that students do all work writing with fountain pens - to encourage proper handwriting.
A first-year university-level student explains that after lectures "no one understands," he and his fellow students meet in a comfortable lounge under a high ceiling, go online, and figure it out together.
In Dualla, primary students from year two through six, work together in a classroom and push each other forward, academically, artistically, athletically, while linking themselves to the world through technology. They enthusiastically share their work on all with clear, sophisticated voices.
On the absolute edge of Europe, where County Kerry meets the Atlantic at St. Finan's Bay, the 24 student Gaelscoil An Scoil ag An Ghleanna was a magnificent place of freedom, democracy, familial community, and learning. A huge Titanic sculpture/display graces one corner of the upper students' classroom, demonstrating and students await Skyping with Dublin and America.
And at the Tipperary Institute of the Limerick Institute of Technology, late on a Thursday afternoon, the widest possible range of primary and secondary students gathers voluntarily, to work individually and together, to build computer programming skills at one of the many CoderDojos which have appeared across Ireland, and increasingly, the world - a movement born of Irish invention.
Ireland is a nation which has valued education for all of its history. It is also a nation which has been remarkably creative in importing, adapting, and reinventing ideas, from Christianity and Beer to Literature in English and Contemporary Software.
That ability, crossing fields of knowledge and hundreds of generations, was not created by "vocational education," but by a broad view of the world which was transmitted to anyone in the population who wanted it. When the British made education illegal for Irish Catholics, students met in fields and caves for "formal" education, and kept singing, dancing, quoting poetry, and debating to keep the art of teaching fully in play.
This is a nation who's heroes are authors - not just any authors - but some of the most inventive to ever write in the English language. It is a nation which has led Europe in software development. A nation chosen as a home for multinational corporations every bit as much for a thinking, adaptive, creative workforce as for any "tax haven" reasons.
That is not to suggest that we were disappointed in Irish education - far from it. In school after school we found wonderful students led by humane and very human teachers, students allowed to find success across the range of human skillsets. We saw beautiful art, heard magnificent music, and found places filled with a passion for learning... but...
Irish Primary Education appears brilliantly inventive - if a bit "technology challenged" (for a nation which sees itself as a technology leader) - but the post-primary system, of desks and handwriting, test-driven-curricula and 40-minute time blocks, is constricting the possibilities for teachers and students and "our" collective future.
Our students will live their lives in the mid-to-late 21st Century,
they need to learn to manage the tools of their time - not the mid-19th Century
Education should not be about creating a workforce for corporations - they may train new workers if they must - but even if Irish Education Minister Ruairi Quinn wants schools as only job preparation, we all know that creative workers, able to adapt and adjust, able to utilize the tools of this century, will surely top test-takers with fountain pen skills.
- Ira Socol