Ireland’s debate on education shows little appreciation of experience in other countries

Some portrayals of Catholic schools ‘more like descriptions from the 1950s’

Denis Tuohy
Tue, Sep 17, 2013

The growing cultural diversity in our country is at the core of the debate on educational provision in Ireland. For better or worse, the debate focuses almost exclusively on denominational patronage in school governance, and the role of religious education.Little attention is given to the indoctrination and lack of diversity inherent in certain dominant economic world views underpinning education policy. These world views can see students simply as human capital for job markets. Social cohesion is promoted merely to enhance economic productivity. Education success is gauged by measuring “standard of living” rather than “quality of life”.The challenge of cultural diversity is to empower people of different ethnic, religious and philosophical heritage to work together. Education plays a key role in meeting this challenge. However, the debate is heated when individuals have conflicting approaches to diversity and we can note three – assimilation, accommodation and integration.

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Excluding religion
Assimilation sees diversity as a threat, and seeks to minimise it by promoting a single culture. This means treating all students in the same way. It leads to the standardisation of curriculum and methodology in fewer, larger schools.

It seeks to exclude religion from education to avoid “divisions”, which may unintentionally promote a unified secular world view. Assimilation can also be a feature of denominational schools when they focus on “membership” and compliance to a narrow ethos as criteria for admission.

Accommodation means different groups must negotiate space for their values, based on compromise and tolerance. In local schools, parents are required to negotiate diverse approaches to religious values with the patron. Non-religious parents negotiate with denominational patrons and denominational parents negotiate accommodation with Educate Together.

Schools accommodate diverse views through exemption systems or by allowing private arrangements for faith instruction. The proposal from the Forum on Patronage to develop a new course teaching “about” religion seeks to negotiate a single approach to Religious Education rather than allowing denominational groups promote their faith.

Integration sees diversity as a value in itself and celebrates differences. It promotes citizens living and learning together, respectful of one another. This is the ideal, but as seen across Europe, it is easier said than done. In Ireland, local schools have made efforts to cater for a wide diversity of student intake, and some have been very creative.

These successes are often ignored and denominational education is blamed for the remaining problems. Intemperate and ill-informed characterisations of the schools pepper the debate. For instance, some portrayals of Catholic schools are more like descriptions from the 1950s. Little recognition is given to the fact that Catholic philosophy of education has meant fundamental changes since Vatican II.

However, its implementation is not always perfect yet no concession is made to the maxim that “an idea is not responsible for the people who believe in it”. Freedom of religion is a liberty guaranteed to each citizen and gives rise to negative and positive claims. The freedom from religion protects individuals from undue interference from others, and a freedom for religion promotes positive support in exercising a philosophical world view.

These two claims are equal.

The European Convention asserts that education will be “in conformity with” the religious and philosophical desires of parents. This is a much stronger position than a minimalist claim not to be “antagonistic” to these desires.

The growing diversity of Irish society provides a major challenge in valuing and facilitating parental choice, both in school type and in what goes on in schools. An integrating approach to diversity does not seek to remove the tension that can exist between differences. It requires that we learn to negotiate the tension and even celebrate differences as good in themselves.

Frequently, the Irish debate reflects little appreciation of how other countries achieve a balance between private and state education and how the diversity of religious experience is supported in State schools.

Responding to diversity through education requires a commitment to integration on the part of parents, patrons and the State. The rights of all three must be directed to a common vision that will only develop through an informed and respectful debate.

We haven’t had that yet. Future generations deserve it.

These issues are discussed in more detail in Fr David Tuohy’s book, Denominational Education and Politics: Ireland in a European Context, published by Veritas. The book is being launched tomorrow in the Arupe Room, Milltown Park, by Jesuit provincial Fr Tom Leyden, with speakers Archbishop Michael Jackson and Roisín Duffy of RTÉ.

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Faculty development

University of Delaware
President’s Diversity Initiative announces teaching for inclusion project

10:19 a.m., Sept. 16, 2013–The President’s Diversity Initiative will sponsor a series of faculty development workshops during the 2013-14 academic year.

Research shows that student perceptions of diverse faculty can affect their evaluations of teaching. Likewise, faculty are sometimes unaware of classroom practices that can inadvertently affect the performance of different  students.

Topics will include such things as encouraging student discussion across racial/ethnic/gender/cultural identities, LGBTQ issues in the classroom, creating positive learning environments for students with disabilities, and how students perceive and evaluate faculty from diverse backgrounds.

The first workshop will be held at 4 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25 in 102 Gore Hall, followed by a wine and cheese reception.

The panel will include:

• Margaret L. Andersen, sociology/criminal justice,  “Diversity and Excellence in Education”;

• Pascha Bueno-Hansen, women and gender studies, “Gender and Sexuality: Binary Distinctions and Overcoming the Norms in Classroom Practice”;

• Elizabeth Higginbotham, sociology/criminal justice, “Who Am I Teaching?: Strategies for Learning about Your Students”; and

• Stephanie Kerschbaum, English, “Imagining Disability in Your Classroom.”

All faculty and graduate students are welcome.

The project is being developed in cooperation with the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning.

The President’s Diversity Initiative welcomes suggestions from the faculty about additional workshop topics, as there will be several workshops held over the course of the academic year.

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Teacher Prep Report Raises Questions About Diversity

When the National Council for Teacher Quality decided to include a “strong design for diversity” component in its Teacher Prep Review, released this past June, the purpose was to show how well teacher prep programs were doing at recruiting racially and ethnically diverse candidates. NCTQ leaders say minority teachers can play a role in helping to raise minority student achievement.

“We know that kids of color can perform better in the classroom when they have teachers that match their race,” says Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, citing research that has shown that Black students do better when assigned a Black teacher.

Despite the purported benefits of having a teacher of the same race, minority teachers remain woefully underrepresented in relation to the proportion of America’s minority students.

To encourage national recruitment efforts for minority teachers, NCTQ decided to acknowledge teacher prep programs that had what the organization considers noticeably higher proportions of candidates of color.

“We want to make sure that the profession is doing what it should be doing to attract high-quality candidates of color to the profession,” says Walsh.

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TDSB trustee wants legal opinion on Regulation 274, the seniority hiring rule

Regulation 274 may violate boards’ obligations to have a diverse workforce under the human rights code, says a Toronto trustee who is asking the courts to rule on its legality.

By: Education Reporter, GTA, Education Schools, Published on Wed Sep 11 2013

Two Toronto trustees want Ontario to make sure new teacher hiring rules don’t threaten the growing diversity among teachers by making it hard to hire the rookies who are more likely to come from varied backgrounds.

Howard Goodman and Shelley Laskin, of the Toronto District School Board, are seeking a legal ruling on whether a new regulation that forces boards to hire teachers based on seniority may violate the board’s obligation to employ a diverse workforce under the Human Rights Code. The motion goes before trustees at their meeting Wednesday night.

The TDSB has seen the diversity of its staff grow each year, with some 39 per cent of new teachers hired last year identifying themselves as racial minorities, up from 22 per cent in 2006-2007, when the board was first compelled to start tracking by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

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Many have warned about the threat to diversity posed by Regulation 274, which requires Ontario principals to hire from among the five applicants with the most seniority, to avoid nepotism.

Critics say the newer the batch of teachers, the greater its diversity, thanks to recruitment by teachers’ colleges and many school boards. Lowering the prospects for fresh graduates could mean a move away from a more diverse teaching staff.

“The diversity of our students has definitely grown, so if you’re hiring teachers who graduated a few years ago and have been occasional teachers for a longer time, they may not be as diverse a group,” noted Dean Ron Owston, of York University’s faculty of education, who believes boards can avoid nepotism better by using standard hiring processes than with the “heavy-handed” tool of seniority.

Of 1,100 students in York’s faculty of education this year, he said, 240 students identified as being from an under-represented group — up from 185 last year. Those groups include aboriginal people, visible minorities, disabled people, those from low-income backgrounds, and varied sexual orientations.

Goodman’s motion asks the TDSB’s director of education to write to Education Minister Liz Sandals to “submit a request to the Divisional Court of Ontario for an opinion” as to whether a school board can avoid the new seniority hiring regulation if it conflicts with the Human Rights Code or a provincial policy that calls for bias-free hiring.

Ontario’s policy on equitable hiring says “the board’s work force should reflect the diversity within the community so that students, parents and community members are able to see themselves represented,” Goodman writes in the motion.

A spokesperson for Sandals said that if the board does approve Goodman’s motion, “we would be pleased to have a discussion on this issue.”

Lauren Ramey said “we … recognize that there are concerns about this change and appreciate hearing feedback,” noting in an email that the government has struck committees with both high school and elementary teacher unions to consider changes.

A 2007 settlement between the education ministry and the Ontario Human Rights Commission made a diverse workforce a priority and said the Human Rights Code trumps “all other provincial legislation.”

The Goodman motion says the board “has repeatedly stated its objections to (Regulation 274), in that its trustees believe that the terms of the regulation are harmful to student achievement and well-being,” and that the hiring rules are opposed by other boards, all four school-board associations and the deans of Ontario’s faculties of education.

Another motion before trustees says an easy fix to Regulation 274 is to add the hiring of family members or business associates to conflict-of-interest rules.

Regulation 274 was brought in after Ontario English Catholic teachers complained about nepotism in their boards, and the education ministry later applied it to all boards in the province.

Critics say it shuts out talented young teachers, who have found themselves ineligible for jobs and even job interviews, and that principals should hire the best fit for the job, regardless of how much time teachers have spent in supply positions.

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Canada Seeks Immigrants Who Fit Better

Ottawa Screens Applicants for English, French Fluency and “Adaptability”


TORONTO—As American lawmakers debate how to revamp U.S. immigration policy, Canada has embarked on a major immigration overhaul of its own aimed at choosing newcomers who are a better fit for its economy and society.

The impact of Canada’s reforms will be watched in Washington, where elements similar to the Canadian approach toward screening applications have found their way into the immigration plan that passed the U.S. Senate in June.

This August, Canada began to accept its first immigrants under part of an overhaul that puts greater emphasis on factors such as an applicant’s job skills and fluency in English or French.

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A major objective: Fix what the Canadian government sees as a growing economic chasm between locals and many of the immigrants that Canada’s old applicant-screening system selected—a chasm it worries could spark the sort of immigration-related social tension that has flared in other developed countries.

Canada accepts more immigrants per capita than any of the Group of Seven most-advanced economies. The country, which has officially embraced multiculturalism for decades, won mostly praise for how it selects newcomers, particularly through a points system that tries to evaluate an applicant’s ability to thrive economically.

But since the 1970s, pay among new arrivals has increasingly fallen further behind pay of locals. And some Canadians question whether immigrants are integrating well enough into Canadian society.

“I don’t think we can take for granted our relative success in integration,” Jason Kenney, Canada’s immigration minister until July, who oversaw the reforms, said in a March interview. Now minister of employment and social development and minister of multiculturalism, Mr. Kenney through a spokeswoman confirmed his earlier comments but referred further questions to his former department.

The August newcomers were the first under measures that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government deployed in May aimed at attracting immigrants with certain trade skills. The measures also included the revamped points system at the center of the wide-ranging series of changes the government has enacted or pushed through Parliament since mid-2010.

Canada’s new points system places greater emphasis on an immigrant’s fluency in the nation’s two official languages. It weighs how closely applicants’ qualifications match Canadian credentials, whether they have employment arranged in Canada and, in the case of the August arrivals, if they have specific skills in demand, such as plumbing. The system also gauges so-called adaptability: factors such as time spent previously in Canada.

Critics have accused Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party of tilting policy back to benefit European nationalities such as the British and French, whose immigrants once predominated. “There is a strong feeling that this is about keeping people from Pakistan, the Philippines, from India, away,” said Jinny Sims, an Indian-born lawmaker with Canada’s opposition New Democratic Party.

A spokesman for Mr. Harper referred questions to the immigration ministry, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. A spokeswoman for the current immigration minister, Chris Alexander, said he wasn’t immediately available for comment. “Regardless of their country of origin,” she said, “we want to ensure that new Canadians contribute to Canada’s economic success.”

U.S. policy makers have drawn lessons from Canada’s experience. The architects behind the immigration bill drawn up by the White House and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators studied the points systems of countries such as Canada, the U.K. and Australia, said people familiar with the bill’s creation. The bill passed the Senate in June, but the GOP-controlled House has yet to vote on its own slew of immigration bills.

Current and former Canadian government officials were consulted during the bill’s creation, these people said. The Senate plan differs in important ways from Canada’s approach, placing less emphasis on English fluency, for instance. But the U.S. plan follows Canada’s basic model of grading applicants on their ability to fit into the economy and society.

“Much like the Canadian system does in Canada, our points system very carefully weighs the need to make sure Americans get first crack at available jobs but if none take them, allows American companies to find the people they need,” New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat who helped write the bill, said in an email.

The authors also learned from aspects of the Canadian points system meant to encourage greater social integration, said Enrique Gonzalez, an immigration lawyer and former adviser to Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on the reforms. “Assimilation was a measure we picked up reviewing reforms going on to the Canadian and the Australian point systems,” he said.

Canadians for decades have largely embraced waves of immigrants. More than 20% of Canadian residents were foreign-born in 2011, compared with 13% in the U.S. In 2012, Canada allowed 275,887 new permanent residents, about 0.79% of the population; the U.S. granted just over one million green cards, about 0.32% of the population.

But the government now says the old applicant-screening system placed less emphasis on language skills and youth, which research shows help immigrants to compete, and gave points for job qualifications even where they were unlikely to be sought by Canadian employers.

In the 1970s, new immigrants earned 85% to 90% of what the Canadian-born did. That had fallen to between 60% and 70% by 2006, according to a study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, a nonpartisan Montreal think tank.

One reason, said Arthur Sweetman, an economics professor at McMaster University of Hamilton, Ontario, and an author of the study, is that a bigger proportion of immigrants are those from the developing world, whose generally poorer English and French, coupled with education and training that is often incompatible with job descriptions in Canada, make competing with locals harder.

Europeans accounted for 78% of immigration into Canada before the 1970s, while Asians and Middle Easterners made up 8.5%, according to government statistics. From 2006 to 2011, Asians and Middle Easterners were 57% of arrivals; Europeans made up 14%.

“There is a fear that as immigrants fall behind, social cohesion will deteriorate,” Mr. Sweetman said.

South and Southeast Asians are falling behind fastest. In 2012, for example, 13% of Pakistanis aged 15 and over were unemployed in Canada, against 9% of the wider Canadian population and 4.5% unemployment for Britons in Canada.

By some measures, public opinion also appears to have tilted away from Canada’s traditional open-armed multiculturalism.

Canadians went through a round of soul-searching last year after the high-profile convictions of three Afghan family members who murdered four other members they deemed too Westernized. In a December survey, 70% of respondents said too many immigrants aren’t adopting Canadian values, up from 58% in 2005, according to Environics Institute, a Toronto research group.

“We are reproducing ghettos of immigrants and migrant workers and diluting Canada’s traditional values to accommodate immigrants who will not integrate,” said Salim Mansur, a University of Western Ontario political-science professor and immigrant from India.

In addition to stressing language fluency, the government has bolstered its social-integration efforts. In April, it doubled the size of its guide to aspiring Canadian citizens, which now emphasizes Canada’s historic ties, such as to the British monarchy.

The new guide says Canada won’t tolerate “barbaric cultural practices” such as “honor killings,” forced marriage and “other gender-based violence.” The government in December 2012 banned face-covering garments such as the burqa when immigrants take a citizenship oath.

Mr. Kenney, the former immigration minister, said the government worries about “deepening ethnic enclaves” and that Canada’s immigration overhaul is taking a “hardheaded approach” to the multiculturalism that has been a hallmark of Canadian policy.

—Annabel Symington in Islamabad and Laura Meckler in Washington, D.C., contributed to this article.

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