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28 September 2021  


Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lecture 2021

19.01.2021

Dr Garret FitzGerald Memorial

Garret FitzGerald and Irish Education since 1800

Dr Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lecture 2020/21

 

‘Garret FitzGerald and Irish Education since 1800’ was the topic of the Dr Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lecture 2020/21. The seventh lecture in the series, this year’s lecture was given online by economist Professor John FitzGerald, son of Garret.

 

Education and its wider impact on society was a key theme of Garret FitzGerald’s work and John FitzGerald focussed on some topics in Irish education that particularly interested Garret FitzGerald.

Professor FitzGerald began by considering the research conducted by Garret FitzGerald into the beginnings of an Irish national educational system in the 19th century. The project, almost ready for publication at the time of his death in 2011, was brought to completion by John with help from a number of other scholars and published by the Royal Irish Academy.

The findings of that research were:

  1. that the educational system in 1824 was nation-wide, with schools in almost every parish. that the schools of the 1820s were all located indoors in school buildings, albeit many of which were documented as being of very poor quality. Whether “hedge schools” ever existed in the outdoors is not clear. that the system was largely fee paying, with 90% of schools in the country dependent on parents’ contributions for their support, remarkable given the poverty of the country twenty years before the famine. that schools were multidenominational and co-educational.

The second part of Professor FitzGerald’s lecture focussed on the impact of Irish education on the Irish economy noting the ‘failure of successive Irish governments to invest in education in the post-war years’ and the massive changes, including free second-level education that were introduced following the 1965 OECD report Investment in Education. Pointing out that he had considered only ‘the economic impact of the transformation of the educational attainment of the population’ he went on to say that ‘Today this investment in human capital has resulted in what is by EU standards a very high proportion of the population having third level qualifications and a very low proportion of early school leavers. While this transformation of the population in a generation and a half has had major effects on the standard of living, it has also had wider social and political effects.’ He suggested that these wider social and political effects merited further research. 

Professor FitzGerald concluded by referring to the last article published by his father in the Irish Times in 2011, where he ‘continued to be concerned about how the education system at first and second level can adapt to a very different Ireland from the one he grew up in’. Noting that ‘some of these problems of governance have not changed since the educational system was first formally established in 1830’ he said that for Garret FitzGerald ‘this was unfinished business’.

Responding, Professor Áine Hyland said


"While there continue to be inequalities in Irish education - some of which have been
exacerbated by the Covid crisis of the past year, we have come a long way since the 1960s. In 1963,
only 20% of the age cohort completed the Leaving Cert and fewer than 4% went on to higher education.
Today, almost 95% of the cohort complete second-level education - one of the highest figures in
OECD countries. In the 1960s, young people from professional backgrounds were more than 25 times
more likely to have a university degree than children of unskilled workers. While disparities still remain,
the gap has narrowed considerably and today children from better off backgrounds are just twice as
likely to graduate as their less advantaged peers."


Professor Áine Hyland

‘While there continue to be inequalities in Irish education - some of which have been exacerbated by the Covid crisis of the past year, we have come a long way since the 1960s. In 1963, only 20% of the age cohort completed the Leaving Cert and fewer than 4% went on to higher education. Today, almost 95% of the cohort complete second-level education - one of the highest figures in OECD countries. In the 1960s, young people from professional backgrounds were more than 25 times more likely to have a university degree than children of unskilled workers. While disparities still remain, the gap has narrowed considerably and today children from better off backgrounds are just twice as likely to graduate as their less advantaged peers.’

The online lecture was jointly hosted by the National University of Ireland (NUI) and Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute (MUSSI). The event was chaired by Dr Maurice Manning, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland with welcome messages from Professor Philip Nolan, President of Maynooth University and Professor Linda Connolly, Director of MUSSI.

About the Dr Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lecture Series

Former Taoiseach, international statesman, scholar, writer and public intellectual, Dr Garret FitzGerald was the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 15 October 1997 until 12 March 2009. As a memorial to its former Chancellor, NUI established the Dr Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lectures, a series of lectures by distinguished speakers on topics of national or international importance.

The National University of Ireland (NUI) is a federal university comprising the largest element of the Irish university system, including Maynooth University, NUI Galway, University College Cork and University College Dublin, RCSI Medical and Health Sciences University, the Institute of Public Administration and a number of other colleges.

Established in 2015 as part of Maynooth University’s ambitious Research Strategy (2012-2017), the Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute (MUSSI) brings together, consolidates and scales existing social scientific research expertise and research infrastructure across the university as part of a single enterprise. The purpose of MUSSI is to coordinate and direct a collaborative network which includes twelve academic departments and three research institutes.

The sixth lecture in the series given by John Alderdice and entitled Brexit and the Belfast Agreement Mitigating the Return to Disturbance in our Historic Relationships is now available from NUI.

Please see our Dr Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lectures webpage for setails of the other six lectures in the series which have been published by NUI.


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