Of all of the areas suffering cutbacks in the most recent budget, education seems to be taking one of the most significant batterings. The changes which have drawn the most ire are the increase in the amount of pupils per teacher in primary schools and the €600 hike in registration fees that we at third level can look forward to paying. One of the budget outlines which has been overlooked in comparison to the above bombshells is that “a number of grants, mainly school related” are being abolished or scaled back.” The funding of smaller projects may seem less important than upholding the ideal of equal opportunity, regardless of financial status, in entering third level education. However, on an ideological level, these cutbacks serve to highlight the same neglect not only of a high quality, well-funded education system in a society, but also of equality within such a system.
One of the institutions to lose out on funding is the Irish Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI). The centre, which provides summer camps and weekend classes for children and teenagers who are classed as intellectually “gifted,” will no longer receive any of its annual grant of €97,000. At a time when 100,000 primary school students are going to end up in classes of at least 30 pupils and hence lose out on the individual attention considered essential for early learning, a summer camp may not seem like such a high priority. Most of CTYI’s clientèle have a reputation for being middle class and well able to afford any rise in fees that may occur as a result of the cutback. However, that €97,000, coming to about one-tenth of the centre’s overall funding, was used in the past to cover the fees of talented students from less advantaged backgrounds and to provide additional support to students with disabilities and special needs.
Irish schools do not have a reputation for providing support to children who learn at a faster rate than their peers or who are considered gifted. In a class of thirty-plus students, chances are that neither an intellectually advanced nor an intellectually challenged pupil will receive enough attention for their skills and competencies to be attended to.
If the former goes to a school with a less financially advantaged background, they will probably not have stimulating and challenging activities like debating clubs available to them, let alone additional learning supports geared to their abilities which even fee-paying schools generally do not provide. If their skills are noticed by a teacher, parent or by themselves, the existence of an organisation like CTYI, and the ability of said organisation to fund the student’s attendance is key. It gives a talented and interested pupil the opportunity to study more advanced material than they would at school and to work with and compete against intellectual peers, opportunities which would otherwise be presented only to those better off.
At CTYI, the opportunity is given to intelligent children and teenagers to experience classes in similar subjects to university courses, such as engineering, international relations and computer applications.For students from poorer backgrounds, for whom college would become a formidable expense, this can assure the student of the enjoyment they could gain from higher education as well as its eventual benefits. In other words, it would be a kind of tangible proof that college is worth substantial loans and a few years’ deferral of a full-time job. However, without State funding, fewer socio-economically disadvantaged pupils would get this hands-on opportunity.
CTYI and other organisations’ loss of funding may not seem particularly critical to those of us worried about the potential re-introduction of university fees, or children’s overcrowded classes. Some of us may even be glad that our taxes are no longer going to a summer camp famed for churning out groups of sixteen-year-olds with a communal delusion of misunderstood genius. Nonetheless, we should be outraged at yet another indication that equal opportunities in education are being neglected by the government of a nation often praised for its highly educated workforce and its past refusal to reserve debt-free higher education for a wealthy élite.