The Child is all that Matters

Martin Wallace
Assistant Headmaster

At a time of dramatic change in every facet of life, including education, there are certain principles that are immutable. At the core of education are moral purpose, empowerment and liberation of potential. At the heart of Jesuit education is the cura personalis – the care for the individual – because education is ‘not the filling of a pail’ but the blossoming of a person.

Our education system poses challenges: the Leaving Certificate is used as a university entrance examination, distorting to some extent the true purpose of education. Clongowes has learned to cope with this reality without losing its focus on essentials. Our Leaving Certificate students averaged 470+ points in the 2013 examination without neglecting their education! Through a wide range of co-curricular activities, such as music, drama, sport, debating and many other events, they acquire deep knowledge and learning, beyond what any book can deliver.

The school is delivering the goods even though there are significant concerns about the relevance and value of those goods. Our education system hasn’t caught up with the last revolution, let alone the current one, which is why we are not waiting for the trundling Junior Certificate reforms to introduce change. Our content-laden curriculum and assessment-obsessed system has lost sight of the fundamental nature of education, which is about children learning.

Children are naturally curious and learn instinctively, provided we allow them to do so. One of the important changes we are making to our learning environment is to develop and nurture cooperative learning. This simple initiative allows for a more dynamic and efficient learning experience. Our relatively new James Joyce Library has changed the way our senior students learn. Our planned Cooperative Learning Centres for the junior years will establish and strengthen our commitment to innovative learning. The new Junior Certificate promotes a clearer focus on skills rather than content, understanding rather than rote learning, and the application of learning to life rather than merely the ability to score high marks in an examination. This shift of focus is long overdue. The cooperative model of learning supports our desire to be a learning community rather than learning as a solitary, silent, activity.

Remarkable innovation

A remarkable innovation in recent years has been the Maths Modelling programme, run by Mr Stephen O’Hara in conjunction with Professor James Gleeson in the University of Limerick. This cooperative learning process is at the cutting edge of education for the 21st. century. The challenge for us is to proliferate this dynamic model through other learning disciplines.

We have begun this process through our cooperative learning programmes for Elements and Rudiments. With the assistance of Ms Patricia Frampton from the Learning Support Department and Ms Amelie Ghesquière from the French Department, Mr. Denis Gibbons has begun a systematic introduction to cooperative learning, which will inform their approach to study in future years. Mr Gibbons has recently completed a Masters in this aspect of education and brings the very latest research to his work with the students.

One of the strengths of a boarding school environment has always been that it allows education to spill over into every aspect of our students’ lives, through the co-curricular activities, through the bringing together of children from diverse cultures and communities, through the everyday challenges that enrich their world. We strive to knit together the academic and experiential learning into a more coherent fabric. This is what allows us to have a clear and identifiable ethos, a palpable school culture that is nourishing and nurturing of body, mind and soul.

We have a highly committed teaching staff, working closely with a dedicated team of prefects, both groups endeavouring to marry the living and learning environments into a holistic educational experience. Over the past ten years, the school has invested substantially in the upgrade of older facilities and the provision of new, state-of-the-art learning spaces, such as the Science, Art and Technology Building, the James Joyce Library and the new Sports Hall. The school has also invested in a Learning Support team that has had outstanding success in releasing the potential of students, whose abilities might otherwise have remained unseen.

This is an exciting time in education. It is also full of uncertainty and anxiety. At such a time, it is most important to have a clear vision of what is at the core of the process. The child is all that matters.