Fine Gael Clare Senator and Seanad Spokesperson on Justice, Martin Conway, last week steered a motion through the Seanad calling for greater recognition of history as a subject of utmost importance in the junior cycle. The Ennistymon-based senator acknowledged the presence of Education Minister Richard Bruton as he highlighted the need for history to be kept as a compulsory subject up to Junior Certificate Level.
In his motion, Senator Conway called on the Seanad to recognises the role of history in promoting civil engagement and an understanding of the present through a knowledge of events in the past. He noted that the 1916 commemorations showed how understanding our past lets us look forward to our future with excitement and hope.
“History,” said Senator Conway, “as a taught subject in our schools, opens the minds of our students, enabling them to think critically, analyse and develop writing skills. The study of history leads to good citizenship, an understanding of sensitive issues and an appreciation of the different strands that compose Irish identity.”
Explaining the context, Senator Conway said there is uncertainty concerning teaching the subject for junior cert. “I was fortunate to have a good teacher at second level who instilled in me a deep sense of history and of wanting to learn and understand more about it,” said Senator Conway.
He said parents and teachers still have an interest in persuading young people to study the subject while young people have an interest in pursuing it. For example, he said that fewer people studied history for junior cert in 2006 than were are studying it in 2016.
In real terms, the number of students taking history as a subject in second level education has increased. However, he claimed that officials in the Department of Education are promoting ICT, science and mathematics,and are as favourably disposed to the teaching of history.
“History,” he said, “is not a poor relation. It is not a by-subject and should not be part of an overall course. Nothing less than a full recognition of history at second level will be acceptable to me, to many citizens and certainly to the people who are teaching history.”
In an impassioned plea, Senator Conway asked, “Are we, as a nation, going to allow the understanding of our history to be diminished in favour of science, technology, computers, mathematics and foreign languages? I do not think we should allow that. A clear message needs to go out to the Government that history should and must have its place as an equal with every other subject, both at junior certificate and at leaving certificate levels. We owe that to future generations because one will not be able to equip oneself for the future unless one has a knowledge of the past.”
He added, “We have had great people in this country. We have had great people who have played amazing roles in our history. Our young people need to have an understanding of the sacrifices and the contributions those people made. In the big bad world of Facebook, Twitter, computers and the internet, and all of the wonderful advancements that have happened to counteract that big bad world, we cannot forget where we came from, our history and our sense of nationhood.”
Senators from Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Féin spoke in favour of the motion which was agreed and passed. Fianna Fáil senator Gerry Horkan commented, “It is rare to witness such unanimity across the Chamber or to have a ratio of two to one in Government and opposition speakers in favour of the Government.”