New teaching initiatives aim to diversify a ‘white, middle-class’ profession

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Ireland has long prided itself on having one of the best education systems in the world, but in recent decades we have been falling behind many other industrialised nations in one key area.

Just as Irish society has become increasingly diverse, the teaching profession has remained homogenous.

Today’s schools are host to different nationalities, ethnicities, religions and heritage, but the face at the front of the classroom remains overwhelmingly white, Irish, settled, Catholic and female.

Some may ask: “If the children are getting a good education, what’s the problem?”

Researchers say the problem is that provision of high-quality education requires more than just adequate resources and high academic standards.

Studies, both in Ireland and around the world, demonstrate unequivocally that children from diverse backgrounds – whether they come from ethnic or religious minorities, migrant families, marginalised communities or experience disabilities – need to see themselves reflected in the teaching profession.

Role models

For most children, teachers represent the most significant role models and authority figures they experience outside the home.

In Ireland today, some 99 percent of student teachers identify as ‘white Irish’, as compared to 85 percent of the population, while less than 5 percent of people training to become primary teachers has a disability, in comparison to 13.5 percent of the country as a whole.

It is well-documented that entry to the teaching profession is largely predicated by social class, with those from farming and professional backgrounds being over-represented in all areas of teaching.

Indeed, some sectors of Irish society are almost entirely excluded from the profession: in 2014 only one person from the 2,437 students who applied for primary teacher training identified as being from the Traveller community.

In the context of a modern, pluralistic and diverse nation, the continuing homogeneity of the teaching profession suggests we are failing to provide many thousands of children with an educational environment conducive to their future success and wellbeing.

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Irish Times