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The Development of Infant Education in Ireland, 1838-1948

Epochs and Eras


Maura O'Connor

Winner of the Kevin Brehony Book Prize, awarded by the History of Education Society (UK)

This is the first published historical analysis of the development of infant education in Ireland. It spans the period from the opening of the Model Infant School in Marlborough Street, Dublin, in 1838 to the introduction of the child-centred curriculum for infant classes in 1948. A study of early childhood education in Ireland in this period provides an understanding of how the child, childhood and the early years of school were viewed by society. Child-centredness had become a feature of educational practice in Europe in the early eighteenth century and was developed further by Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel. How it manifested itself in schools in Ireland is critically explored in the book through an examination of key reports, as well as through new original primary source material not previously in the public domain. The curricular content, pedagogical approaches and organisation of infant schooling reveal much about the attitudes of those in authority to the youngest children and their educational needs. Interviews with kindergarten advisors, national (primary) school inspectors, lecturers on early childhood education, teachers of infants, and adults who were students in the early decades of the twentieth century provide further insights and enhance our understanding of policies and practices of the time.


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List of Figures ix List of Tables xi Foreword xiii Acknowledgements xv Introduction xvii CHAPTER 1 New Educational Thinking: A European Perspective 1 CHAPTER 2 New Educational Thinking: An Irish Experience 29 CHAPTER 3 A New Concept of Schooling and Wilderspin as a Transformational Individual 51 CHAPTER 4 The Struggle for Child-centred Infant Education: Irish Women Pioneers 81 CHAPTER 5 State Endorsement of Child-centred Principles of Education 113 CHAPTER 6 A National Curriculum Based on Child-centred Principles 145 viii CHAPTER 7 A National Curriculum Created to Promote a Gaelic Revival, 1922–1948 185 CHAPTER 8 Reclaiming Child-centred Infant Education: The Revised National Curriculum of 1948 227 CHAPTER 9 Conclusion: A Backward Glance 251 Bibliography 271 Index 297

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