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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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Foreword xiii


Foreword The Development of Infant Education in Ireland, 1838–1948: Epochs and Eras by Maura O’Connor is an erudite and comprehensive study, providing fresh insights into the nature of education for the youngest Irish children of the period. The book demonstrates how policies, beliefs and practices of infant education were shaped by the political, social, cultural, economic and religious imperatives of the times. It of fers an in-depth analysis of how shifting agendas resulted in dif ferent educational perspectives being endorsed, abandoned, and revitalised, with varying consequences for what children should learn, how they should learn, and how teachers should teach. It charts the history and philosophy of ideas on infant education in Ireland over more than a century during which the one constant was poverty and inadequate resources. Based on original archival material and heretofore unpublished doctoral work, the book chronicles versions of child-centred education that policy makers sanctioned and that teachers and teacher trainers sought to implement. The narrative captures the layered and textured nature of decision making impacting schools, children and childhood over the period. On the one hand the story of infant education in Ireland is a story of the dominance of the Catholic Church which, the study explains, strongly resisted the idea of children’s voices, motivations, and intrinsic interests playing a part in the school curriculum – an ideal proposed by the early pioneers such as Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel and which formed the basis of child-centred practices that, despite Catholic clergy opposition, endure to the...

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