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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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Introduction xvii


Introduction This book provides an historical analysis of the growth and development of infant or early childhood education in Ireland from 1838 to 1948, a period that begins with the opening of the Model Infant School, Dublin, and ends with the publication of the child-centred curriculum for infant standards more than a century later. From the beginning of the national system of education in Ireland in 1831, children of two years of age were admitted to infant classes in national (primary) schools and engaged in formal educa- tion. The age of enrolment was increased to three years in 1884, and this was to continue until 1934, when a revision of the rules for primary schools required a child to have reached the age of four before he or she would be enrolled in a primary school. Compulsory education, which compelled Irish children to begin school at age six, was introduced in 1892. During the period under review infant classes in primary schools were the largest providers of early childhood education for young children in Ireland. Changes in the infant or early childhood curriculum cannot be under- stood in an educational vacuum, but must be assessed in the context of a judicious blend of the religious, political, social and economic issues of the era. This study ref lects on the forces that inf luenced curricular policy in relation to infant education in the Irish context. These were shaped at all times by the complicated relationships that existed not only between British...

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