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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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CHAPTER 2 New Educational Thinking: An Irish Experience 29


CHAPTER 2 New Educational Thinking: An Irish Experience In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Irish education was to come under the inf luence of the progressive thinkers of Europe when their followers established private schools and endeavoured to educate their pupils in accordance with child-centred philosophies. Among those in Ireland who were strongly inf luenced by the educational ideas of Rous- seau was the Edgeworth family in Co Longford. According to Woodward (1938: 457), the education of children in their own homes was inf luenced indirectly by the work of Rousseau, and directly by the work of Rich- ard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817) and his daughter Maria (1767–1849). This was largely due to the publication in 1798, of their significant text on pedagogy entitled Practical Education, followed by the establishment of an elementary school in Edgeworthstown, which operated from 1818 to 1833. In this non-denominational school, rich and poor children were educated together by Edgeworth’s son Lovell. Practical Education: Richard Lovell Edgeworth Richard Lovell Edgeworth was an Anglo-Irish landlord who was recognised as ‘a scientist, an engineer, an inventive genius’ (Curtis and Boultwood, 1977: 392), an economic innovator, and ‘a noteworthy pioneer in Educa- tion’ (Butler and Butler, 1927: viii). Edgeworth travelled widely throughout Europe engaging with European thinkers and familiarising himself with Enlightenment ideology, which advocated reason as the primary basis for authority. In 1797 he became a member of the Irish Parliament and was 30 CHAPTER 2 an inf luential member of the Commission of...

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