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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 5 State Endorsement of Child-centred Principles of Education 113


CHAPTER 5 State Endorsement of Child-centred Principles of Education In March 1896, Archbishop William J. Walsh introduced a resolution which was passed unanimously by the Commissioners of National Education, that a Commission would be set up by the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Cadogan (Lord Belmore), to consider the position of practical work in the national schools (CMPI, Appendices to the Reports of the Commissioners, Appendix A, II: 6). The Lord Lieutenant expressed the wish that the Com- missioners should undertake this mission themselves, but they rejected this idea, believing that their findings would not receive suf ficient attention (Akenson, 1970: 373). They were later to reconsider their position, and indicate that they would be willing to carry out the report on condition that the Lord Lieutenant provided them with four assistant Commission- ers. Akenson (ibid.: 374) suggests that this was a politically wise move as it of fered the Commissioners of National Education the opportunity of producing a report of their own design, which would bear the prestige of having been produced by a commission of public appointment, chaired by a nobleman. The Commission on Manual and Practical Instruction was established on 25 January 1897 with the Earl of Belmore acting as Chairman. The remit of the Commission was narrow. It was to determine ‘how far and in what form manual and practical instruction should be included in the Educational System of the Primary Schools under the National Board of Education in Ireland’ (CMPI [1898] First Report of the...

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