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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 7 A National Curriculum Created to Promote a Gaelic Revival, 1922–1948 185


CHAPTER 7 A National Curriculum Created to Promote a Gaelic Revival, 1922–1948 In the three decades prior to Irish independence in 1922, the movements to revive the Irish language played an important role in establishing a sense of national identity. The object of the Gaelic League, which was founded by Douglas Hyde and Eoin McNeill in 1893, was clearly stated in the phrase ‘to make Ireland a bilingual country, to make every Irishman a speaker of Irish as well as English’ (Ó Síothcháin, 1911: 9–10). The Gaelic League’s unrelenting agitation served to bring Irish to the forefront of the educa- tional scene, and contributed to the change of the rules in the national system relating to the use of Irish in the schools. The Revised Programme (1900) explicitly, if mildly, encouraged the use of the Irish language. The programme allowed Irish to be taught as an optional branch during ordinary school hours, providing that it did not interfere with other instruction. The payment by results system was abolished in 1900, and this included the abolition of results-fees for extra subjects. The Commissioners on Manual and Practical Instruction (1898) convinced the British Treasury that the ten-shilling grant for Irish as an extra subject taught outside school hours should be continued. This scheme, however, took no account of infant teaching and only applied from third class upwards (Report of the Depart- ment of Education for 1924–1925 and the Financial and Administrative Years 1924–25–26, 1926: 28). In...

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