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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 8 Reclaiming Child-centred Infant Education: The Revised National Curriculum of 1948 227


CHAPTER 8 Reclaiming Child-centred Infant Education: The Revised National Curriculum of 1948 The Revised Programme for Infants which was introduced in July 1948, was underpinned by the ideology of child-centred education and represented a link with the Revised Programme of 1900. The prefatory note to the pro- gramme read as follows: The aim of the Infant School is to provide the atmosphere and background in which the child’s whole personality may develop naturally and easily. It should, therefore, take cognisance of the child’s interests, activities and speech needs, and utilise them to the full in aiding and directing such development. (Department of Education, 1948: 5). This conceptualisation of the child portrayed in the programme of 1948, contrasted sharply with that which was conveyed in the programmes of 1922, 1926 and 1934. The focus was on the individuality of each child, and his/her needs, interests and abilities were placed at the centre of the learning process. The curriculum of 1948 endeavoured to develop connections between the methodologies and philosophies of the programme of 1900 and the Gaelicisation policy of the Irish State. While the Irish language was to remain as the of ficial medium of instruction of the infant school, the teach- ing of English as an optional subject was permitted for thirty minutes daily, at the discretion of the manager. Despite the fact that lessons in English were allowed during the school day, the Minister for Education informed his colleagues in the Dáil that the expectation was that there...

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