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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 9 Conclusion: A Backward Glance 251


CHAPTER 9 Conclusion: A Backward Glance The purpose of this study was to trace the growth and development of infant education in Ireland from the end of the fourth decade of the nine- teenth century to the mid-twentieth century. It considered perspectives on the teacher, the curriculum and knowledge, and the factors shaping infant schooling during that period. The analysis in the text pointed to an under- standing of the struggle that was infant education in this country during that period. This was manifested in the multifaceted and intertwined nature of the decision-making processes, and the accommodations that had to be reached among diverse interest groups with varying agendas, priorities and ideas about the purposes of education. These tensions, struggles, conf licts and the negotiated compromises attained in dif ferent eras and epochs have been documented. The factors that hampered the growth of infant educa- tion, and likewise, the forces that facilitated it, have been highlighted. This narrative is also about significant people who spearheaded dif ferent initiatives in the period under review. Edgeworth though his sphere of practice was limited, was shown to inf luence those who came after him. His documenting of his experimental approaches and methods were to bridge the gap between the naturalistic and child-centred approach to learning and that of the rationalistic Enlightenment model. Wilderspin, an Englishman, in striving to find a way to educate the masses, sought to modify the principle of child-centredness to suit an Irish context. The exi- gencies of the time,...

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