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Primary Education in Ireland, 1897-1990

Curriculum and Context


Thomas Walsh

This book critically examines the context, origins, development and implementation of successive primary school curricula in Ireland between 1897 and 1990. It focuses on three particular policy changes during the period: the Revised Programme of Instruction introduced in 1900, the curricular provisions implemented following the achievement of independence in the 1920s and the Primary School Curriculum of 1971. These three eras are distinctive by virtue of their philosophy of education, the content of the curriculum, the methodologies employed and the concept of the child inherent in the curriculum. The author analyses curricular changes within the complex web of wider educational and societal factors that influenced their devising and implementation.
In this way, he locates curricular developments within the climate of thought from which these policies emerged. The philosophy and ideology underpinning successive curricula are examined, along with the successes and shortcomings of curriculum implementation in each period. This historical analysis of the evolution of the primary curriculum in Ireland has much to offer researchers and policymakers in the contemporary context, amid ongoing curriculum development.


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Chapter 7 - Societal and Educational Context for Curriculum Provision 1971–1990 205


chapter 7 Societal and Educational Context for Curriculum Provision 1971–1990 7.1 Introduction The pace of societal change in the 1960s, as outlined in chapter 4, contin- ued unabated for much of the 1970s and 1980s, with a gradual transfor- mation of all aspects of Irish life evident by 1990. This chapter provides a lens through which educational change, and more particularly curricu- lum developments introduced in 1971, can be viewed in this period. It documents the significant developments in Irish society, focusing on the political, socio-cultural, economic and religious aspects of change. This is followed by an overview of the educational context in the period which impacted on the development and implementation of the Primary School Curriculum (1971). 7.2 Societal Context 1971–1990 for the Primary School Curriculum (1971) 7.2.1 Political Context Following the dominant position of Fianna Fáil from the 1930s, forming fourteen of the eighteen governments between 1932 and 1982, the 1980s witnessed frequent changes of government and a large number of coalition 206 chapter 7 governments. Despite numerous changes of governments and Ministers for Education during the period, there was remarkable stability in educational and curriculum policy and ideology throughout the period, facilitated by the continuity of senior civil servants.1 An analysis of the policy documents of the main political parties and their election manifestos reveals no great diversity in relation to their ideology regarding curriculum. The challenge of reducing pupil-teacher ratios, especially in the context of increased enrolments, remained to the fore of all...

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