§ Mr. BOLAND
I desire to bring to the notice of the House the action of an irresponsible Board in Ireland, the Intermediate Education Board, which has-control of what in this country is called secondary education. This Board a few months ago tried to effect a complete change in the system of dealing with experimental science. For the past fifteen years, in our secondary schools in Ireland, a system of inspection has been carried on by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland with excellent results. Now the Intermediate Education Board has brought in a rule superimposing on the system of inspection a system of written examination. The actual rule in its amended form now reads as follows:To pass in experimental science, a student must obtain not less than 3D per cent, on the pass paper, or 25 per cent, on the honour paper, in the course or courses of instruction in which he presents himself, and must be certified by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland to have; fulfilled the following conditions.1897 The conditions are then set out. I wish to lay stress upon the fact that for fifteen years a system of inspection has been in operation, while the Intermediate Board has now introduced the rule I have quoted without taking the advice, or entering into consultation with a single educational body in Ireland. It neither consulted the headmasters of the secondary schools nor did it consult the teachers who have carried out the system of science instruction, nor did it consult the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction which has hitherto carried on the inspection and which has the granting of the money for carrying out this system of science instruction. Here we have an example of one irresponsible Board in Ireland suddenly bringing in a rule, and not consulting another Department of the Government in Ireland, namely, the Department of Agriculture, which has the system of inspection, and which is paying, all the fees. I ask, therefore, the Chief Secretary, who has not had many months experience of Irish Government, but who yet has to answer in this House for the actions of the Intermediate Board, in the first place, to publish the correspondence which has passed between the Intermediate Board and the Department of Agriculture on the subject of this new rule.
There is a more important aspect of this question to which I wish to call attention. When, fifteen years ago, the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction was founded, and when the system of inspection for experimental science in secondary schools was instituted, an arrangement was made between these two bodies, the Intermediate Board and the Department of Agriculture, that before any change was put into operation by the Intermediate Board it was bound to give a year's notice to the Department before such a change could be brought about. I ask the Chief Secretary, was that year's notice ever given to the Department? If so, what was the date on which it was given? As far as I am aware, no notice of any kind was given to the Department of Agriculture, and, what to my mind is more important still, no consultation of any kind took place with the educational bodies in Ireland, with the science teachers, or with the Boards of Technical Instruction. In order to make the matter still more clear, I will read a few extracts from the published protests of these various bodies. I may say that the rule was introduced 1898 early last year, but was not publicly published until early in July in this year. Protests were immediately drawn up, and have been published by the Board of Technical Instruction, the Schoolmasters' Association representing all the secondary schools in Ireland, Catholic as well as Protestant, by the Christian Brothers, who carry on a most successful scheme of secondary education, and by the science teachers themselves. The Schoolmasters' Association say:The Intermediate Board deliberately abandoned a written examination in experimental science in 1901 in favour of inspection by the Department, and bound itself not to hold an examination in the subject until a year's notice had been given by the Board.I ask again, when was that year's notice given to the Department? The Christian Brothers say:If the present rule is maintained, the examination paper will undoubtedly make the text book unduly important. The department inspectors will continue to aim at securing the educational advantages of scientific investigation. The teachers will be forced to obtain as many passes as possible. There will be a conflict of ideals, principles and practice, and disagreement between teachers and inspectors will inevitably result.Those protests, published and known to the people of Ireland, have naturally had the result of concentrating opinion, not merely of educational experts in Ireland, of the secondary schools who are effected by this rule. In this connection I think it is only fair to bring to the notice of the Chief Secretary that for years and years we have had occasion to complain of the action not merely of the Intermediate Education Board, but also of the National Board of Education of Ireland, which deals with primary education in that country. As a result of the Vice-Regal Commission which inquired into the National Board, that Board has bowed to public opinion in this respect, that in its Report, issued only a few days ago, they announce that in future, before any important educational change is made, they will consult the educational bodies in the country. I ask the Intermediate Board to do precisely the same thing now which the National Board, bowing to public opinion, has found it necessary to do. Let me pass to the underlying considerations in this matter. This rule is going to deal with experimental science in our secondary schools. Hero in this country, and wisely so, in view of the War conditions, and of the knowledge which has come to this country of the failure of technical methods in the past, science is being pushed by many people in this country, and we are being told that it 1899 should have a far better position not merely in the primary but as well in the secondary schools and in the University courses of this country.
I think everyone will agree that, to a certain extent, it is necessary, owing to changed conditions, that in this country more attention should be given to science in our schools than has been the case hitherto. I do not wish to press the matter too far. I do not wish to say that the classicists should be entirely removed and that science education should take entirely the place now occupied by classical studies. But I do say that when in Ireland we also have the same difficulties to contend with, it is not fair that a backward stroke should be given to science such as undoubtedly given by this new rule. I was reading only a couple of days ago a very interesting book, recently published in this country, called "Eclipse or Empire." It is a book which deals with the shortcomings of this country. I may say indeed that it struck me that there was too much depreciation of the Britisher. But there is undoubtedly this truth in it—that science requires to be given a fairer chance than has been the case up till now. When has this action been taken by the Intermediate Board? Precisely at a time when steps are being taken by science teachers to effect a useful change in the outlook of our educational bodies. Up till now, I regret to say, to a great extent the Intermediate rules and the system of Intermediate instruction in our country have sought to direct the minds of the pupil and his parents rather towards the career of a second-class clerk in a Government office instead of fitting the student for a useful business or commercial career in his own country. That has been a great drawback in the system of secondary education in Ireland. Now, throughout our country, I am glad to say, particularly in the South and West, where engineering business has not been developed of late through our actions with the Munitions and the War Departments we have succeeded in establishing national factories. We hope that at the end of the War those national factories, equipped with the best machinery, will be turned into engineering workshops, turning out material valuable for peace time. These workshops 1900 will require a steady stream of boys growing up to young men who will have had a groundwork of science. This action of the Intermediate Board will, kill the possibility of there coming from, our schools a stream of young fellows ready to take part in the new national factories. I wish to put this before the Chief Secretary, as time is short: To superimpose a written examination is bound to be disastrous to experimental science in its early stages in the schools. The system of inspection has worked well up till now. All our educational experts approve of that system. It is an absolutely backward step-of the Intermediate Board in the face of all education opinion, and it will be disastrous to our country if this rule is proceeded with. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to use his influence with the Intermediate Board to have this rule withdrawn, so that the existing system of inspection by the Department may be allowed to continue.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Duke)
I sincerely hope that the fears of the hon. Member as to the-possibility that a written examination should be the deathblow to any possible-industry in Ireland are not so seriously founded as he apprehends. It is a very important matter, as my hon. Friend will agree, that every encouragement should be given to the study of science, and especially of applied science, in Ireland with a view to the development of industries which the country so much require. The real question here is not whether there should be science teaching or Grants for science teaching in Ireland; it is whether a semi-independent Board is to be overruled in the conclusion at which it has deliberately arrived; whether, when you are ascertaining whether the best value is-being obtained for the money given in respect of science teaching, you should renounce or forego the possibility of having a written examination. All of us, I suppose, have some recollection of the sort of tests that are applied during school life and afterwards for the purpose of ascertaining whether there has been efficient instruction. To renounce the application of tests by written questions is certainly a very bold and extreme course.
§ Mr. BOLAND
It is not a question of asking the Intermediate Board to renounce the system. For the last fifteen years it has deliberately renounced the system of 1901 written examinations. It now proposes to go back to the system which it deliberately gave up fifteen years ago.
§ Mr. DUKE
What the hon. Member desires is that the Irish administration should use some indirect means of coercion, I think it is usually called, to compel a semi-independent Board to do what it thinks it ought not to do with regard to this matter—that is, to renounce the right which it has by Statute to require answers to written questions as a preliminary showing efficient science teaching.
I am not surprised that there are differences between teachers and examiners in this matter. Educational bodies and bodies representing the teachers are at variance with the body appointed by the Legislature to be responsible for seeing that the Grants have been earned. The position very shortly is this: There is an Act of Parliament by which Grants for proficiency are given, and the test of proficiency is a preliminary to the obtaining of the Grants. I am not sure of the exact words of the Act of Parliament, but it is the Act of 1878, which founded the Board of Intermediate Education, and it makes the payment of the Grant dependent upon the result of public examination. For a long time the Board was content to accept the certificates of results of the Department of Agriculture. But it was found upon examination of those certificates that there was an almost uniform return of passes of 100 per cent, in these classes. In the other subjects—I think there were six in all—in respect of which the Intermediate Board distributes the Grants on behalf of the State, the test of individual examination was applied, and 70 per cent, was a reasonable proportion of the pupils to get proficiency certificates. In regard to science alone, it has been the case that written examination has been dispensed with, and there has been no ascertainment of the efficient education in science of the individual pupil, but there has been the view of the inspector as to the position of the class. It may be right or wrong, but the position is not what the Statute contemplated or what past practice contemplated. The Board of Intermediate Education was communicated with upon the subject. The Chairman, and some other members of the Board, did me the honour to come and see me and explain what they had done. They said that they had not done it without consultation with people experienced in science teaching. 1902 They also said that as a matter of general principle their view was that a written paper was a useful and ordinary examination test. On the first matter, as to their consultation with scientific educational experts, I am bound to accept their assurance, even if I had control of the Board, which I have not. On the second matter, that written examinations are an almost universal means of ascertaining proficiency, common experience bears them out. That is the position. The Board have come deliberately to the conclusion that a written examination is necessary in order to fulfil the conditions upon which alone they are entitled to distribute grants.
§ Mr. DUKE
That is a matter as to which the responsibility is put upon them by Statute. The conclusion at which they have arrived is that you will get better certainty as to proficient education by the means they propose to apply. It is a matter which the Legislature has left to their discretion, and I cannot see any means, except an Act of Parliament, which can control them. Something was said as to the method by which this has been done—as to lack of communication with the teaching authorities and with the Board of Agriculture. It was said that there was a promise of a year's notice.
§ Mr. DUKE
I can only say that if hon. Members in Ireland would combine to ease the way of government in Ireland it would be much easier for attention, which is distracted at the present time, to be given to-these grave matters. With regard to the matter immediately under consideration, as to the mode of procedure, I find among the papers evidence that in April of this year there was an order of the House for the publication of notice, which has long 1903 since been published, with regard to the coining into operation of the system of written examination, and the system comes into operation in June of next year. That is a very substantial notice. There may be matters of difference between the two bodies, but this certainly is not a time at which you can introduce a general scheme of reform which will reconcile these matters. So far as I am concerned, I think there is reason on the part of the Intermediate Board; that is, they have seriously considered the matter and desire to administer their office in the way in which they ought to administer it. That being so, I cannot prmise that His Majesty's Government will take any legislative or coercive action to divert them from the course which they think they ought to follow.
§ It being one hour after the conclusion of Government Business, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER. (Mr. Maclean) adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February,
§ Adjourned at Fourteen minutes after Six o'clock till Tuesday next, 7th November, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.