The voices of young people will be feature in a new Citizens’ Assembly on the future of education, Minister for Education Norma Foley has pledged.
The Minister said her department has begun examining what such a body will look like and the broader questions to be addressed.
She made the comments in a speech recorded for an event taking place in the Burren, Co Clare.
The Program for Government has committed to the establishment of citizens’ assemblies across themes including gender equality, a directly elected mayor for Dublin and biodiversity loss.
While these have taken place or are currently underway, no commencement date for an assembly on education has yet been announced.
Citizens’ assemblies typically include 100 citizens, including an independent chair, who consider proposals on how to improve the State’s response in a given area.
Ms Foley said a Citizens’ Assembly on the future of education offered a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to reimagine Ireland’s ambitions.
She said the impact of education is felt in almost every home in Ireland and, as a nation, we are “rightly proud of all that our education system has achieved”.
“We have one of the highest school completion rates in Europe. The quality of teaching and learning in Irish schools is very high, offering great opportunities to Irish children and young people. This, together with Ireland’s strong further and higher education sectors means that we have one of the most highly skilled workforces in the world, ”she said.
“Nonetheless in education we always strive to do more and to exceed our greatest ambitions.”
Ms Foley said citizens’ assemblies have become an important part of our democratic system, bringing together a diverse array of citizens to debate, discuss, and deliberate.
“In any society, there will always be a difference in opinion and sharp divergences in how we feel about issues. That is of course normal.
“But there is also great wisdom in the collective, and I do believe that it is truly powerful when we can come together to reflect on issues and to give them our time and attention,” she said.
The idea of a Citizens’ Assembly for education first emerged at a symposium, hosted at the Burren College of Art in September 2018.
This three-day gathering – attended by students, parents, teachers, academics, policymakers and artists – backed calls for radical education reform to meet the needs of 21st century Ireland.
The Green Party is understood to have played a key role in securing the addition of a Citizen’s Assembly on education in the program for government.