Twenty years ago I headed off to university in Scotland. I was 17 and frustrated by my school experience. I did have some good experiences but in general I felt school was stifling. I remember contributing to a government consultation on education reform.
I know there have been reforms but it seems the approach remains the same. The Irish education system is mainly geared towards a cruel memory test followed by an outdated process of college entry. The cutbacks to guidance counseling hasn't helped things. Students are taught more about random facts and figures than about life and finding their true calling.
While the government likes to pretend that we have free third level education, the reality is different. The €3000 'student contribution' means we now have among the highest fees in Europe. In much of Europe education is truly free. Many parents have financial pressures and it can be hard for students to self fund their education. Youth unemployment levels are at over 20%, a rate that has grown recently despite emigration.
On top of that we're now witnessing a housing crisis, spiraling rents for what is often substandard accommodation. All of this has created a pressure cooker environment that is putting a huge strain on young people, parents and teachers. Where is the leadership on this? Where is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly?
For me a lot of it has to come down to the need for a compelling vision for what kind of country we want as we prepare to commemorate 1916. Young people should be at the heart of this and they need support, mentoring, opportunities and investment. It's been said before but we really need to consider what Finland did back in the eighties. They stood back and asked what kind of society they wanted and then set about a thirty year project of radical change that created a trailblazing education system at its core. That's what is needed, a long term vision with the courage to bring it about.