'Education in Ireland must be re-imagined,' says Cork Life Centre director

Don O’Leary said a citizens’ assembly on the future of education in this country is both “essential” and “long overdue”.
'Education in Ireland must be re-imagined,' says Cork Life Centre director

Darragh Cotter and Don O'Leary, director of the Cork Life Centre, joint recipients of the 2022 Edmund Rice Advocacy Award, with Louise O'Callaghan of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust.

The director of the Cork Life Centre has said Ireland needs to fundamentally re-imagine its education system for the 21st century.

Don O’Leary said a citizens’ assembly on the future of education in this country is both “essential” and “long overdue”.

Mr O’Leary made his remarks as he became the joint recipient, alongside former Life Centre student Darragh Cotter, of the 2022 Edmund Rice Advocacy Award.

Mr O’Leary has, since 2006, been director of the Life Centre, a northside education facility that offers one-to-one tuition to students who have not thrived within the mainstream education system.

When Mr O’Leary became director, the Life Centre had five students studying up to Junior Certificate level. It now caters for 55 students every year, and Mr O’Leary has often said that, if the centre had the resources, it could take in double that number.

Speaking at the award ceremony, Mr O’Leary said he believes that the mainstream education system is designed for a world that is a century out of date and as such it fails tens of thousands of young people every year.

“If you look at cars from a century ago, you can see the absolute quantum leaps that have been made since Henry Ford’s Model T, or if you look at phones, from Alexander Graham Bell to today’s iPhones, you can see how much has changed, but if you look at the Irish classroom, it hasn’t really changed at all in a hundred years,” Mr O’Leary said.

“Education should be for life, and not just a delivery system for funnelling children into the workplace, and it is absolutely essential that we fundamentally re-imagine what education is in this country. I would say a citizens’ assembly on education is long overdue.

“I worry about the future of education in this country when we expect young people of 13 years-of-age to be able to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives, when I’m 64 and I don’t want to know what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he said.

Mr O’Leary said his co-recipient of the Edmund Rice Advocacy Award, former Life Centre student Darragh Cotter, was an outstanding advocate across numerous issues affecting young people, and Mr O’Leary said he was immensely proud to share an award with Mr Cotter.

Accepting the award, Mr Cotter said he was extremely grateful to Mr O’Leary, and to the staff at the Life Centre.

“It would be disingenuous and inaccurate to say the Life Centre saved me,” he said. “What is far more truthful and important is that the Life Centre gave me the tools to save myself.”

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