The issue we are presented with here is a complex one at the best of times. It brings us back to the dilemma of which came first the chicken or the egg? because while it is widely accepted that the Irish education system may lead to social inequality, I maintain that this view is a debatable one. I believe it is possible to argue the case that social inequality in Ireland influences and shapes our education system because, in general, most Western education systems are commonly based upon societal values and customs. However, for the purposes of this essay I will accept the education system as being the determinant of social inequality, looking specifically at secondary-level education and using Goldthorpe's model of class categorisation (Breen and Whelan, 1996) as a discriminator between the various social classes and as a basis for my definition of the different social groupings, however I will mainly be concentrating on the working-class (groups IVc through to VIIb) and the middle-class categories (groups I through to IVb.)
[...] The cultural climate in said schools might well breed educational success if we include in the term the successful learning of the manual skills taught in vocational schools such as woodwork and metalwork. Unfortunately, “educational success” in contemporary Ireland translates directly to exam results, namely those of the Leaving Certificate, which long been considered to have had a major influence in determining the shape and content of education in Ireland' (Mulcahy, 1989:87), a yardstick by which all secondary level students are measured and judged. [...]
[...] Bourdieu's concept of culture capital refers to the ‘existence of dominant and socially legitimised ideals about what is culturally valued and desirable in our society' (Tovey and Share, 2000:176) and his theory presents us with the idea that this cultural capital, which is naturally possessed by the upper and middle-classes, is forced upon all classes, regardless of how detached they may be from this sort of culture, by means of the hidden curriculum. To Bordieu, the education system's aim, be it accidental or deliberate, is maintain and legitimate a class divided society' (Hill and Cole, 2001:101.) Under his thinking, the curriculum is a means of bringing about cultural reproduction. If we suppose this theory to be true, which I do, the status of social inequality in the education system stays the same. The working classes continue to be denied access to a full and healthy educational career because of social and [...]
[...] This idea lies at the core of the problem of social inequality within the education system, and is something that I will now expand upon. Curricula play an extremely important role in influencing educational choices and, ultimately, in the separation of classes within the education system. If we apply the aforementioned educational preferences to the current secondary school curriculum, it becomes very obvious that it simply does not accommodate the needs or desires of a student from a typical working-class background. [...]
[...] Hill claims that political principles informing the development and application of any specific curriculum are crucial to the effect it will have on equalities of opportunities and outcomes for diverse groups' (Hill and Cole, 2001:97.) The point he makes here is a very relevant one, because it is of the utmost importance that we know who selects the curriculum content, whose ideologies, values and attitudes are represented within this content and which social group or groups it empowers (either directly or indirectly) so we can understand the mechanisms of the system and how we may reform it if necessary (Hill and Cole, 2001:96.) A Marxist approach would tell us that the primary objective of the hidden curriculum is to teach children respect for authority, punctuality and obedience, while brainwashing them with the underlying ideas of individualism and competition (Crowley, 2005.) [the Marxist approach] sees the focus on achievement as an ideological process that helps to underpin the logic of the capitalist system' (Tovey and Share, 2000:209.) Whilst I would agree in part with this theory, in so far as I believe that there is an underlying sense of a necessity for obedience and uniformity, I do not think that the hidden curriculum of secondary-level education in contemporary Ireland has such a sinister edge to it. [...]
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