MH 1 v2Former education minister Mary Hanafin has urged the current Minister Jan O’Sullivan to protect history as a core subject in the Junior Certificate cycle.
Ms Hanafin, a Fianna Fáil councillor, said the Minister should not be “bound by the mistake of her predecessor” Ruairí Quinn who proposed removing history as a core subject at junior cycle level.
The new proposals for the first three years of junior cycle provide for three compulsory subjects – Irish, English and Maths. Cllr Hanafin said the inclusion of history on the list “would give students the skills of critical thinking, analysis and the ability to distinguish fact from fiction and truth from prejudice”.
Ireland would join England and Albania as the only two countries in Europe that do not require students to study history until the age of 15, the Blackrock, Co Dublin councillor said. She pointed out that the removal of compulsory history in England led to a “class and gender divide in those who chose it – and they are currently trying to reverse the decision”.
She asked: “In the future, are Robert Emmet and Anne Devlin to be simply street names? Will Michael Collins be solely a film character, or did Game of Thrones really happen?”
Cllr Hanafin was speaking at the 2014 Robert Emmet memorial event at St Catherine’s Church in Thomas Street, Dublin.
Delivering the keynote address on the topic ‘History – a thing of the Past?’, she said: “The memory of our forefathers, including James Connolly, James Larkin and others important to the Labour Party, can be kept alive in the minds of the next generation by protecting history as a subject. The choice rests with the Minister for Education.”
She warned that if 12-year-old students were faced with a choice of subjects, “the pressure will be to select a language for university entry, science for employment opportunities, technology for the digital economy and business for entrepreneurship.
“History will suffer – and so will our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.”
She believed the option of taking history as a short course would lead to a lack of context or international setting. She question how could the 1916 Rising be understood without referring to the first World War or the Home Rule Bill.
Ms Hanafin said that without a knowledge of history, people could not fully appreciate literature, from Yeats to McCann. “In an increasingly globalised world, our history is part of what distinguishes us from others.”
The current Minister would learn from the mistake made in England, she believed. “We constantly bemoan the lack of study of women in history. Minister O’Sullivan can make her own mark on history by making it a core subject and giving it the status it deserves.”