Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Free Education, My *ss

Let’s set aside the fact that third level institutions in Ireland have “registration” fees in the thousands of Euros and plan to increase these; and that universities (or our new government to be more precise) may also introduce some sort of graduate tax or other way to make Ireland’s “free” third level education even less “free” than it already is. If we set that aside, you may assume: well, you’re a developed, Western country so you still have free primary and secondary education, like they do in France, Canada and the U.S.A. As mother to a boy who has just started Jr. Infants (roughly equivalent to Kindergarten or first grade in the US) I’d like to say: Free Education, My *ss.
photo by Dean Terry
Maybe I’m looking back on my youth in the U.S. through rose tinted glasses strapped firmly onto my neocortex. Perhaps I don’t remember the cost in the States. Also, I grew up in the US, but am a mother in Ireland, so I don’t know what it’s like to parent school kids in the U.S. on a day-to-day basis. Nevertheless, lots of stuff seemed free in American schools, which isn’t free here. I have to buy my child all his school books, every year. I have to buy the 2 uniforms (sport and regular, with multiple shirts and trousers) plus shoes. (OK, we all have to buy school clothes, pencils and notebooks – but textbooks? In the US we get them for free – though some of them now may still list Reagan as president). Not only is there no subsidised lunch system in Ireland, there’s no cafeteria in most schools: so I provide a cold lunch plus snacks daily. There’s more: I have to pay a fee every quarter to CLEAN THE SCHOOL. Really, the Department of Education doesn’t provide the school the budget to clean—so, we pay for that. I had to buy tickets to see my kid in the school play PLUS make the costume. I pay for his transport. Then, of course, there’s the additional stuff like the book fair, fundraisers, competition entry fees, so on and so forth. The school urged us all to buy a certain newspaper, because if they collected enough tokens from the front page, they could get free sports equipment. People bought stacks.

To top this all off, my school is finally moving into a proper building this year, and THEY HAVE TO BUY ALL THEIR OWN FURNITURE, WHITE BOARDS, etc.  Guess who’s paying for this? That’s right: not the Department of Education - the parents. What does the Department of Education pay for? Teacher salaries and building rental, I think.
The expense of the Irish school system is draining me dry. I walk through the school yard at collection time in the afternoons like a soldier running through a field rife with enemy fire: head down, look at my shoes, go fast, avoid the bullets of other mother’s eyes as they try to sell me baked goods or raffle tickets, or try to get me to sign up for stuffing grocery bags for coins down at the local grocery store. (I’d help, really, but I have a toddler on my hands and don’t know how I’d stuff bags and keep him from throwing the contents around the place.) I end up buying tickets or fairy cakes which, frankly, my *ss doesn’t need (there’s that bottom theme, again.) 
Look, I know you pay either way--either in taxes or straight out of pocket. But when you pay out of pocket, you’re paying from your already taxed income. There seems to be something inherently fairer in a system where taxes are collected and evenly distributed amongst the schools in a manner sufficient to cover needs such as sports equipment, desks and cleaning. And if that isn’t the way it works in the States, that’s the way I remember it working.  Maybe I’m wrong. American moms, set me straight.
I’m just ranting because I’ve come to realise that not only do I need to save for my boys’ college education, I need to save for their primary education, too.


  1. you're right Lory. I'm always telling my irish husband about this and our boys haven't even started school yet. textbooks were free in pennsylvania when i was in school. my husband is a secondary school teacher here and he and his dept choose the students books each year. And they usually change the books to cover a different theme which is the teacher's choice. and the students have to pay for the updated books.
    i just payed €100 for my child's books and supplies for him to start junior infants next year. i was shocked at the cost. of course it didn't faze my husband who is used to the system.
    am scared of what other hidden costs we'll encounter next year when he starts. and my husband's teacher salary has been cut drastically in the past 3 years (i think by almost 15%!), and we have a crazy mortgage circa 2005 :(

  2. Glad I'm not alone. We're in the same boat. Loads of hidden costs. I even forgot to mention that I PAY for the Irish Dancing done during Phys Ed class in his school.

  3. Don't forget about the annual 'voluntary' contribution

  4. Yikes! Other hidden costs to living in Ireland is that tv license. Just got a bill for €180! Doesn't exist in the States. Public channels are paid by commercials and fund-raising.

  5. I'm at the stage where I'm not sure if I can actually afford to live here anymore. Wait until your boys head to secondary school. I've just had to pay €112 for each exam he has to sit this year. That's for the pre-pre-junior cert, the pre-junior cert and the actual junior cert in June. That's €336 I can't afford. In England it's much the same as the US, free.


  6. I agree - coming from the UK education system myself I am really shocked at how much parents are expected to contribute to education in Ireland - and don't even get me started on the lack of a school lunch - erm....?? It is frustrating, especially when you've experienced a different system yourself. I am in total denial about the expense of education when both my kids are in school.

  7. I have a kindergartner in public school in the the US. We didn't have to pay anything directly to the school. However I don't think a week goes by that he doesn't come home with some sort of fund raiser for the school they want us to contribute to. Usually it involves me buying junk I don't want. I'd rather just give them a donation. The worst was when they sent home a form for my son to go around selling cookie dough himself. I wouldn't let my 15 year old go door to door selling something let alone a five year old.

    We have box tops on food products that we're supposed to save and turn in to the school that they can get money for. We're also asked to donate school supplies, snacks etc. to his classroom.

    They do throw all kinds of money at the schools here, and it's still not enough? And what are they doing with it? As far as I can tell the education system is getting worse instead of better.

    If I had a student in middle or high school it would cost more. They have to pay book "rental" fees which can be $1000 or more a year in some cases.

    No, there is no such things as free education anymore.

  8. Don't forget the numerous cake sales. AND the €2 non-uniform day in aid of whatever they can think of, whenever they fancy!

    The cost of Education in Ireland is crippling. We're told that the cost of living has come down but I just don't see it. Not in the Annual VOLUNTARY (my *ss)Contribution for Primary education or the mandatory Insurance/materials charge (a joint annual cost of €200 before a text book is bought)or in visits to Doctors, Dentists etc for that matter.

    Even the cost of a Mass card has gone up to €11 in our church! €11!


    xx Jazzy

  9. I forgot about the voluntary contribution folks. That €200 for the school is a week of groceries for us. I wonder if I sent the boys to a fee paying school, would I also have to make the other contributions. Colleen: $1000 !! And Jazzy: I was shocked when I saw the mass cards in your church were €11...and then I remember ours are €10 - not much different.

  10. And wait until Transition Year and you're coughing up for trips to Europe or further beyond, plus all the activities that ensure that this year is worthwhile!

  11. Oh dear. That's this coming September for me. I need a second job.

  12. Lory, your post was terrifying. I never would have imagined you'd have to pay so much for your kids to attend "public" school. I'm an American living in socialist France, where we pay tons and tons of tax, and it's hard to keep our heads above water in that respect. But we do "see" a lot of our tax Euros at work - medical care, public works. As for school, my kids are just 3 and 5, so no books yet. We don't pay for anything except for their school lunches. (The tradition here is kids go home for lunch, so the way it's evolved is if you want them to eat at school, you pay, which seems logical to me.)

    I think you should look into fee-paying schools, interview some parents whose kids attend them and write up the differences for the newspaper. (Look at all the comments you've gotten here, imagine the debate it could spur.) What you've really put your finger on here is the two-faced-ness of the system you're stuck with - it's "free" but you are asked to "contribute" constantly. Get these people to call a spade a spade.

    Keep on keepin' on!

  13. Eek, terrifying stuff. I may need to re-finance myself, or become an indentured servant or something before my daughter starts school in a year. Where I live (greater London burbs), it's a nightmare just getting a place at a decent school.

  14. As a mom from Brazil living in Costa Rica, I can tell that in both places you want to avoid public school at all costs. Public school here is free all right, but the education they give is really lame. Any cheap private school is better than public school in most Latin America.

    What you guys pay is outrageous. My 3-year old is going to a Waldorf kindergarten for 4 hours in the morning and it costs US$ 126,00 a month, plus an extra month for inscription annually. Back in Brazil the kinder was really good and costed US$ 80,00 a month. I live in small towns, by the way, in big cities the prices are much higher than that.

    With all the money you guys are paying, you could gather a group, hire a teacher and start a homeschooling program. Sure paying taxes should entitle us all to good education, but public education will never be really good, given the fact of what´s behind the schooling system.


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