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.