A child centered inclusive approach to preschool education in one Cork facility has benefits for the wider community.
Preschool education in Ireland has been at the bottom of the list for successive governments, despite the fact that early years education has for decades been provided for by our European neighbours.
For a large cohort of Irish children, their first encounter with the education system is when they start primary school. In the main, playschools or playgroups are privately run, and therefore only available for those who can afford it.
In Gurranabraher on the north western side of Cork city a combined community and Southern Health Board initiative is making a difference in the lives of the families living here.
The idea for the nursery came about when local curate Fr Frank Wrenne visited a bereaved family in the parish. The mother needed assistance in the form of childcare, and so a preschool was started in the parochial hall. The community supported the initiative, as did the Southern Health Board, and today the Before Five Gurranabraher Nursery Centre has permanent classrooms and a purpose built garden and outdoor play area.
The same support has not been forthcoming from the Department of Education. While funding is allocated to universities, the government does not see the value in provision of quality early years education and the difference it makes to children's lives, says Fr Wrenne,
Nursery education...is more fundamental, more lasting and more worthwhile.
The children are taught using the Montessori Method, an education system developed specifically for the needs of young children, developing their social growth through group activities such as singing together, and their individuality through free play.
All children progress at their own individual rate, and what looks like play in the lively and noisy classrooms in the Gurranabraher Nursery Centre is in fact modern preschool teaching theory being put into practice,
The young child is firmly placed where he ought always to have been at the centre of the educational process.
Sr Marian, a Daughters of Charity sister explains that what may appear to adults as simple activities such as pouring water from a jug into a cup, in fact facilitate a child's development, growth and learning,
To help the child develop concentration...be independent, and to give the child some measure of success in what he's doing.
Another feature of this system of education is inclusion of children with intellectual disability and children with additional needs.
As young children do not see disability, there is no issue with integration in the nursery classroom, says another teacher. In addition the nursery staff are in a position to identify the specific needs of a child with a disability. And an inclusive classroom benefits everyone, as
It makes the other children aware that some children have specific limitations...and they're not something extraordinary.
The children are content in the nursery centre, and the mothers who spoke to reporter Pat Butler are also happy with it,
He was very quiet in himself, and he's able to mix a lot better since he went in.
Fantastic. It gets them ready anyway for school, you know.
It's very good inside there. They teach them a lot of things.
This episode of 'Ireland's Eye’ was broadcast on 25 November 1980. The reporter is Pat Butler.