Educational Standards in Ireland
Sir,-Mr. Connell's letter about the Headships of Catholic Schools must have caused some mild surprise in the community rooms of many convents throughout the country.
Obviously Mr. Connell's rating of the intelligence and ability of nuns is not conducive to vain glory ! However, I doubt if any of them would accept from their pupils sweeping general statements such as Mr. Connell made without either substantiation or modification.
First of all he states: " In many eases the nun appointed to the headship is inferior to the lay teachers in academic standard. teaching ability. and type and width of experience.... Her own lack of experience may make her unable to direct the work of others," Nuns, as well as lay teachers, must he qualified and have some years' experience before they be come headteachers. They follow the ordinary Training College syl labus and must have sufficient academic and teaching ability to pass their examinations before they receive their certificates. It is a very debatable point whether a university trained teacher would he more capable on a primary school staff than the ordinary collegetrained Member.
Most of the teaching Sisters in England belong to general orders and as they are often nusved born one convent to another they have opportunities for gaining teaching experience which is not so easily available to the lay-teacher. Be sides. nuns from almost every con vent in England attend one of the various " refresher " courses arranged especially for nuns each summer. As the primary school teacher usually takes her own class for every subject how can her lack of experience "make her unable to direct the work of others " ?
Mr. Connell also writes : " She accepts the responsibility with a sense of resignation but not with a reformer's zeal."
Thank God for the charitable lack of the latter quality ! The obvious inference conveyed by the concluding phrase is that l convent primary schools are in need of drastic reform. and anywaas I think that both England and Ireland have already suffered amply sufficient from " reformer's zeal. The word " reformer " has an ugly sound in Catholic ears.
A Mother Superior's first duty is to secure the spiritual and ternporal welfare of all the members of her community. Of this she is very conscious. She knows that before God she is fully responsible if she makes a Sister's life burdensome and unhappy by placing on her shoulders a responsibility for which she is naturally unsuitable. A Superior knows also that the work of the Community is primanly for the salvation of souls. How can she expect an incapable head-mistress to advance that end ?
Mr. Connell's principal objection is against the headship of Irish nuns. " Can anything good come out of Ireland ?
Where did he gain his experience of Irish primary schools ? Not in Ireland. I'm sure. but rather from the popular British misconceptions about " John Bull's other island." A had name dies slowly ! I am one of the many nuns cited by Mr. Connell as receiving their early education in an Irish primary school and I know that the standard in that school is superior to any I have yet seen in even " the best English primary schools." I have yet to sec in England a I2-year-old class reading a hook like Canon Sheehan's "Glenanaar " and yet we did that, and enjoyed doing it, in an Irish primary school where, according to Mr. Connell. the " standards arc notoriously low."
At the hoarding-school which I afterwards attended there were girls from almost every county in
Ireland. These, also. had previously attended primary schools but their standard was no lower than my own, When I came over to England I found the standard in both English and arithmetic much lower than in Ireland. This I continue to experience every year in the papers submitted for the entrance examination to our grammar school. Another point which Mr. Connell does not seem to know about the Irish primary schools is that the majority of them-almost all in country areas have entirely secular staffs.
In every country there are good schools and had schools. Evidently Mr. Connell has heard only ot the few bad ones in Ireland !
An Irish Nun.,