History of Education

In 750 words, consider the relevance of the 1971 New Curriculum and the abolition of the Primary Certificate Examination with regards to the purpose of primary education. Did these changes have any historical counterpart in the History of Irish Education. What importance does an awareness of these events have on you as a teacher in the 21st century”


To look at primary education in a current manner and how it reflects society, we must look at the key elements in history that led to the type of education we have at present. During this academic article, the author will look at the history of education and key elements along the way that have influenced the education we have in the 21st century. 

1971 Primary Curriculum

 When the 1971 Primary Curriculum was introduced in Ireland, it had an enormous impact on the primary education you see today in Ireland. The education up to this point in time had been focused on achieving results through a different way of thinking and a different style of teaching. Up until the 1971 curriculum, the focus was primarily on the core subjects; Irish, English, and Arithmetic, and the style of teaching was through repetition. The curriculum followed many of the suggestions that had been recommended in the Plowden Report (1967) about creating a child-focused or centered environment and where the child becomes the focus. This point is further emphasized that the change in the approach of the 1971 Primary Curriculum, became more about the interaction and involvement of the individual child in its learning and away from the approach of the teacher telling the students how they should be learning( Walsh, 2012). This primary curriculum allowed both the teachers and students to learn and teach differently. This point is further supported by Torney (2006) who suggested that the 1971 curriculum was about focusing on the child and their learning but also how the teacher did not have to be authoritative like figure. The curriculum, which was more varied certainly had support from academics alike with Sugrue (1997) describing how it can be seen to be much better than the old style of learning whereby focusing on reading, writing, and arithmetic. The curriculum of 1971 truly was the first of its kind, with the focus on the child, broad programme and a change of ideology (Walsh, 2016), thus paving the way for future growth in the Irish primary education.

Primary Certificate Examination

Another change in Primary education was the abolishment of the Primary Certificate Examination, which had been a staple in the education of primary students between 1943 and 1968. The introduction of the examination in 1943 clearly showed the type of education children were experiencing., one that focused on how well you could master the core three subjects in the curriculum( English, Irish and Arithmetic/Mathematics) and how well you could regurgitate them. This exam was a clear winner for the government at the time who found it as a great tool for quantifying the education provided in Ireland. This point can be further supported by then Taoiseach Eamon De Valera who in essence described how the results of the examination mattered most and how teachers achieved these results through their method of learning, paled in comparison (Coolahan, 1981). The author could see the idea that the primary education certificate was a clear way that the government could show that they were taking education seriously. It was a way of displaying to parents that their children had learned and improved their education while attending primary education and here is the certificate to prove it.

21st Century Teaching

The current manner of teaching is much different from that of the 19th Century or the early 20th Century when the Primary Certificate Examination was in place. The curriculum now is much broader, it is child-centered, every child can learn at their level or ability without added pressure. However, it is important to recognize the factors or occurrences in primary education that have led to this style of teaching. When describing the importance of a child’s role in education, it was clear that the 1971 Primary Curriculum was the first of its kind to focus on the child outside of the curriculum (Bennett, 2006, p.17.). The curriculum and change of ideology were focused on children’s development in all areas of life. This point was further emphasized by Walsh (2012) who described “all children are complex human beings with physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs and potentialities”. The relevance of this style of teaching is incredibly important as a modern-day teacher. The idea that the teacher’s role is not just looking after the academic side of each child, but that each child needs to grow in so many different ways to flourish. This change would not have occurred if not for the radical change in approach to education from the 1971 curriculum (Walsh, 2012). 


On reflection and through research the 1971 primary curriculum and the abolition of the Primary Certificate Examination had a huge bearing on primary education. A combination of removing the barriers of learning and the abolishment of the primary cert enabled teachers and students to learn without having to worry about passing an exam at the end of the time in primary education. Combine this with the 1971 curriculum which allowed teachers to teach each child individually and at their own pace, thus creating an atmosphere where children were encouraged and could develop.

We did not reach the modern way of teaching overnight. It took time, effort, and a different way of thinking to get to the way the current curriculum is thought. It is also important to remember that at the time Ireland was a vastly different place. The society in Ireland with different ideologies and believes holding a strong place in the country.

I can certainly, as a modern teacher appreciate the history of education and I can see how both the abolishment of the primary cert exam and the 1971 curriculum have played a key role in the way educators teach in today’s society in Ireland. 

The reason why modern teaching methods don't work
Image by: The Irish Timeshttps://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/the-reason-why-modern-teaching-methods-don-t-work-1.2115219


  • Bennett, J (2006) ‘Curricula and primary education in Ireland, North and South, 1922-1999’, Oideas, (47), pg.17.

  • Coolahan, J. (1981) Primary Education, Irish Education: It’s history and structure. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.

  • Sugrue, C. (1997). Complexities of Teaching. Child -Centered Perspective, Abingdon: Routledge Falmer.

  • Tormey, R (2006) ‘Construction of national identity through primary school history: the Irish case’. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27:3, 311-324.
  • Walsh, T. (2012) Primary education in Ireland 1897-1990: curriculum and context. Oxford. Peter Lang.
  • Walsh, T. (2016) ‘100 Years of primary curriculum development and implementation in Ireland: a tale of swinging pendulum’, Irish Education Studies (1747-4965), pg.8.