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Column: What happens to the people failed by our education system?

Playwright Amy Conroy talks about her experience of education in Ireland – and how the frustrations it provoked led to the questions posed in her new show.

Amy Conroy

I HATED SCHOOL, I really hated school. I detested being one in a crowd; I loathed being told what to do, when to do it and I really despised how impersonal it was. It always felt abundantly clear that the students were a series of numbers and results, and that the formula was deemed more important than the people it was placed there to serve.

I don’t think that that was deliberate, but it was the outcome.

This of course, led me to be one of those bolshie, sarcastic kids at the back of the class, funny for a time but ultimately irritating. Who knew that tricking people into eating stock cubes in Home Ec, or performing exorcisms in double maths wasn’t funny?

I could not fathom why we, the students, were not treated as equals, I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and naturally enough, blaming the teachers.

How our education system works – or doesn’t

Now time has elapsed, my teenage need to be noticed has abated (somewhat), and my outlook is no longer influenced by raging hormones (somewhat). In short, I’ve grown up, but I am still intrigued with how the education system works… or doesn’t work, for that matter. Maybe it’s fairer to say it works for some, but certainly not all.

Ironically, having hated school so much as a student, I have been in and out of schools for years, as both facilitator and drama teacher, which in turn gave me a ‘back stage’ pass to the inner workings of the machine it’s self. And from that privileged vantage point the questions are remarkably similar and the answers are equally muddy.

What happens, for example, to those young people who learn differently or have needs other than the curriculum? What happens to the teacher who recognises this but is not in a position to offer a solution.

I touched on this subject in a previous show, ‘Eternal Rising of the Sun’; we meet a teacher and young person both failed by the education system. The young person deemed too difficult to help and the teacher unsupported to do so. These characters have never left my mind; both of them are heart breaking.

What happens to the people failed by the system?

It left me wondering, what is the effect on the young person who doesn’t have the skill to articulate her frustrations, and what is the effect on the teacher caught in a system that fails the very people it is there to serve? The school system, with its desire to formalise, seems to discourage innovation and creativity from its teachers.

So the teachers fail because they are unsupported, under valued, underpaid and overwhelmed.

They become the victims of that frustration and therefore, become the antitheses of what they should be.

There is also the question of what it is they should be, what is expected of them, are they expected to go above and beyond, is it their job to do so, if not then whose job is it? The school system is a fascinating and complex Rubik’s cube, and one that I was really compelled to investigate and question, having seen it from inside and outside. There are no easy answers; there is no quick fix… if there was I wouldn’t be doing this show.

Break, HotForTheatre’s new show in this years Dublin Fringe Festival is an exploration of these conundrums. The show aims to look at something big, in a very small way… we’re going inside the staffroom!

HotForTheatre’s new show BREAK runs at Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Fringe 2013 from Sep 5 – 21 – for further details and bookings log onto www.fringefest.com

About the author:

Amy Conroy

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