Traveller training centres are the worst thing that ever happened to the Travelling Community, it was claimed today.
There are 33 centres around the country which teach a variety of academic and practical subjects to travellers over the age of 15.
But the Travellers’ group Pavee Point said the centres only encouraged Travellers to drop out of mainstream education and called for them to be shut down.
“To be quite honest with you, it’s the worst thing, I think, that has ever happened to travellers. It’s being viewed as an alternative to secondary education but to me it’s a sub-standard education. And it needs to be dismantled, this network of training centres,” said assistant director Martin Collins.
He said the allowance which was paid to Travellers attending the training centres was part of the problem.
“It’s absolutely a crying shame to see Traveller boys and girls at 15 or 16 who are doing quite well in secondary school, whereby the parents take them out and send them to the training centres for no other reason other than that there’s a bloody allowance in it at the end of the week,” he said.
Around two-thirds of Travellers had left school by the age of 15, according to figures released in 2002. Just 6% of people of working age in the traveller community have a Leaving Certificate, compared with 60% of people of working age in the rest of the population.
According to a major consultation process with more than 450 Travellers throughout Ireland, many parents found it difficult to approach school personnel and had difficulties enrolling their children in schools. Once in school, many traveller children experience racist name-calling on a daily basis.
But Mr Collins said there was no justification for a separate education system like the training centre just because travellers experienced alienation and exclusion in mainstream education.
“I think you need to challenge the formal education system and fix whatever problems are there. It’s a total cop-out to say because there is bullying and intimidation of travellers in the formal education system, let’s have something specific.”
But Mr Collins acknowledged that not all in the Travelling Community shared Pavee Point’s opinion on the training centres.
“It would be dishonest of me to say that it’s the view of all Travellers. There’s a difference of opinion on this,” he said.
The Department of Education has said that traveller training centres have been successful in imparting the essential skills of literacy, numeracy, woodwork, metalwork and home economics for travellers who have left primary school or who may not have gone to school at all.
“Many adult Travellers are now availing of second chance education in centres; they are returning back to education in vast numbers,” it said on its website.
The national co-ordinator of the Traveller training centres was unavailable for comment.