Irish Examiner View: Let's never take education for granted

The sacrifices of today's 'vulnerable generation' helped build a land of opportunity
Irish Examiner View: Let's never take education for granted

Cork Institute of Technology.

The Health Quality and Information Authority reported yesterday that one nursing home in Kildare has recorded 40 confirmed or suspected Covid-19 deaths and that a further 58 residents were infected. 

Some of those men and women — the “vulnerable generation” — were in their 80s or 90s, they were born in the 1940s or the 1930s, maybe in the 1920s. 

They, more than any other generation, built modern Ireland. 

They made practical and generous patriotism real by widening the horizons for those who came after them, possibly because so many of them were denied the opportunities their talents deserved. 

Most of all, they recognised the uplifting power of education. That generation ensured that anyone prepared to learn would be taught to a standard that meant every door, everywhere could, one way or another, be opened.

That cultural impetus, that celebration of opportunity, meant that third-level enrolments rose by 9.2% between the academic year of 2014/15 and 2018/19. 

Last year’s enrolment moved towards a quarter of a million, hitting 228,500. In a country with fewer than 5m citizens, this is a spectacular ratio, one-in-20 of us are third-level students. 

This ambition is augmented by a renewed commitment to and interest in vocational education and apprenticeships.

Very few, though a good number nonetheless, of those who graduated from a college were as determined as Timmy Long. He learned to read aged 32 and while in prison. Despite severe dyslexia, he is the first in his family to earn a degree. 

Timmy Long with his brother Tommy (left) at home in Churchfield. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Timmy Long with his brother Tommy (left) at home in Churchfield. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Timmy spent the last eight years at the Cork Institute of Technology and has been conferred with an honours degree in construction management.

That story of opportunity grasped reflects well on our prison system, our educational system, but most of all on the cultural, corporate and individual confidence that flows from an open-door educational system.

That confidence spoke on a different plane this week when the Tyndall National Institute in Cork was praised after it secured more than 100 EU-funded awards worth over €56m. 

That achievement makes it one of the most successful Irish institutions at winning EU funding. 

This underlines one of the many great benefits of EU membership, especially when the domestic funding of our colleges is still so uncertain. 

It highlights what can be achieved when talent is nurtured in ways earlier generations could only imagine.

That culture was a significant factor in the decision to open an Apple plant in Cork 40 years ago this week. A young Steve Jobs opened a small plant and employed just 60 people in Hollyhill. 

Apple has become the biggest company in the world, with a value of over $2tn. The company is Cork’s biggest private employer, with 6,000 on the payroll. 

It continues to be an energetic, welcome mix of entrepreneurship and ongoing education. It is also a catalyst for many other ventures.

These three stories, and many others, would not have been possible had today’s “vulnerable generation” not made great sacrifices to ensure their children and grandchildren had opportunities they did not have.

Recognising that gift provokes an obvious question: Are we, as climate collapse accelerates, doing anything comparable for our grandchildren?

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