Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Solving the schools problem

Last year, I outlined my solutions to this area’s chronic traffic congestion problem, though it has to be said the Government has been very slow in investigating my idea of a giant slide with the steps in Blanchardstown and the bottom in the Temple Bar area. Still, I can only offer up my vision for the good of humanity – I have neither the money to see it through nor the desire to get up off my backside and do something about it.
Since then I have been putting my frankly amazing intellect to the problem of the provision of schools for the Dublin 15 area and this time l’m certain that l have come up with a solution that will have winsome little Mary Hanafin rubbing her hands with glee.
The problem, as it stands, appears to be that nobody envisaged that the huge population growth in the area would mean that we would have to provide more schools. Probably they just imagined that all the new residents would arrive fully grown and educated and without any children in tow. You can’t blame the Government for that – it was a perfectly reasonable assumption to make and it is certainly not their fault that many of our home buyers started procreating once the keys were handed over.
Anyhow, the schools we do have, are now bursting at the seams with children squashed up against the windows and very often it takes the teacher ten minutes simply to squeeze into the classroom. So the very lovely Mary is under pressure to build more schools and this is where the problem arises.
First of all, she can’t mix concrete to save her life. You tell her five shovels of sand to one of cement and she still manages to get it wrong. Or else she digs down too deep and ends up with half a bucket of soil in the mixer.
Another reason she often cites is a lack of money, and I’ve definitely noticed that she keeps a firm hold on her handbag whenever the subject comes up. Apparently, and I find this hard to believe, we are being ripped off by those lovely people, the property developers.
The law, which in some people’s eyes is some kind of donkey, states that for every x amount of houses, the developer must set aside x amount of land for a school. (I have no idea how much x is and frankly couldn’t be bothered to go and find out) However, and this is a big however, and this – HOWEVER – is an even bigger however, the developer then sets the price for the land he has reserved for a school site. And then, if, after x amount of years, the Government fails to take up the option of buying the site for the very reasonable sum of €50 billion, the developer can then go ahead and build apartments on it. Or something like that.
Society’s problem is that it has traditionally seen a school as a building with a collection of classrooms, a staff room, toilets with very small facilities and a playground. This seems a very narrow definition of a school. I think it was that great philosopher Peggy Mitchell of Eastenders fame who once said, “Leave it aht, Phil! A school is a state of mind. ‘Tis the harbinger of the soul and the exerciser of wit.”
That other internationally renowned educationalist Alice Cooper was probably thinking along the same lines back in 1972 when he uttered his famous dictum, “School’s out for summer.” Out, certainly. Out in the open air. Out of the classroom.
Out in the hedgerows.
Hedgerow schools were once an integral part of the educational life in this country and I think the time is ripe for them to make a comeback. Nobody who attended a hedgerow school ever hotwired a Ford Focus, or bullied people by text message, or indeed failed CSPE and I think society would do well to look to the past as a way forward.
Just think of all the advantages! Low maintenance costs in running the school. All it needs is for the caretaker to give it the once over with a pair of shears in summer and it’s as good as new. No water rates, lighting and heating costs, no school photographs in the corridor of the 1984 hockey team that reached the Leinster Final.
Both children and teachers would be liberated from the pressure-cooker, claustrophobic environment of the classroom and out in the healthy fresh air, closer to nature. You need to build an extra classroom? Just move further down the hedge.
The problem of graffiti on school walls would come to an end as it is very difficult to spray paint any meaningful sentence on even the thickest hawthorn. Environmental issues would have more immediate impact on the students and those taking meteorology would have a distinct advantage over their more traditional contemporaries.
Of course there would be still be the usual queue of young miscreants lined up outside the Principal’s thicket but the heinous crimes of running in the corridor, impersonating wood pigeons and throwing cubes of jelly up onto the classroom ceiling would all be rendered obsolete. Macker wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at the back of the class due to the thorns piercing his backside and footballs would be more likely to break themselves rather than any school windows.
Most importantly, the Government wouldn’t be held to ransom by those nice developing people, who refuse to give a site big enough to put up even one pre-fab unless they get planning permission to erect a hundred apartments at the same time. Mary Hanafin would be able to hand three quarters of her capital budget back to the Minister of Finance and we’d all be happy, safe in the knowledge that our money would be well spent.
As with all great plans, and I believe this great plan deserves to be known as a Great Plan, if not The Great Plan, there is one tiny flaw which needs to be overcome. With all the developments that have been erupting everywhere, there are in fact very few suitable hedgerows left in the area in which to build a school.
Leave it with me, I’m working on it.

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