Education in Athenry - The Parish Survey 1996 - Vincent Murphy


With over two thousands pupils receiving education inside our parish, the schools are among our parish's most important and valuable institutions. The hard work of the 131 teachers in our parish will, in the future, provide Athenry with an invaluable asset - a highly educated and learned population. As the end of the century approaches, strong educational qualifications are fast becoming a basic requirement in the eyes of employers. But the school system is not simply a centre of academic study, it is also where the young people of our parish socialise and interact. It is during their school years that young people's characters and morals are moulded.

There are six primary schools in Athenry parish.  These include Carnaun N.S., Newcastle N.S., Lisheenkyle N.S., Coldwood N.S., and the Boys School and Convent Girls N.S. in the town. 29 teachers have the task of teaching basic skills of literacy and mathematics to 643 pupils. 58 pupils from outside of the parish attend National Schools inside the parish. In primary schools pupils are taught to read and write, to spell and pronounce, to add and subtract, to multiply and divide. They are taught the basics of the Irish language, Music and Social and Environmental Studies which include History, Geography, Nature Study and science. Contact with the parents is maintained with regular parent-teacher meetings to inform parents on the progress of their child.

Religious education is given a central place in the education of the child with basic catholic catechism illustrated to the children in a simple comprehensible manner. It is during their national school years that children receive the sacraments of First Communion, First Confession and Confirmation and the teachers play a huge role in the preparation of the child for these occasions. 

It is in national school that a child,s extra-curricular interests first develop and it is here that the signs of natural talent in sport, music etc. are first identified. The national schools throughout the parish offer the children a wide range of extra-curricular activities like hurling, basketball, football, soccer, Irish dancing, the girl's school band, drama and many more. Teachers give freely of their time to help the children develop skills and over the years they have developed a knack for spotting genuine talent from an early age. The annual Community Games "sports" in Athenry provides a stage where children can represent their school with pride and enjoy the excitement of friendly competition. Most schools go on annual School Tours which gives the child the opportunity to spend a day away from home with their friends and see places which they have never seen in their short lives.

At around the age of 12 the baton is handed over to the second level institutions. By now the basics have been learned and the task is to prepare the young people for the outside world, and more specifically exams. Athenry boasts two fine second level institutions - the Presentation College and the Vocational School. The two schools have a catchment area which extends well beyond the parish boundaries. Last year, of the 535 students in Presentation College 214 came from outside the parish, with the corresponding figure for the Vocational School being 524 out of 762. There are 40 teachers in Presentation College and 54 in the Vocational School.

Time at second-level is spent preparing the student for the two public examinations facing them. The Leaving Cert is both the hardest and most important exam which a young person has to face in Ireland today. Both schools provide a wide range of subjects for the student to choose from, allowing the student to select those which he/she has an interest or ability in. Irish, English, Maths, Geography and History are compulsory for Junior Cert with History and Geography becoming optional at Leaving Cert level. Physical Education and Religion are two non-examination subjects which are still maintained through to Leaving Cert.

Once again a wide range of extra-cirricular activities have acquired a prominent place on the agenda of both schools. The Vocational School have many sports teams in their ranks including basketball, football and athletics.  But pride of place in recent years has gone to their hurling squad which have the unique and special distinction of winning five All Ireland Championships in a row.  That is an unprecedented achievement by any standards. The Presentation College offers an equally wide spectrum of activities including soccer, hurling, camogie, basketball, quiz, public speaking, debating, and cookery teams. The excellence of the annual musical produced by the fourth years has drawn a wide following from all catchment areas. Once again school tours at second level, which are always adventurous in their destinations, offer a great oppurtunity to students and teachers alike to travel.

The Leaving Cert results propel many students to even greater things and some decide to continue on to Third level education. Athenry has its own third level institution in the Mellowes Agricultural College which has become one of the most respected training colleges in the country. 79 students and 8 teachers make up the college population where extensive training is provided in all areas of modern farming. 112 people from the parish were attending third level colleges, including universities and RTCs last year. A further 37 were attending Post Leaving Certificate courses.

The fact that 57% of the people from Athenry between the ages of 15 and 25 are in full time education is testament to the fact that we have a very strong educational system in operation here. Students are well prepared for exams, and indeed life. Yet, the opportunities for education in our parish do not stop there.
 Adult Education is becoming increasingly popular in Athenry and in response the Vocational School provides 12 -14 evening courses each year. Last year saw 175 participants in courses as varied as Woodcarving and Aerobics, Furniture Restoration and Guitar, First Aid and Computer Studies, and Stain Glass Shade Making and Oil Painting. In September a new course -Bachelor in Business Studies Degree - will commence in the Vocational School, and I am sure it will prove equally popular.

Opportunities for young and old are there today like never before. Good educational credentials offer an advantage in an increasingly competitive jobs market. Therefore it is comforting to know that the educational needs of our community are so well catered for. Even better is the knowledge that our educational institutions in Athenry offers more to the student than mere academic training. Much more.

Vincent Murphy Athenry Parish Survey - "The Athenry Journal", December 1996

   

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