The transformation of the Irish education system over the past 20 years has been nothing short of remarkable. Where maths, technology and science were once an afterthought, they are now to the fore in what has become a truly twenty-first century curriculum.
And one man who has had more of an influence on that than he is willing to admit is the outgoing Director of Galway Education Centre, Bernard Kirk.
Bernard has been at the epicentre of education in Galway, and further afield, for more than two decades and having reached the end of his term as director, the man described by colleagues as a “driving force” in the modernisation of education is adamant his work will continue.
Having trained as a teacher in the 1980s, Bernard was seconded from his job in Claregalway National School to head-up a new education centre – focussed on continuous professional development for teachers.
But as Bernard explains, it became about so much more than that.
“The initial phase was about getting investment in teacher training and it became almost like a support group for teachers.
“We had national in-service training from the Department of Education, from the top if you like, but then we also had training coming from the grassroots – coming from teachers’ experiences.
“Then we created links with industry – bringing in science and technology into the curriculum became a real focus for us,” explains Bernard.
Galway Science and Technology Festival, Africa Code Week, Refugee Code Week, Robotics Ireland, Write a Book Project and ExcitED are just some of the projects that Bernard’s name is synonymous with.
For Bernard, it has always been most important to put the student at the centre of everything – adapting the curriculum to suit their particular needs.
“You need teachers to be a guide on the side rather than a font of all knowledge.
“In the last few years, there has been a move from exam focus to looking at the skills we teach children,” he says.
See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Galway researchers work at early breast cancer detection
Identifying the genes responsible for causing breast cancer and developing newer molecular treatments are among key areas of focus for researchers at the National Breast Cancer Research Institute (NBCRI).
The charity this week launched its first three-year strategic plan at its base in the Lambe Institute at the University of Galway where chairperson Caroline Loughnane outlined the current cancer research programme.
Researchers are working on the biomarkers of response to treatment and examining newer therapies targeted to individual patients. Some are investigating the role of stem cells in breast reconstruction.
As well as contributing to major international partnerships on cancer genetics and medical devices development, staff are also running clinical trials on newer treatments, all with the aim of improving treatments and outcomes for patients.
Research conducted at the Newcastle campus such as the study of microRNAs in breast cancer and the role played by mesenchymal stem cells in tumour was having an impact nationally as well as globally, she explained.
“This research spans the continuum from bench to bedside with the aim of improving treatments and outcomes for patients,” she stated.
The board of the charity has adopted six main goals under its new strategic plan. These will be monitored every three months to ensure they are progressed.
NBCRI plans to support new research through a more ambitious fundraising drive, increase the national reach of the charity and develop relationships with external collaborators.
The charity has set itself a target of increasing fundraising by one fifth over the next three years. Its big fundraisers over the years have been a combination of charity swims, walks, cycles and golf and race days, with participants donning pink while taking part.
Over the last 25 years, the charity has funded 41 full postgraduates and 102 undergraduate medicine and science students as part of the NUI Galway School of Medicine summer research programme.
It is largely funded from voluntary fundraising activities, with an annual turnover of around €1 million.
The launch heard that 33,352 people in Ireland are currently living with breast cancer. One in seven Irish women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, making it the most common cancer among women here excluding skin cancers. Ever year around 3,542 cases are diagnosed and 760 will die from it.
That’s up from 660 women who died in 1992. But when caught early, it has the highest five-year net survival rate of 85 per cent.
Headford survey reveals drop in footfall – but strong sense of community
A dearth of public recreational spaces was identified as a major issue – as was the drop in footfall in the town’s centre – in a survey conducted in Headford.
The Reimagine Headford Community Survey – conducted among local residents and the business community – found that almost 60% of those surveyed said that they don’t regularly come into Headford.
The findings will be revealed at a meeting in The Angler’s Rest Hotel next Monday, December 5.
The survey asked respondents to reveal how often they frequent the town centre, and why – as well as offering their opinion on public amenities and observations about how they would like to see the town centre change and develop.
“Clearly, there is much to love about Headford, with respondents highlighting a friendly community, nearby historical sites, sports amenities, location, and culture and music as the best things about the area,” said the report.
“What’s less heartening is that while almost half of survey respondents visit the town daily, only six per cent shop in the town’s Main Street area (including High Street and Bridge Street) daily, and only nine per cent socialise in the same area weekly.
“In contrast, 58% of respondents stated they do not socialise in Headford very often. Taken as a whole, the survey highlights a need for the revitalisation of the town centre,” the survey states.
Local Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG) said that the findings were disturbing finding and intervention was needed – as he believed that rural towns needed to be salvaged.
“The survey findings are startling and there needs to be communication between businesses in Headford and community groups in an effort to rectify the situation,” he said.
“It obviously suggests that people from the area are travelling elsewhere which is not a good thing and has to be addressed,” Cllr Reddington added.
Aisling Keogh of Reimagine Headford said that demise of Headford’s town centre had prompted their Headford Town Team decided to organise this survey, with the support of Galway County Council.
“A concern about the demise of Headford’s town centre led Headford Town Team to make their application for the programme, with the key aim of making the town a more enjoyable place to be, and a better place to live, work and visit,” she said.
“Over a period of months, the team worked with architect Deirdre Greaney to consider a renewed vision for the town, which culminated in a hidden space at the heart of the town was reimagined as a public space where people could meet and spend time.
“This event was planned in response to information gathered in the Reimagine Headford Community Survey, undertaken by the team for the purposes of gathering people’s thoughts and ideas on Headford town centre, and where a lack of public recreational spaces was identified as an issue for the town.”
State subvention saves the day as Galway County Council passes budget
A last-minute Government subvention of €2.75 million has enabled Galway County Council to ‘balance the books’ in their budget for 2023 without any increase in Local Property Tax (LPT) or in rates.
Councillors voted to approve the almost €158 million budget for the local authority in the coming year with spending increases approved across a number of areas, according to Cathaoirleach, Cllr. Moegie Maher (FG).
Cllr. Maher paid a special thanks to councillors, Oireachtas members and Council officials who had made the case over recent weeks and months for a ‘Galway specific’ extra allocation of funding to be made.
Galway County Council Chief Executive, Jim Cullen, told Monday’s budget meeting in County Hall that there had been an increase in overall central government funding of €14 million for 2023, €12m of which applied to annual payroll costs.
However, he pointed out that an additional allocation of €2.75m was ‘specific to Galway County Council’ but added that the local authority needed additional funding for almost all areas of expenditure.
In a report presented to the meeting by Cllr. Liam Carroll (FG), he outlined that while Budget 2023 for the Council showed an increase of over €14 million (9.8%) as compared to the 2022 figure, there was ‘no getting away from the fact that Galway Co. Council continued to be grossly under-funded’.
Cllr. Carroll said that the 2023 per capita spend [based on head of population] was just €819 for Galway, as compared to €1,354 for Galway City Council; €1,286 for Mayo Co. Council; €1,236 (Kerry); €1,052 (Donegal); €1,056 (Sligo); and €1,191 (Clare).
“With a population of 192,995 [Census ‘21], County Galway County is 55,764 ahead of Mayo; Tipperary (+25,334), Donegal (+26,674), and Kerry (+37,737).
“However, each of those other counties far exceeded the Gross Expenditure Budgets of Galway County Council in 2022. This imbalance must be corrected as a matter of urgency,” said Cllr. Carroll.
He added that only for the late allocation of €2.75m from the Dept. of Local Government, increases in housing maintenance (nearly €484,000 or 31%); almost €484,000 in community/enterprise; economic development (over €429,000) and in street cleaning (+€200,000), would not have been possible.
Cllr. Carroll said that the ‘Galway specific’ extra allocation had also made possible increases in library expenditure, the hiring of lifeguards and for maintenance work on piers and harbours.
Fianna Fail councillor, Ivan Canning, said that even with the extra €2.7m allocation, Galway County Council would not be better off in 2023 than they were this year, due to increasing energy costs and inflation.
Cllr. Gerry Finnerty (FF) said that he would support the budget on the basis of the extra allocation of funding that had been made. “I hope though that every year we won’t have to be going back and knocking on the Minister’s door for last minute funding,” he said.
An amendment to the Council’s 2023 Budget – proposed by Cllr. Joe Byrne (FG) and seconded by Cllr. Timmy Broderick (Ind.) – tabled to avert any increase in rates through 2023, was passed.
The Council Executive had proposed a rates increase of 6%, but Cllr. Byrne’s proposal [carried by 30 votes to 7] contained a four-point provision to avoid that hike.
His proposal included a reduction in the Rate Rebate of €300,000; a reduction in Bad Debt provision of €500,000; an increase in Rent from Houses of over €254,000; an allocation of €300,000 from Rates Compensation; and a transfer of €609,000 from the Council’s capital fund.
Independent North Galway Councillor, Declan Geraghty, said that any increase in rates would be unthinkable in the current economic climate. “Do you realise the pressure that shops and small businesses across towns and villages are under – get real,” said Cllr. Geraghty.