Back to School
With the end of summer looming, everyone's thoughts turn to going back to school. While some traditions vary widely, others are as familiar to all as yellow #2 pencils, new shoes, and the smell of a primary school gymnasium. In Ireland, most school children have three months of holiday during the summer just like their American cousins. Older students may face exams during June, but with all of July and August to relax, the snap of September's autumn breezes gives Irish students the same thrill (or dread) as those here in the States feel. Education at all levels in Ireland, including university, is free. There are some service fees for the higher learning, but a post-secondary education is more of an assumed right on the island nation than many other first-world countries. Those not wishing to pursue college are guided in their other options, to include vocational school and studying for the "Leaving Certificate Applied", which is to prepare students for either college or the adult demands of the workforce. Children in Primary School (typically ages 4 - 13) have the choice of which school to attend, but all follow the same national curriculum. Though more than 90% of schools are Catholic, other religions are also represented. Gaelscoileanna is a relatively new Irish education movement that seeks to educate in the Irish language in order to protect and foster the national history and community. In fact, all students in a school that accepts public funds (there are a handful of private schools), are required by law to teach students the Irish language. As a result, nearly a third of the population now speak the native language. As for back to school traditions, shopping is limited to school uniforms. Plaid skirts, knee socks, neckties, and wool sweaters are the norm, as they have been for decades. But many school day struggles are the same. Lunchtime may mean not enough choices and not enough time to eat. How much homework is too much is a hotly-debated topic. And whether or not the local rugby team is going to win is the subject of many conversations as lockers slam, school buses idle outside, and parents wait at home to hear all about their students' adventures at school.