As part of a professor exchange program at West Chester University, Dr. Trevor O’Brien, a professor of special education at the University of Limmerick in Ireland, gave a lecture on the special education system in his home country. Hosted in Sykes 255 on April 18 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., the lecture focused on the foundations of the special education programs and laws in primary and secondary schools, with comparisons and contrasts to the American education system, specifically in the field of special education.
The lecture was supported by professor Mary Houser, an assistant special education professor at West Chester University who also participated in the professor exchange program, delivering lectures on special education in Ireland.
Irish schools, according to O’Brien, are divided into the primary and secondary levels with primary schools being similar to our typical kindergarten through sixth grade and secondary schools serving older students. Their grading system is based upon points that add up once students graduate from secondary school. Depending on the number of points they have earned, they can access higher or lower-level universities.
There is no tuition, save for a 4,000 pound registration fee as well as room and board fees that they must also pay. Much like in the United States, teachers require a four-year bachelors of education course.
Special education certifications are not required to teach special education as they are in the United States, although students can pursue certain “specialties” (minors) in specific disability categories such as autism or multiple disability support.
O’Brien touched on the optional post-graduate diploma program that is voluntary for teachers to obtain. During the financial recession of 2008, which affected the global markets, he explained that teachers were given monetary incentive to complete the program. He said this is no longer in place; however, teachers are still given the option to obtain these diplomas to further their professional development.
The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) allowed for all students with disabilities to be entitled to free, appropriate public education starting in 1975 in the United States. This also ensured that students who require Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are legally required to obtain one. O’Brien explained the Irish Education for Persons with Special Education Needs (EPSEN) Act, which was not enacted until 2004, and compared the two acts.
Much like the IDEA, EPSEN allowed for all students with disabilities, or “special education needs,” to be entitled to an education act. Many parts of the EPSEN act are still not fully put into place, and students with special education needs in Ireland still do not have IEPs or access to a full range of services.
He says this is largely in part due to the heavy unionized school districts that do not want IEPs to be implemented in schools until teachers are fully trained to do so.
As part of the EPSEN act, O’Brien explained Special Education Needs Organizers (SENOs) who oversee the number of hours of services that students in a school district require. They are responsible for allocating services such as speech pathologies and psychologists, as well as determining the eligibility for students to have one-on-one aids.
When asked what motivated him to pursue Special Education, O’Brien said that he has “always been interested in it. [He] was always striving to include the students who didn’t ‘get it.’ [He] used to work with big classes, and then got a job as a special education teacher and [he] really enjoyed it.”
Concerning the question if the United States serves as a model for Ireland’s special education legislation, she said that “it definitely does,” concerning the fact that Ireland’s nationwide special education services did not begin until 2004, and are still working on being implemented today.
For further questions, students can contact Houser at MHouser@wcupa.edu. For more information on EPSEN, students can visit the Department of Education and Skills at their website. To learn more about the IDEA, students can visit the IDEA homepage.
Samantha Walsh is a third-year student majoring in special education and English with a minor in autism studies. ✉ SW850037@wcupa.edu.