Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ni Riada has called for root and branch reform of the Irish education system.
The Ireland South MEP was speaking at an event she organised in the European Parliament entitled Quality Education For All.
The conference heard contributions from MEPs and education professionals across Europe on the challenges facing the education system and what can be done to tackle them.
Ms Ní Riada was joined by Cork TD Pat Buckley, who addressed the conference on assisting students with special needs, and Clare Councillor Mike McKee who outlined the challenges facing education in the Shannon area.
“I am delighted with how the conference went. There was incredible engagement from people right across Europe and most importantly from the young people who were there,” she said.
“There was much to take away from it but we cannot simply acknowledge these problems and then move on so the conference must be seen as a first step to beginning root and branch reform of the education system in Ireland and right across Europe.
“At home we need to begin looking more seriously at things like apprenticeships and social skills.
“We need to address what is effectively a brain drain in rural Ireland where young people have no choice but to leave if they wish to continue studies and get gainful employment.
“We want to see quality education but we also want to see equality of education, which means no child left behind. In that regard there are some very practical measures that must be take in order to assist students with special needs.
“Sinn Féin would begin a process that over the next few years would reduce the pupil teacher ratio from its current number of 27:1 down to 20:1. We would reverse Fine Gael’s removal of supports for children with special needs, provide an additional 1450 Special Needs Assistants, increase resource teaching hours and add 500 additional places to the Momentum Programme for jobseekers with disabilities.
“These are simple, practical and affordable measures that can make a huge difference to the lives of those affected by these issues.
“Last June the School Admissions Bill was discussed in the Education Committee of Leinster House and our Oireachtas team submitted a number of amendments to the Bill including one to prohibit publicly funded schools from discriminating against students on the basis of their religious beliefs.
“We also sought to extend statutory powers to the National Council for Special Education to establish an autism or special class where there is local demand and have sought to ensure that those who are brought up through the medium of Irish at home will retain the right to access education through the medium of Irish.
“Ultimately we are committed to free and fair access to education for all. This may seem like a daunting task, especially when you begin to unravel all the problems our education system faces, so it is imperative that we begin to implement change now or it our children and their children who will pay the price.