— By Phyllis Mitchell
The remarkable growth of Private Tuition Schools directed at second level students has continued to rocket over the past twenty-five years, despite vociferous opposition from teacher unions and others. Gradually the complementary role of these schools has come to be acknowledged, accepted and even welcomed by a majority within the education system.
Private Tuition or “Grind” Schools set out to provide the type of tuition which will enable students to increase their points in the Leaving Certificate. The longest established and undoubtedly the best known of such schools is The Institute of Education in Leeson Street, Dublin 2.
The Institute has been in operation since 1969 and over the years its reputation has spread far and wide, largely by word of mouth. Ambitious students from all over the world flock to it, knocking on its door, anxious to purchase its wares.
The sole stated objective of the Institute is to better prepare its students for the examination game. Many have quibbled about the value of such an aim but the Institute makes no apology for its modus operandi. It is confident in the knowledge that it has been outstandingly successful in achieving its objective. Every year throngs beat a path to its door and satisfied customers report on the excellence of their exam results which they credit to the kind of tuition they received at the Institute.
The man and the brain behind this success story is, not surprisingly, a veritable bundle of energy. Indeed no better man is there than Ray Kearns, well known to everyone in education circles, to lead students to the exam hurdle and assist them in clearing it successfully. For he himself had some formidable hurdles to cross in the process of arriving at his own chosen career of teaching.
Born on a small farm in Ballaghadereen in Co. Roscommon, the seventh of nine children, at the age of thirteen Ray won a Co. Council scholarship to St. Nathy’s Secondary School, Ballaghadereen. This entitled him to five years’ free board and tuition. But he disliked boarding school and left after Inter Cert to work on the Railway. He and the future Taoiseach Albert Reynolds both worked at different times in the same small village of Dromod in Co. Leitrim.
Eventually his job took him to the Docks at the North Wall in Dublin and it was while working in the very harsh conditions which prevailed there that, in his own words, “he came to the use of reason”. He began to be consumed with a burning desire to go to university, to realise his intellectual potential, and “to make something of himself”. He formed a resolution in his mind that he would get a degree and go somewhere in life.
The difficulties inherent in his plan would certainly have discouraged a less determined man, for he had no Leaving Cert and no money. But Ray felt he would never know peace of mind until he had accomplished his goal. He continued to work full-time and fitted his study in when he could. At the end of one year he obtained his Leaving Certificate. Now he had his entree to university.
“I’ll take the high road and you take the low road”
Ray had a friend at work, the son of a teacher, who also longed to go to university. Together they used to plan and scheme about how they would accomplish their aim. It was a period of enormous excitement and happiness, and alternating hope and despair. Ray was glad to have a friend to share with him the joys and hardships of the precarious years of study ahead. As the beginning of the university year approached, however, it occurred to Ray that his friend’s spirits were very low. The obstacles to the success of their plan were weighing heavily on his mind: “How would we get enough money to pay the fees?” “When would we get time to study?” “Wouldn’t our health suffer?”
In a lightning Joycean epiphany Ray had a moment of profound insight. He realised beyond doubt that concentrating on any one of these difficulties was sufficient to deter a man from action. There and then he shook hands with his friend and from that day on he never mentioned university to him. He quietly determined to go the course alone, without let or hindrance from anyone.
That autumn he registered in UCD and became an Arts student, following the day course with Maths as his major subject. His more faint-hearted friend postponed his study plans indefinitely and is still working on the Docks, from which vantage point he views Ray’s success with green-eyed scepticism.
Ray attended lectures by day as a full-time student and also continued in full-time employment by working the late shift.
How he envied his classmates who could stay on after lectures to study, to talk and to participate in college life. For his part he had to rush away in the afternoon and work on the Docks till well into the night. He longed to be a “real” student. Nor was his wish a vain one for it was to come true in due course, in the form of his election to Presidency of the Students’ Council. The overall majority he gained over his three rivals gave him a sense of acceptance and esteem among his classmates and at last he felt psychologically fulfilled as a student.
Having obtained a B.A. and a H.Dip in Ed. From UCD, he began his teaching career in a Christian Brothers’ School in James’ Street.
One might think that Mr. Ray Kearns could now sit back and bask in his hard-won success. His childhood longing to be something akin to the local schoolmaster, who in those days was next in importance and respectability to the parish priest, had been satisfied. But the fire consuming him was still blazing. He applied for a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh and was successful. He spent the school year 1960-61 studying there and obtained a Master’s in Mathematics. He spent a summer in the University of Fordham, USA, and two more summers in Boston College, furthering his studies. By this time he was Senior Maths Teacher at Gonzaga College, Milltown. He taught for twenty years there in all, the last five of which were on a part-time basis.
During the sixties the kernel of an idea was taking root in Ray Kearns’ mind. As a teacher in Gonzaga he was no stranger to the concept of private education and for some years he himself had been giving private lessons in his free time. And taking into account his own particular education, where the pressure of cramming for exams was such a necessary reality, it is perhaps no surprise that the Grind School was something which attracted him.
In 1969 Mr. Kearns rented a property in Lower Leeson Street. This was the start of the Institute of Education, an establishment where the student would be “king” and his needs and wishes would have absolute priority. It was an enterprise destined to become an unmitigated success.
The Institute of Education has three main areas of activity.
Firstly it offers as one year and two year Day Leaving Certificate Course in all subjects. Only those who are highly motivated and prepared to work hard are encouraged to apply.
Students on the day-course hail from the length and breadth of Ireland, as well as from Dublin. There is also a large number from overseas, from places as far afield as Malaysia, South Africa, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Secondly, the Institute provides intensive Preparation Courses for Junior and Leaving Certificates at Christmas and Easter. Students may choose to take one, two or more subjects and pay accordingly. The courses generally last one week.
Thirdly, the Institute offers Evening and Saturday Tuition for Junior and Leaving Certificates. Students may join these classes at any time throughout the year and fees are on a reducing scale.
Discipline at the Institute is strict. It is demanded that students be punctual, neat and tidy in appearance and well-behaved. Smoking, chewing gum or graffiti-writing are strictly forbidden. If a student is disruptive or absents himself from class without permission parents are contacted at once. If there is not an immediate improvement the student is requested to leave the Institute, without a refund of fees.