Sunday 22 October 2017

Quinn has work cut out to ensure a brighter future

Thomas Molloy

Thomas Molloy

EDUCATION in Ireland is bedeviled by myths of all kinds. As Education Minister Ruairi Quinn plans to abolish the old-style Junior Cert and talks of attacking private schools, it seems education reform is firmly back on the Government's agenda.

But how good is the existing system compared to our peers in Europe and further afield?

Business leaders are certainly sceptical. Google's John Herlihy and Intel's Craig Barrett have warned recently that educational standards here are not good enough. The so-called PISA reports suggest our 15-year-olds are around the international average.

Spending on individual students is also high by international standards but the figures show that spending has fallen as a percentage of overall spending.

The figures also show a two-tier Ireland when it comes to third-level education: older people are less likely to have third-level education than the average across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Younger Irish people, however, are slightly more likely to have third-level degrees although we are still below average when it comes to university education.

Ireland is unusual because girls do better than boys in school (unlike the rest of the OECD) -- something Mr Quinn wants to change.

Here, three-quarters of women have successfully completed secondary school, compared with 68pc of men. Among younger people -- a good indicator of Ireland's future -- 86pc of 25 to 34- year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 81pc and showing progress.

We also spend longer in education than most. We can also expect to go through 19 years of education between the ages of five and 39, more than the OECD average of 17 years of education.

This high level of education expectancy echoes Ireland's good performance in the educational attainment of its 25 to 34-year-old population.

Standards

So, young Irish people are doing relatively well when it comes to getting an education, but what are the standards like? Are Irish schools and universities any good?

The OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) compares ability across the organisation's 34 countries. In 2009, PISA focused on examining students' reading ability, skills in maths and level in sciences, as research shows that these skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.

On these results, the average student in Ireland scored 497 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, in line with the OECD average but no better. On average, girls outperformed boys by 12 points, more than the average OECD gap of nine points.

That suggest's Intel's Barrett was right when he complained two years ago that students here were only "okay" when it came to maths and science.

"That is why I told your government leaders you are coasting. You are living off what you did 20 years ago," Mr Barrett said in 2010.

Based on the OECD figures, Mr Quinn has a long way to go if he wants to bring Ireland up to the standards seen in north Europe or Asian countries like South Korea, but he can at least console himself with the thought that Irish children already seem to be receiving a slightly better-than-average education.

Irish Independent

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