Life Learning

Thursday 18 September 2014

How schools are letting down our young children

Published 12/09/2012 | 05:00

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IRISH primary pupils are losing out on vital lessons in science while schools devote twice as much time to religion, a major new international study reveals today.

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Despite the huge growth in science-based jobs in industry, the OECD think-tank said minimal time is given to the subject at primary level here.

The disparity is highlighted in its latest report which analyses education systems in more than 30 developed countries.

It says our education system is lagging behind most developed countries in providing students with good scientific skills at primary level.

The findings are published as Junior Certificate results released today show there is a growing appetite among students to study science, with more also taking maths at higher level.

But they are still being let down in terms of time devoted to building solid foundations in science.

Its findings will add to the growing demand from industry chiefs for greater focus on science and maths teaching in our schools.

According to the OECD 'Education at a Glance' report, Irish primary pupils spend only 4pc of their class time on science -- half the international average of 8pc.

By comparison, Irish primary schools devote 10pc of teaching time to religion, second only to Israel, and more than double the OECD average of 4pc.

So while primary pupils spend an hour a week on science, Department of Education rules require them to spend two-and-a-half hours a week on religion.

And the situation is not much better at second level, where science is given 8pc of class time, two-thirds of the OECD average of 12pc.

Much of the focus in the education system recently has been on improving the quality of maths teaching and the uptake of the subject at higher level.

The importance of science will be re-emphasised again after the employers' group IBEC last night called for it to be positioned as a core subject in the Junior Certificate.

IBEC head of education policy Tony Donohue said science must be designated as a core compulsory subject, which would mean allocating longer teaching time than for other subjects.

"Young people must learn to think scientifically if they are to understand and participate fully in the modern world.

"Without understanding the scientific method, citizens cannot make informed decisions about important social and personal issues," he said.

Time

The wide-ranging 'Education at a Glance' is an annual report that compares countries in a range of areas. These include the amount of time spent teaching in schools, teacher salaries, the government spend on education and social gains from education.

Care has to be taken with some of the data because it dates back as far as 2009, and spending cuts have been imposed since.

However, the amount of time devoted to teaching science has not been addressed during this period.

Other findings from the OECD include:

- That 87pc of 25 to 34-year-olds in Ireland had completed education to Leaving Certificate level, ahead of the OECD average of 82pc.

- Third-level completion was particularly high among 25 to 34-year-olds in Ireland at 48pc, above the OECD average of 38pc.

- At primary level, annual teaching time at 915 hours is greater than the OECD average, while at second level it was similar to the OECD average. However, the total working time of teachers may be higher in other countries due to different types of contracts.

- In Ireland, people who invest in third-level education can expect to earn substantially more. There is a gain of about €175,000 for a man but €128,000 for a woman over their working lives.

- A 30-year-old man with a third-level qualification can expect to live for a further 52 years compared with 45 years for a male who left school before the Leaving Cert. This compares to 51 and 43 years respectively for the OECD average.

Irish Independent

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