System is seriously creaking under a growing appetite for learning
THE number of people in full-time education in Ireland is at its highest level – and rising – at more than one million.
School rolls for the past year tell us there were 536,317 primary pupils and 367,178 second-level pupils, including PLC students. Figures for third level are awaited, but will be around the 170,000 level.
But in sharp contrast to the rise in enrolments across all levels, the education budget has fallen.
Increasing pupil numbers are a consequence not only of high birth rates but of the high value Irish people place on education.
Nowadays, more than nine in 10 pupils go all the way to the Leaving Certificate – up from about eight in 10 a decade ago – and two in three 18- to 20-year-olds pursue third-level study.
Such an appetite for learning and the outcome, in terms of raising the national qualifications' bar, augurs well for the individual, society and the economy
Parents and their children are doing what is required, but is the system giving them what they deserve?
A close inspection of the Department of Education's annual statistics reveals how over 124,000 primary pupils are in severely overcrowded classrooms of 30 pupils or more. According to the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, on average Irish primary teachers teach three extra children per class more than their EU colleagues.
About a decade ago, it became government policy to reduce class sizes for the under-nines to 20, in line with internationally accepted best practice. The economic crash put paid to advances being made, but such a policy remains just as sound now as it was then.
Evidence abounds of a system under strain. One example at second-level is how Leaving Certificate students of design and communications graphics have to try and develop the skills for a modern age with technology that is well past its sell-by date. A recent report warned that the quality of third-level education was now at risk because of inadequate funding.
The first lesson the new Cabinet must take on board is the need to put money back into education.