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A promising outlook, but beware of clouds

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Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan said she has been contacted by parents who are worried cyberbullying

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan said she has been contacted by parents who are worried cyberbullying

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan said she has been contacted by parents who are worried cyberbullying

There is a lot to celebrate, and also much to be concerned about, in the latest at-a-glance guide to how Ireland's education system rates by international standards.

Irish teenagers are powering ahead in the educational attainment stakes, with graduation rates from both second-level and third-level "far higher" than the world average.

It augurs well for the individual, because education has a direct link not only with career choices and earnings power, but with important life measures such as health and well-being. It is great for the economy, because employers are attracted by a well-educated workforce.

So, Ireland is punching above its weight, thanks to dedicated teachers and motivated parents who place a high value on education.

But while the outlook on the educational attainment front may be promising, there are clouds overhead.

We all know that the numbers entering the education system, at primary, post-primary and third-level, are growing significantly and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

But while this has been happening, governments have - in the name of austerity - cut the amount of money spent on education.

The system is creaking. Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan's own officials outlined some of the problems in their briefing document to her: schools on the verge of not being able to pay their heating bills, second-level principals struggling in the face of unfilled middle-management posts.

The OECD report tells us that in Ireland public expenditure on education is well below the Scandinavians. On another day, ministers will hold up the Scandinavians as an example of a high-performing education system.

There is no shortage of appetite in Ireland for education. We have attainment rates never before seen on this island. Today, we see how 54pc of Junior Cert students sat higher level maths this year - because they want to maximise their chances of going on to third-level education.

Government-inspired clouds should not rain on those parades.

Irish Independent