Thursday 14 December 2017

Irish schools -- high in spirit, but low on sport and sums

The new OECD survey of education shows how little time our pupils spend on maths and science

The Young Scientist competition inspires students to take an active interest in the sciences. Photo: Brian Morrison
The Young Scientist competition inspires students to take an active interest in the sciences. Photo: Brian Morrison
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Irish schools give low priority to maths, science and foreign languages, but top the league for religion, according to the latest survey of education in OECD countries.

The authoritative report, Education at a Glance 2010, which was published yesterday, offers a revealing snapshot of how we fare compared to 31 other developed countries.

It shows that Irish second-level teachers have the second longest holidays in the OECD, surpassed only by Greece.

And in 2008, before their pay was slashed, Irish primary teachers were the fifth highest-paid in the developed world.

The survey shows how education affects everything from health to wealth.

It shows how schooling spurs interest in politics and even boosts trust in fellow human beings.


After all the recent soul-searching over numeracy and our scientific literacy, Irish education researchers are likely to look with special interest at the amount of time devoted to subjects in school.

Ireland spends the highest percentage of class time on religion in the OECD at both primary and second levels.

At second level, the amount of instruction time devoted to matters of the spirit is 9% -- three times the OECD average.

At primary level, 10% of class time is spent on religion, over double the amount in other OECD countries.

If the hours devoted to each subject are anything to go by, we attach little importance to primary-level maths, where we are bottom of the table.

Irish children aged between nine and 11 spend only 12% of their time on Maths, compared with 18% in Finland, a country that consistently scores high marks for numeracy.

The situation for Irish pupils changes when they reach second level, with the amount of time devoted to Maths matching the OECD average.

The study shows that we are also bottom of the table for science teaching, with only 4% of time at primary spent on the subject, and 8% at second level.

While the spiritual health of our children may be assured, their physical well-being is more uncertain. At primary level, Irish school pupils spend the least amount of time proportionately on PE.

We are also bottom of the table at second level for modern foreign languages, an accolade that we share with our tongue-tied English neighbours.

While the Germans spend 17% of classroom time on languages, Irish students spend only 7% on them.


Irish second-level teachers have the second longest holidays among OECD countries, the survey finds.

Second-level teachers are off for 19 weeks every year. In lower-secondary education, that is five weeks more than the average.

Irish second-level teachers have nine more weeks of vacation than their diligent Danish counterparts.

Irish teachers' holidays at primary level are closer to the OECD average at 15 weeks.

While the holidays are extremely generous, Irish teachers are not shy of pointing out that their actual teaching time in hours is well above the OECD average.

The survey, which covered 2008, found that Irish primary teachers at the top of the scale were paid €47,583 in 2008, placing them fifth in the OECD pay league. Their salaries are almost €10,000 more than the average.

The OECD survey does not take into account extra pay for promotions and qualifications, but it also does not factor in recent pay cuts, which would have pushed Irish teachers down the salary league.

Irish second-level teachers are paid the same amount as their primary colleagues.

However, their salaries are closer to the European average, and they were ninth in the OECD second-level pay league in 2008.

Teachers in Luxembourg are the highest-paid in the developed world, earning €100,000 at second level.


Irish women get a bigger income boost than men by going to university.

The OECD survey shows that the average female university graduate earns double the income of a woman who did not go to college.

The third-level income boost for men is not as great. On average, male university graduates earn 65% more than their non college-going counterparts.

Female university graduates are also much more likely to work than women without degrees. Eighty-three per cent of female graduates aged between 25 and 64 work. This compares to 64% of women who left education after second level.


Those who went to college have greater trust in their fellow citizens than those who left education at a lower level.

The OECD report found that Irish adults express greater "interpersonal trust'' the further up the education ladder they go.

Only a minority of early school leavers (42%) believe that "most people can be trusted'', while a majority of graduates (60%) have faith in their peers.


Irish people are less interested in politics than citizens in many other developed countries, the OECD report found.

Only 60% of Irish graduates are interested in affairs of state, compared to 73% in Britain and 83% in the Netherlands.

Those who failed to finish secondary school are even less interested, with only 33% professing an interest in current affairs. People who finish school claim to be healthier than those who dropped out, although the perceived effect on physical well-being is not that dramatic.

81pc of those who failed to finish second level say they are in good health. The figure rises to 88pc among third-level graduates.


The country now has a sharp age divide in education.

Forty-five per cent of Irish people aged between 55 and 64 did not finish secondary school, the OECD survey finds, compared to an average of 58%.

Our older age group is among the least educated in the developed world.

By contrast, the number of Irish people in the 25-to-34 age bracket who finished secondary school is above the OECD average at 85%.

Irish Independent

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