We are bottom of the class
International report criticises low spending
THE Government failed to invest sufficiently in education during the boom years and is now paying the price.
A report shows that we are near the bottom of an international league table for spending on education, and near the top for large classes. It also shows that Irish primary-school pupils spend a lot more time on religion and less on PE and science than in other countries.
In 2007, Ireland came 30th of 33 countries in terms of spending; only Italy and the Czech and Slovak Republics spent a lower percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education that year. The average spend was 5.7pc of GDP but Ireland invested only 4.7pc, according to the annual OECD report 'Education at a Glance'.
The American Chamber of Commerce said last night the Government should resist the temptation to cut spending on education as it sought to address the fiscal deficit. "Investment across the entire education system is required if we are to maintain confidence in the talent of future generations to meet the demand of the global economy."
Teacher unions and opposition parties attacked what they saw as the low level of education spending. But some government sources said Ireland's GDP was inflated by the huge volume of exports and that spending as a percentage of gross national product was more accurate.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education and Skills said the annual expenditure per student in 2007 from primary to third level was $8,628 (€6,785), above the OECD average of US$8,216 (€6,461) and the EU19 average of US$8,013 (€6,302).
However, critics warned that the effects of the cuts over the past few years were not reflected in the OECD report.
Teachers' Union of Ireland general secretary Peter MacMenamin said it was important to highlight that these comparisons were dated, as the education system had been "routinely asset stripped by the Government over the last two years".
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland general secretary Pat King said: "Given that these figures relate to 2007 -- before the crisis -- they are an even bigger indictment of the failure of successive governments to build the educational infrastructure necessary for the knowledge economy."
The report also shows that:
- Irish pupils spend more than twice as much time on religion as the OECD average.
- Irish pupils spend less time on science, maths and PE than the OECD average.
- Irish class sizes are among the highest in Europe.
- Irish female graduates earn double the salaries of women who don't go to college.
- College graduates in Ireland are more trusting of fellow citizens than earlier school leavers.
OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría said recent experience demonstrated the value of investing in education.
She pointed out that during the economic downturn, unemployment among those who had not completed high school rose by almost five percentage points in OECD countries between 2008 and 2009.