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Funds required, not fancy maps

USING impressive digital technology, the Department of Education has produced a snapshot of the educational landscape in the year 2015, at least where schools are concerned. Those who have seen it say the Geographical Information System map is like chart for the Starship Enterprise. It shows at a glance, district by district, how many extra places will be needed in how many extra schools seven years from now.

What the technology does not tell the education boffins is how and when those places and those new schools will be delivered.

It is a stark, if colourful, illustration of the scale of the challenge facing the Government at an inconvenient time.

Yet the future of primary and secondary education is as important to the wellbeing of the nation as is the flow of money.

Taking population growth into account, about 100,000 extra school places will have to be created between now and 2015, and the department's new technology pinpoints the likely areas of concentration.

Moreover, although the impact of recession means that fewer people are coming to this country in search of work, Ireland is still an attractive proposition for many. Thousands are still arriving and boosting the population further.

More adults means more children.

The challenge for the education system is self evident. Can the system deliver? Based on experience, many parents and teachers would be worried.

Teachers are concerned about the slow reduction in class sizes. Parents write to the newspapers about the sorry state of the prefabs in which their children spend their days. Others grit their teeth and set about organising fund raising events.

By the end of this year, the Department of Education will have provided a massive €167m to meet the running costs of primary schools. Yet it has been estimated that this money covers about half what it takes to run the schools. Earlier this year an investigation confirmed that if it were not for voluntary fund raising by parents, many primary schools -- perhaps even hundreds -- would close.

Last week, the minister announced that five new primary schools are to be built and teachers described it as a drop in the ocean.

There's a long way to go, but at least we now have a colour coded map.

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