As of a 2018 OECD report, Ireland ranks 4th out of 36 OECD countries and 3rd out of 27 EU countries for reading literacy among 15-year olds. But for how long?

According to the OECD’s 2018 PISA Report (Programme for International Student Assessment). Ireland ranks 4th out of 36 other OECD countries and 3rd out of 27 EU countries for reading literacy among 15-year olds. This is good news and highlights the strong performance of Ireland’s wide and increasingly diverse education system.

The success of Ireland’s primary, secondary and third level educational institutions in international rankings demonstrates not just the strong emphasis parents and students place on education as the keys to a successful and prosperous career, but also points to a wider cultural acknowledgement that a strong educational foundation is required to compete in an ever-changing and competitive economy.

Successive governments have invested heavily in all levels of Ireland’s education infrastructure, as a long-term strategy to support a new and ever more educated workforce. This has made Ireland globally competitive and has attracted new industries such as google, Facebook, Twitter etc who increasingly require an ever more highly educated and flexible workforce.

The progress made in increasing the standard of education may however be on the decline, as schools struggle to deal with the current impact of the corona virus and the burden placed on the state. Which has seen successive governments desperate to fund an ever-increasing and extremely expensive education system. This issue is compounded by the need to update schools with more modern technology while also struggling with a dramatic increase in the supports and resources required for weaker students who struggle to keep up with a system designed to push rather than support.

As the demand for education in Ireland increases and parents begin to plan for their children’s future in a post-covid world, the question inevitable arises ‘what type of school is best for my child?’ Ireland has inherited a diverse education system with most parents having various choices depending on their area and financial circumstances. Parents seem to be spoiled for choice with private, public, single/mixed sex, Catholic, Anglican, Gaelscoil, Educate Together schools etc all competing to attract new students.

This high level of (theoretical) diversity is only tempered by the historically strong position of Catholic schools (making up 52% of secondary schools, as of 2018) and to a lesser extent Anglican schools within the Irish education system. This history has inevitably created an impression of uniformity in a system that has traditionally been quite diverse. Arguably the strong tradition of faith schools in Ireland has been an important factor in Irish schools’ current academic performance as the UK which has a longer history of creating secular schools has continued to see single sex and faith-based schools consistently outperform secular schools.

With increasing secularisation and a push by many parents to send their children to non-faith-based schools, Ireland is seeing an increase in alternative education with educate together schools alone making up 92 primary schools and 17 second-level schools. This is good for parents as it increases the options, they have to choose the right school for their children. However, there is concern by some that this change if done badly, could unintentionally diminish Ireland’s current high academic standing.

This does not mean reform and change are not necessary but implies that the state should manage this change carefully, as faith and single sex schools are consistently ranked as some of the best performing educators in the country. In conclusion, as education becomes less homogeneous and increasingly diversified due to Ireland’s changing demographics and educational needs, the old saying in my view stands true; ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Increased diversity within the education system is in theory good for everyone, it gives more choice to parents, allows students to have more control over how they learn and if done correctly, will protect our already well established and strongly performing education institutions for generations to come. Therefore, rather than choosing between faith or secular schools’ future governments should focus on quality rather than ideology and diversity rather than uniformity.

 


 

Stephen Hughes is with Renua Ireland. His article is republished here with his permission.

 


 

Reference:

Michigan radio, (2019) by SARAH CWIEK (Online). Date accessed 04/07/2020, available at:  https://www.michiganradio.org/post/new-report-takes-close-look-michigans-substitute-teacher-shortage