Kenny is learning slowly on education
Investment in education isn’t an option, it’s a double imperative. It’s a moral imperative because, if we’re dumping a historically unprecedented load of debt on our children and grandchildren, the least we have to do is to make sure that they’re smart enough to survive in the world they will inhabit. And it’s an economic imperative because, as report after report has shown, countries that are not going forward in educational achievement are not staying still. They’re going rapidly backwards in the race for global competitiveness.
Smart societies grasped this a long time ago. Finland, for example, responded to its banking crisis of the early 1990s not by putting all available national resources into bad banks but by investing to make itself a world leader in education. But, as Enda Kenny finally saw in his moment of epiphany, we are doing the opposite. Even though we have a remarkably young population (and therefore a greater need for educational investment than most other countries), we are one of the very few countries in the developed world that is reducing spending on education.
This is part of the “common sense” approach of bank bailouts plus so-called austerity. And it is both reckless and self-destructive. The most insane aspect of the policy is the decision to turn teaching from a high-status profession to a low-status, insecure, casual job. Large numbers of highly experienced teachers have been stripped out of the system. They are being replaced by badly paid young teachers with no security. More than half of secondary teachers under 30 are on contracts of a year or less. Many are also part-time.
Around the developed world (and also in developing countries) there is a realisation that making teaching into a job that attracts only losers or saintly idealists is a disaster. Every study of Irish education has argued, to the contrary, that we need a huge leap forward in the skills, confidence, creativity and professionalism of teachers. Instead, we’re telling those who want the job that they’d be much better off working in a shop. Perhaps in 20 years’ time a taoiseach will have another epiphany and realise how stupid this was.