Ireland ranks 15th in global league table for maths, science

GDP would be boosted by 2.3 per cent if universal basic skill levels were achieved

Ireland has ranked 15th highest out of 76 countries for mathematics and science test scores in a new report published by the OECD.

The report warns, however, that a significant proportion of Irish students are still failing to attain basic skill levels, which is not only hindering their life changes but undermining economic growth.

The report - Universal Basic Skills: What countries stand to gain - estimates that Ireland’s future GDP would be boosted by 2.3 per cent if it achieved universal enrolment at second level and the attainment of basic skill levels by all students.

In the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests, 15 per cent of Irish students aged 15 were deemed not to have reached these basic skill levels in maths and science.


The main focus of the report is the added economic value from improving test scores, with the league tables forming a backdrop to the study.

The data is based on the previously published OECD Pisa results from 2012, which has been amalgamated with tests run by US-based academics and other tests in Latin America, putting developed and developing countries on a single scale.

Because Ireland is ahead of the OECD average in terms of test scores, the economic benefit from achieving universal basic skills is somewhat lower.

For high-income OECD countries as a whole, average future GDP would be 3.5 per cent higher than it would be otherwise if the educational targets were reached by 2030, the report says.

Some 24 per cent of 15-year-olds in the United States do not successfully complete the basic Level 1 PISA tasks.

“If the United States were to ensure that all students meet the goal of universal basic skills, the economic gains could reach over $27 trillion (€24 trillion) in additional income for the American economy over the working life of these students,” the report says.

The gain to the Irish economy for the achievement of universal basic skills is estimated at $257 billion (€227 billion) for the same period.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, who contributed to the research, said the findings highlighted the economic merit of greater investment in education.

He said “the economic gains that would accrue solely from eliminating extreme underperformance in high-income OECD countries by 2030 would be sufficient to pay for the primary and secondary education of all students.

“Such improvements are entirely realistic in the timescale of the post-2015 education agenda.”

The report, written by Eric Hanushek of Hoover Institution of Stanford University and Prof Ludger Woessmann of University of Munich, will be discussed at next week’s World Education Forum in South Korea.

The two unions representing secondary teachers issued statements welcoming Ireland's performance in the rankings, with the ASTI suggesting it had relevance to the current dispute over junior cycle reform.

“Ireland’s second level education is clearly performing at a high level and we should be very careful that changes to our curriculum and assessment model do not undermine the evident strengths in our system,” said ASTI president Philip Irwin.

TUI president Gerry Quinn said it was significant that that the results were achieved "at a time when teachers and students are dealing with the effects of several years of severe cutbacks to education provision".

He said “investment in education must be increased significantly to allow every student to realise their full potential”.

While Ireland’s current ranking was high, the report cautioned that it was one of only nine countries which had “regressed” between between 1995 and 2009, mainly due to disappointing Pisa test scores in the later year.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column