Teacher's Pet

 

An insider's guide to education

Education rarely featured in the election campaign where it was shoved to the sidings by the economic agenda.

During the campaign, all the main political parties rolled out those cliches about the critical importance of eduction and our young people. But there was little sense of any serious policy work.

The agenda of all the main parties was the familiar one dictated by the teachers’ unions, namely the need to boost resources in this or that area.

Yes, the Irish education system remains underfunded. But we also need need to focus on outcomes and not just inputs.

The key issue facing the education sector is the decline in standards. The findings of the recent OECD/PISA report bear repetition.

Close to a quarter of all 15 year-olds in the State are functionally illiterate. Ireland is now ranked 17th on literacy in world rankings, down from 5th – the steepest decline of any developed country. On maths and science, we are languishing in mid-table when we aspire to be world class .

All of this should have been a wake-up call for the political parties – but in the rush for votes the OECD findings scarcely gained a mention.

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The debate on school buildings neatly summarised the level of the education debate during the election. The various parties were falling over themselves in the rush to promise new school buildings which would upgrade the creaking infrastructure – and create jobs.

No one doubts that many schools need upgrading but the key issue is the huge number of schools (3,200 alone at primary level) and the desperate need for some rationalisation. But, fearing a backlash from small school communities, the politicians focused on the motherhood and apple pie issues.

Despite the superficial nature of the election campaign, the new government will have a busy education agenda with a new focus on standards in schools. Other items of the agenda are set to include badly needed reform of the Junior and Leaving Cert exams, a review of the CAO points system and a new student contribution system at third level.

That should enough to keep the new minister busy – whoever he or she may be!

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With a motion which threatens the very existence of student media under discussion at UCD, the co-founder of The University Observer Dara Ó Briain (left) has written an open letter to UCD students highlighting the importance of student media. Here’s an excerpt:

“Hello you. I’m that bloke off the telly. No, not that one, the other one, the one who went to England. That’s the one. I am so very, very old now, and probably unlikely to see another summer, but please take this long-term advice from me; a strong college paper is a Good Thing, and it makes UCD a better place.”

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Still on student matters, interesting to see that USI president, Gary Redmond, is to seek a second term. Redmond, who has been so successful in the role, claims he has “unfinished business’’ as president.

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The appointment of UCD vice president Philip Nolan as the new president of NUI Maynooth is ruffling feathers in the Kildare countryside. Until the eleventh hour, there was a widespread expectation around the campus that the job would be filled by an internal candidate. Some are unhappy that the job has been filled by someone closely recognised with the “pro-business ’ management style of UCD president, Hugh Brady. But others say Nolan is exactly the kind of dynamic, high-profile presence that Maynooth needs in order to boost its reputation.

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Interesting to see that Hibernia, the online training college had a pre tax profit of over €600,000 last year with gross profits close to €4 million.

Aside from training primary teachers, the company – run by Seán Rowland – is scooping up new business in Britain, the US and South Africa.


Got any education gossip ? E-mail, in confidence, teacherspet@irishtimes.com