The Irish Times view on educational inequality: the classroom divide

An across-the-board failure rate of 10 per cent in basic literacy is not acceptable

Ireland performs well in promoting educational equality amongst children, being ranked second out of 41 developed countries in the latest UNICEF report.

Ireland performs well in promoting educational equality amongst children, being ranked second out of 41 developed countries in the latest UNICEF report.

 

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius observed in his Meditations that “poverty is the mother of crime”. Nothing has changed since then. While society penalises criminal behaviour, it has been reluctant to confront its root cause. Today, education is seen as the single most important route out of poverty. In that regard, Ireland performs well in promoting educational equality among children, being ranked second out of 41 developed countries in the latest Unicef report.

There are shortcomings. Inadequate preschool education is identified as a major inhibitor. And while the gap between the best and worst performing students closes rapidly at national and secondary school levels, one in 10 students still leaves secondary school without a basic proficiency in reading. That level of failure is lower than in other countries. But it means a sizeable minority of young adults are being starved of the resources they require.

If Ireland is to become “a republic of opportunity”, investment should be concentrated on the needs of the most vulnerable. File photograph: Getty Images
An across-the-board failure rate of 10 per cent in basic literacy is not acceptable

A shortfall in investment impacts most directly on children from the Travelling community, the Unicef report finds, while the children of homeless families and immigrants are also at serious risk. The reach of Deis schools should be extended, Unicef advises, and special funding projects that were cut during the recession should be reinstated. In addition, it warns that the children of second-generation immigrants are not performing as well in literacy tests as those in Britain.

There is much to be satisfied about in this report. But progress made over recent decades has to be built upon. An across-the-board failure rate of 10 per cent in basic literacy is not acceptable. That kind of handicap condemns children to a limited life experience and almost certain poverty. The situation is much worse for Traveller children. The incidence of drop-out for boys at secondary level is more than four times higher than the general population while girls fare slightly better. If Ireland is to become “a republic of opportunity”, investment should be concentrated on the needs of the most vulnerable.

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