The Irish Times view on investing in education: time to match rhetoric with resources

The Government’s objective is to have the best education system in Europe within a decade. A new OECD report shows just far we need to go to match this ambition

If the Government really is serious about having the best education system in Europe, it will need to back up its aspirational rhetoric with a far greater level of resources. Photo: iStock

If the Government really is serious about having the best education system in Europe, it will need to back up its aspirational rhetoric with a far greater level of resources. Photo: iStock

 

The Government’s stated objective is to have the best education and training system in Europe by 2026. The latest OECD report on education shows just how far we need to go to fulfil this ambition. It paints a very mixed picture of our education system which is performing well in some areas but struggling under the strain of austerity-era cost-cutting.

Irish primary schools are saddled with some of the largest class sizes in the developed world. Our high student-teacher ratios extend all the way into third level. Ireland also languishes close to the very bottom of the league table of countries when investment in education is measured as a percentage of national wealth or GDP.

A more accurate measure, given the distorting effects of multinationals on our GDP, is probably the level of investment in education as a proportion of public expenditure. Ireland spent 13 per cent on education compared to an average of 11 per cent in the rest of the OECD. Ireland also recorded one of the sharpest reductions in spending between 2010 and 2015. While investment has since started creeping upwards, this is hardly the record of a country determined to be the best in Europe within a few short years.

There are, it is fair to say, many bright points: we have one of the best school completion rates and some of the highest third-level participation rates. And young people who are foreign-born do better in Ireland than those who are foreign-born living in other countries. For example, Ireland has one of the highest levels of college-educated foreign-born adults in the world.

The case for investing in education is beyond doubt: it helps fulfil children’s potential, boosts social cohesion and equity as well as generating higher tax returns from better-educated adults on higher incomes. Ireland is highlighted as one of a handful of countries where the public return on investment in education is particularly large.

If the Government really is serious about having the best education system in Europe, it must back up its aspirational rhetoric with a far greater level of resources.