INVESTMENT IN EDUCATION
PIERCE H. PURCELL,
Sir, - Congratulations on your Editorial "Education Agenda" (May 6th). It is about time that someone highlighted the "regrettable lack of big, ambitious ideas which will have a profound impact on the shape of Irish education". At the risk of sounding banal, I suggest that there is one big idea without which there will be no profound impacts at all: the investment of far more money in our education system.
You referred to the recent OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which shows that 15-year-old students in Ireland are more literate and more skilled in the sciences than their counterparts in most of the other 31 OECD states surveyed, including of course the other EU countries. What you did not mention, however, was the comparatively low level of investment in Irish education. This OECD survey shows that Ireland spends only $3,934 per secondary school student, against the OECD average of $5,294. My source for these figures is ASTIR (the monthly journal of the ASTI), March 2002.
Naturally, the EU average is much higher, working out at $6,285. Of all the EU countries, only Greece spends less on second -level education than we do.
What does this greater investment mean in practice? It means more teachers, smaller classes, better school buildings, better libraries and laboratories, more ancillary staff such as science and language assistants, and better in-service education for teachers. I have seen all these advantages at first hand during visits to schools in Germany in recent years.
The important point is that our post-primary teachers have achieved their remarkable results in spite of the inadequate level of funding. Imagine what they could do if Irish education enjoyed the same subvention as in Switzerland - $9,348 per student, or almost two-and-a-half times our level.
On page 9 of the same edition you quote Mr Charlie McCreevy's reference to the ASTI strategy as "war from day one". Can secondary teachers be blamed for feeling warlike, when they are expected to deliver a first-class educational service with third-class resources?
It is ironic that Fianna Fáil's education policy document is entitled "Investing in Education". Thirty-seven years ago a Fianna Fáil government published a similar document, "Investment in Education". One of its aims was to establish a framework for educational planning, so that Ireland would have a school system comparable with those in EU (then EEC) countries.
As they say, one wouldn't need to hold one's breath waiting. I wonder if I will be writing the same letter in 2039! - Yours, etc.,
PIERCE H. PURCELL,