A report has put Ireland at the bottom when it comes to the amount spent on pre-primary education.
The report, by philanthropic foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung, also ranks Ireland 21st out of 28 countries on education equality and criticises Ireland’s two tier secondary school system and lack of investment in young children.
It found that Ireland spends 0.10% of its GDP on pre-primary education.
In Budget 2018, the Government allocated less than €30m in additional funding to children's early years education.
Children's charity, Barnardos, said it is "disappointed but not surprised" by the result.
June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy at Barnardos, said: “The fact that Ireland spends less than 10% as some of its European counterparts on early years is shocking; but for families with small children it won’t come as a surprise.
"Parents see first-hand the result of such paltry investment as they fork out a third of their income each month on childcare fees. The lack of investment is also felt by Early Years service providers, many of which struggle to balance affordability with the provision of a high-quality and sustainable service.
“Investing in education, especially at pre-primary and primary levels, unlocks children’s potential, offsets the impact of poverty and creates a level playing field. It also proves cost effective by saving the Exchequer money in the long term. The continued under-investing by successive Governments have short changed children and young people in Ireland.”
Director of the National Association for Principals and Deputy Principals, Clive Byrne, said: It’s particularly disappointing given Minister Bruton’s goal to make Irish education the best in Europe by 2026."
Regina Bushell, Chairperson of Seas Suas, a group representing independent early education and childcare providers in Ireland, said: “Once again, Ireland’s poor record on early education has been highlighted internationally. This is completely unacceptable and is a serious wake-up call to Government.
"We have the highest birth rate in Europe and the youngest population but no strategy or long-term vision for early education and care of children.
"Minister Zappone is playing catch up for the years of neglect in this area of Government policy but the piecemeal, incremental approach to reform is failing our children and families. We need a radical overhaul of the early years sector, an ambitious plan for extensive long-term investment, and a Government commitment to prioritising early education and care."