While young people in Ireland are among the most educated globally, low national investment in education is leading to overstretched schools, teaching unions have warned.
Ireland has a secondary school enrolment rate of 93%, but national investment in the sector is the lowest of 35 countries studied by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
A new report, Education at a Glance 2019, found that Ireland invested just 1.2% of its GDP on second-level education in 2016 compared to the OECD average of 2%, and an average in the EU of 1.9%.
In total, Ireland invested 3.5% of GDP in primary, second and third-level education compared to the OECD average of 5%. According to the report, almost half of 25-64 year-olds have a third level education here, one of the highest rates in the OECD.
Just 4% of these 25-64 year-olds are unemployed and of those, 31% are unemployed for 12 months or more. Adults with a bachelor's degree in Ireland were also found to earn 81% more on average, the report found.
At third-level, the ratio of students to teaching in Ireland was found to be 21 to 1, one of the highest ratios in the OECD. Ireland's class size ratio was also found to be high in primary schools, at 25 to 1.
Despite evidence of the negative consequences of inadequate investment in education, the Government continues to ignore the warnings, according to Deirdre Mac Donald, president of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI).
“The OECD has previously stated that in Ireland, investment in education has not kept pace with the increased number of students entering schools," Ms Mac Donald said.
What this means is that there are less resources for more students. At a time of initiative overload, schools and teachers are overstretched. How can the Government talk about having the best education system in Europe by 2026 when we continue to lag so far behind when it comes to investment?
"To be fit for the future we need to address this funding deficit immediately.”
Those from disadvantaged backgrounds suffer the most due to inadequate education budgets, according to Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) president Seamus Lahart.
“The continuing refusal to invest must be viewed at as a sustained attack on the most vulnerable in our communities,” he said. “Investment in education pays dividends in terms of better quality jobs and increased revenue from taxation and social contributions."
With students here receiving more instructional hours per year than the OECD average, second-level teachers were also found to spend more hours teaching than the OECD and European average.
The OECD's Education at a Glance 2019 report also found that teachers in Ireland receive a starting annual salary 2% higher than the OECD average.
However, this figure does not reflect that second-level teachers begin their employment on contracts of less than full hours, according to Mr Lahart.
“It remains the exception that a teacher would commence employment on a contract of full hours," he said. "The report fails to factor in the lack of opportunity for career advancement in Irish education.”