Education, from pre-school to third-level, garners much attention in Ireland. Sometimes it's basic availability that we are talking about, such as places, and other times it's the price, especially when it comes to pre-school and third-level.
While university fees were abolished in 1996, under former minister for education Niamh Breathnach, the registration fee has crept up considerably in recent years to about €3,000.
It's the second-highest third-level fee in the EU, and is expected to be reduced under new Government plans.
But it's not just that €3,000 fee that makes third-level education prohibitive in Ireland, it's the cost of student accommodation in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Limerick, as well as the cost of books and transport.
Cost aside, the role of the Church within the Irish education system is another hotly debated issue. Be it the entrance to a publicly-funded school being determined by a child's creed, or the religiously-informed social values espoused in an institution, the role of religion in our education system has come under the spotlight more and more in recent years, especially as ethnic and religious diversity grows.
We speak to Irish people abroad to see what role, if any, religion plays in the education system of their adopted home, and what is the financial cost of accessing education in the first place.
Limerick man Gerald Flynn has been living in Ontario, Canada for eight years. He lives there with his wife Meggan, and their 10-month-old baby girl Clara.
Gerald explains that Canada has two school boards, one is religious and one is not. He is very aware of the setup as his wife is a teacher.
"Religion plays a role alright, but only in the Catholic school board. There are two school boards, the public, that my wife is in, and the Catholic," explains Gerald.
While private schools receive plenty of media attention in Ireland when the various league tables come out, they do not hold the same reputation in Canada, as a lack of regulation means a poorer standard of education.
After-school care forms part of the primary and post-primary education system, explains Gerald, but it's a competitive situation, with even expectant parents having to consider it.
Parents tend to book places before their child is even born.
Annual third-level fees are about the same as paying a mortgage on a three-bed house in Ireland for a year.
"Third-level is not cheap, it runs up €10,000 to €15,000 per year but that’s the higher end. It's nothing like what they pay in the States," says Gerald, but it is substantially more than in Ireland.
Cork woman Eileen Littorin lives in Stockholm with her husband Magnus and their two children, David, aged seven, and Sophia, aged six.
Eileen is a teacher and has been for many years, so she is well acquainted with the ins and outs of the Swedish education system. This, coupled with the fact that she has two children in school, who also avail of after-school care, means she can talk knowledgeably about the whole system.
Religion is taught in schools, but more in terms of a global perspective, and if any child wants to receive religious rites of any kind — it is something that is actively chosen.
"World religions are taught in schools, but when kids are a bit older. Confirmation is something kids opt into, it's not compulsory," says Eileen.
When it comes to public versus private, public schools are of a very good standard in Sweden, says the Cork woman.
"No, the public schools are pretty good here and they are free," she says.
And any additional support that parents need, if they are still at work while the school day has finished, is available at a very affordable rate.
"There is before school and after school care for kids, year-round. It's means-tested too. We pay €150 a month for both our kids for after-school care," says Eileen.
And it's not just extra care and education that are provided, either for free or for a very low rate.
"School lunch and snacks are provided too," explains Eileen.
Unlike in Ireland, there is no third-level fee, and also unlike Ireland, there are loans that go specifically towards housing and books. But these loans are essentially interest-free.
"This has to be paid back when you are in full-time employment after your studies, but also it's calculated on what you earn and you can take as long as you need essentially to pay it back.
Dingle native, Siun Creedon Prochazka, calls Prague in the Czech Republic home. She lives with her husband and two children Marketa, aged three, and Alvy, aged nine.
In the Czech Republic, religion has no role in the education system, and unlike in Ireland, there is only a very small private sector. And again unlike in Ireland, pre-schools receive State funding.
"Religion is not part of the State education system. Only at Christmas time they sing songs about Jesus etc, but otherwise, there’s nothing," says Siun.
When it comes to the education system, both primary and post-primary, the public is the way to go.
"The State education is very comprehensive and there is little need for private education. Waldorf schools are also State-funded," explains Siun.
Waldorf or Steiner schools are part of an independent network of schools around the world, based on the philosophy of Austrian Rudolf Steiner, with the first one opening in Germany in 1919, with the focus on a well-rounded person from both educational needs to practical and developmental. Mostly found in Germany and The Netherlands, there are several in Ireland, but in the Czech Republic, the State funds these schools.
And then there are some private schools.
"There are some independent private schools with other alternative curriculums," explains Siun.
At the preschool level, the State provides some funding, explains Siun.
And at third-level, education is fully free, and everything is taught in Czech.
Caitríona Rush lives in The Hague in The Netherlands with her husband and two children aged 10 and seven.
Its education system is different from Ireland on two fronts, the role of religion, and the private sector. And third-level is strikingly similar to the Irish situation.
Firstly, schools do have a religious ethos, but entry is not restricted to those who have taken the rites of a specific faith.
"You don't have the same link between religion and education here as at home. There are schools linked to religion, Protestant, which is termed 'Christian' interestingly enough, Catholic etc, but anyone can go to them," says Caitríona.
"There are also schools which are not based on anyone's faith, the children learn about different religions, but Christmas and Easter are still celebrated," she adds.
When it comes to public versus private, the public path is the norm, unless it's an international school.
"You don't have public and private schooling here. The only private or fee-paying schools are the international schools," she says.
However, there is a small contribution fee that parents pay.
"For the Dutch schools, you pay a small contribution each year which goes towards extra fun stuff for the children," explains Caitríona.
There is one big difference — streaming.
"The level is pretty good here, generally though, they stream the children very early on.
"At the end of primary school, you get 'advice' for your child. Based on this advice your child will go to a secondary school that is geared towards university, or higher vocational etc.
"There are about six different levels and whilst you can switch, it's not the easiest and will end up taking you longer," she explains.
As for third-level fees, what happened in Ireland also happened in The Netherlands.
"Third-level education was free for a long time but they changed this a few years ago, now you pay for it although there is talk of reversing this.
"There are also of course the extra costs. Most students move out of home once they start studying," says Caitríona.
Ailbhe Storan, originally from Limerick city, lives in Dubai with her husband.
Not many people will be emigrating to the UAE for education purposes, third-level or otherwise, but it is a consideration, especially for expats who may bring children up there and need to access schools.
Islam is the only religion taught in schools there.
"Only Islam is taught in schools," says Ailbhe.
However, public schooling is the norm there, but language can be a barrier.
"Students don’t have to go to private schools, they can go to public schools but the majority of them will be taught through Arabic and they would need English to go on to the majority of universities," explains the Limerick woman.
As for third-level, "the majority of students would travel abroad for university," says Ailbhe.
Sonya Coogan, originally from Co Monaghan, now lives with her husband and two stepchildren in Lisbon, Portugal.
Like Ireland, religion is a part of the Portuguese education system. And when it comes to public versus private, the public is often the preferred route because of the standard of teaching.
However, there is one marked difference between Ireland and Portugal, and that is strikes; teachers are on very low pay and industrial action is taken regularly and at no notice, leaving parents in the lurch and grandparents having to step into the breach.
"The public and private schools are both excellent. Some would swear the public schools are actually better. They do incorporate religion into education.
"The kids here do the Holy Communion and stuff but it is different. They do it after school. And they do it after Mass on a Sunday near the churches, preparing them for Holy Communion," explains Sonya.
The big difference between the schools here and at home is the regular striking.
"They tend to have a lot of strikes here, which is annoying but it's because they're so lowly paid. The kids could go into school on a Monday morning and be told: 'We're striking today'. It's not announced and you're not given major notice like in Ireland.
"They'll just hit you with a strike in the morning and you don't even know," says Sonya.
"Most of the families here would have to have their grandparents pick up the children because both parents generally work because of the salaries," she adds.
Some schools provide after-school, where the kids can do extra study, but there is a fee. They also provide lunch for a euro or two. "It's cheap, but it's in scale with salaries," says Sonya.
Sonya runs the Irish in Lisbon Facebook page.