THOUGH there are very many different, if not conflicting, interests in our educational system it is assumed that there is a common purpose.
That being the intellectual and social formation of all of our children to more or less their academic potential, certainly to the point that they can take the next step along the road towards further education or begin a career. Certainly to the point where they can live independent and fulfilling lives while making a valued contribution to society.
How that point is reached, and what or where that point is exactly, has become a matter of considerable debate, tension and, unfortunately, stasis.
Inappropriate school buildings, class sizes, the reduction of the number of special needs assistants and the cut in supports for children who are not fluent in English, are some of the many issues at primary level.
The seemingly inexorable grade inflation at second level has done the credibility of our second-level education system and the professional integrity of teachers no favours. Neither has the fact that so many teachers give classes in subjects in which they do not have a primary degree. In maths almost half of those teaching the subject are in that position. This seems unfair to both the teachers and students. Neither does it match our ambitions as a society, especially as it would not be too hard, if the political will and courage existed to do it, to confront the problem.
A knowledge-based economy has been repeatedly held up as our road to economic redemption and, in 2010, that means a large cadre of young workers educated to a fairly high level in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).
Last year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that Ireland allocates just the OECD average teaching time for maths and spends 4% below the OECD average on science in secondary schools. Assessing Irish post-primary education and training in 2009-2010, the World Economic Forum ranked Ireland only number 20 in the world. Continuing the reality check, the quality of maths and science education in Ireland was ranked 24th in the world and we reach just 47th for internet access in schools.
This level of performance and delivery will not create a knowledge-based economy. Once again we are being delusional and unless we immediately act on this we will find ourselves in even more difficulties than we are already. It is disheartening that there seems to be no sense of urgency, no crusade or understanding that we are barely standing still, and unless we up our game very considerably we will be left very far behind.
There are few enough areas we control as completely as our educational system and how uplifting, how right and reassuring it would be, if there was something close to a crusade to make ours as fit for purpose as it can be. It would require honesty and a degree of selflessness that has not been terribly apparent right across society, but of the options available to us it is possibly the very best way of rebuilding our economy and society.
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