In a system where ministers are addicted to spin, it is refreshing and rare that one of them would confront the public with a bitter truth. So credit where it's due to Ruairí Quinn, minister of education, for acknowledging publicly that the common myth of Irish education being 'world class' is a delusion.
The Irish Times reports that the minister said Thursday at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin, that the belief that the Irish education system was among the best in the world was:
This is very important because at policy level and in the media -- the transmission system for spin - - the perpetuation of myths is against the public interest because why change an inadequate system that is perceived as among the best?
It's also important to recognise that Ruairí Quinn didn't say the education system is bad. It compares well with several countries. What he said is that in general, it is far from the best.
On ministers delivering inconvenient truths, it would for example be welcome if Richard Bruton, minister of jobs, enterprise and innovation, suspended his permanent publicity campaign and had the cojones to deliver some unpalatable truths to vested interests, develop a credible jobs strategy and for once challenge the demands of the third level research establishment.
In recent weeks, Prof Brian Mac Craith, president of Dublin City University, claimed that research performance of universities has soared over recent decades. After spending about €24bn on public science policy in real terms over a decade, the performance should of course have improved but the output metrics to not support the claim.
What George Orwell described as "euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness," can be found in the common use of the term 'world class' in Ireland, which was vividly illustrated by an Irish Times report on 10 Oct, 2010 titled: "Fás board to agree plan for new 'world-class' skills body."
The aspiration of just competence and prudence in public spending may have required the need for some practical specifics rather than the realm of fairytales - - an art we excel at.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) comprises
all the world's developed countries amongst its 34 members, coupled with a small
number of emerging economies. It says that in Ireland, 73% of adults aged 25-64 have
earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, close to the OECD average of 74%.
In contrast to the overall OECD experience, more women have graduated high
school than men, as 71% of men have successfully completed high-school compared
with 76% of women. In terms of the quality of its education system, the average
student scored 497 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), in line with the OECD
average. On average in Ireland, girls outperformed boys by 11 points,
slightly more than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
The OECD has said that the apprenticeship system (limited to a narrow set of occupations) lasts four years, during which apprentices hired by firms follow a predetermined sequence of on-the job and off-the-job phases. "Because of the economic crisis, fewer apprenticeships were available. Diversifying apprenticeships into more sectors can improve the offer and better meet the demands of the labour market. Ireland has a comprehensive national qualifications framework that includes vocational and general qualifications, which can help remove dead ends as students’ progress through their education."
Earlier this year, Finfacts said the apprenticeship system was a shambles.
While Finland responded to its economic crisis in the early 1990s with a radical overhaul of its education system, there appears little appetite for change from across the Irish education system. Where are the fresh ideas from the universities?
Ireland and Finland, both members of the euro system, ended 2007 with the same level of GDP (gross domestic product). Finland had surplus public funds of €130bn while Ireland had net debt of €20bn after offsetting cash balances and the value of the National Pensions Reserve Fund.
In Ireland last September, a UCD-Trinity College university merger proposal in a leaked draft report triggered a rapid reaction from various interests to kill the chicken in the egg. It was as if a fatwa had been issued by the elite. There would not even be a discussion on it.
Seán Flynn, 'The Irish Times'
education editor, reported: "Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and three
university presidents last night moved to distance themselves from a
controversial report recommending a merger of University College Dublin with
Trinity College Dublin, and other radical changes. Mr Quinn said such a merger
was 'neither feasible nor desirable,' while key elements of the report 'would
not be acceptable to Government.'
OECD's tribute to the Finnish system
Finland has a 3rd ranking in the current 2013/2014 rankings, issued this week. Ireland is at 28th compared with 11th in 2001.
OECD Education Policy Outlook: Ireland (June 2013) [pdf]
Themes in the advertising in the United States of IDA Ireland, the inward investment agency, including: “The young Europeans: Hire them before they hire you,” “People are to Ireland as Champagne is to France” and “People are to Ireland as oil is to Texas,” were effective in promoting Ireland as having a skilled and educated workforce.
By 2006, the Irish Mind theme however, reflected the hubris of the period and was cringe-inducing for those of us who hadn't drank the contemporary Kool-Aid:
The reality in Ireland is that the conservative mindset endures.
Then a new series of IDA Ireland advertisements inspired by Albert Einstein at a blackboard explaining his theory of relativity (see below), promoted Ireland as a knowledge economy and an innovation hub.
“The right environment for your company is a place where innovation comes naturally,” the announcer declares on one TV advertisement.
Eventually, reality strikes and today less than one third of IDA Ireland's client companies do even minimal research and development in Ireland. None of the Irish units of the giant American companies has a strategic R&D centre located in Ireland.
What these companies need are for example multilingual administrators and tech workers skilled in localisation. However, since the 1980s, Ireland has been debating the expansion of language teaching at primary level. The debate is ongoing -- see Eurostat's data on Ireland and the rest of the EU [pdf].
As for the 1980s aspiration that the graduates could well be hiring for their own businesses, another reality is that the indigenous sector today remains the poor relation of the foreign-owned sector in Ireland.
...and back to 'world class.' This was the year when Ireland was to meet the 2006 aspiration to be recognised as a 'world class' knowledge economy. Don't mention the war! The issue has been quietly buried.
So cue lots of talk on education but do not expect Finnish-style change or even change.
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