Sinéad Pentony: Today’s news that class sizes are set to increase highlights the shortsightedness of responses to the fiscal crisis.
As in many areas of public expenditure, Ireland has consistently lagged behind other OECD and EU countries both in terms of spending and performance. Ireland spends 4.7 per cent of GDP on education compared to the OECD average of 6.2 per cent. Even during the boom, education spending remained one of the lowest in the OECD. Our class size average is 24 pupils, compared with an EU average of 20, which is the second largest in the EU. The Minister for Education has said that our education system is not ‘fit for purpose’ and he’s right – our reading levels (OECD/Pisa survey results) have fallen from 5th place in 2000 to 17th place in 209. Our ranking in mathematics tumbled from 16th in 2006 to 26th in 2009. So the proposal to increase class sizes will reduce our low level of spending even further and will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on our performance. Also, the impact of increased class sizes will be felt disproportionately in schools and communities that are already struggling with reduced resources. These schools tend to be concentrated in deprived areas where there is limited scope for parents to make “voluntary contributions” to their local schools.
However in the medium-long term, cutbacks in education will impact on our ability to compete at a global level in new industries that are driven by innovation. An education system that is ‘fit for purpose’ requires:
• a major reduction in class sizes at all levels in the education system
• proper equipping of all schools with educational technology
• a radical movement away from rote learning and mass testing at all levels of the system towards group-based project work.
Our recovery is predicated on investment in our future – education.