The most recent OECD report on educational indicators received some coverage in the media but one would think from that coverage that the only issue of concern to the OECD was teachers’ pay. The report showed that Irish Teachers are paid better than the average and this was the focus of nearly every radio discussion I heard and every online discussion that I read. High profile radio shows like Matt Cooper’s ‘The Last Word’ focused exclusively on this issue. Given that Matt and most other commentators neglected to mention that Irish teachers spend longer in the classroom and teach bigger classes, one has to conclude that coverage was deliberately slanted so as to generate controversy – it was simple populism in the pursuit of ratings.
Indeed, the coverage raises the question as to why teachers seem to be held in such low regard in this country. I think there are three reasons. First, many people, especially those over the age of 40 will have had some pretty negative experiences of secondary school in particular. These may have involved only a small minority of teachers but I suspect that a negative experience at a young, impressionable age tends to stick with you.
Second, many people have an issue with the length of teachers’ holidays. There is perhaps an argument to be made that the school year should be extended, meaning that teachers would spend less time per week in the classroom, perhaps making their job less stressful in the process. However, I think the person in the street does not quite appreciate how stressful being a teacher must be. At the end of the university year, I and my colleagues always find ourselves mentally exhausted; and our job is nowhere near as demanding as that of the secondary school teacher. There is something uniquely stressful about having to stand up in front of a class day after day and that point needs to be made more forcefully by teachers. They need a decent chunk of time out of the classroom to remain sane in my view.
Thirdly, teachers do themselves no favours every year when they hold their annual conferences. While it is only a minority of teachers who attend these (union) conferences, the attendees come across as somewhat unprofessional. They really need to rethink how they run these annual events. Indeed, teachers would get a lot of kudos if they ran high profile conferences dealing with substantive pedagogical issues, somewhat like the ResearchEd conferences started by Tom Bennett in the UK.
Anyway, back to the OECD report. It’s gigantic (750 pages) so realistically all you can do is flick through it and pick out statistics that catch your eye. One of the things that emerge from the data is that acquiring a good education pays a greater dividend in Ireland than the OECD average. What that means I’m not sure but it’s interesting nonetheless.
Anyway, here are some eye-catchers. I’ll return to the report and dig out some more at a later date, time permitting.
- Ireland is tenth in terms of third level participation rates and along with South Korea has experienced especially large growth in this sector in the period 2000-2012.
- Taking all levels of education into account, our mean levels of literacy are below average.
- Our IT skills are nowhere near where they need to be. 23% of our 25-64 age group have ‘good’ ICT and problem solving skills. This compares with 34% in the UK. Top of the pile is Sweden with a rate of 41%.
- Our third level graduates are young – below the OECD average. (Somewhat surprisingly, Germans are even younger.)
- We are below the average for the percentage of third level students whose parents also have a third level education, not surprising perhaps given the huge growth in this sector in the last couple of decades. This is reflected in our high ranking (6th) in terms of upward educational mobility.
- In terms of employment rates and earning power, the value of a third level education in Ireland is better than the OECD average.
- The full-time employment rates of Irish female graduates is below the OECD average. Interestingly the Netherlands is the lowest. Obviously there are all kinds of issues here related to child care.
- There is a strong correlation between literacy levels and earning power and in that regard the value of literacy in Ireland is greater than the OECD average.
- Across the OECD, educational attainment correlates with good health (as self-reported), engagement with the democratic process, volunteering and levels of trust.
- Over all levels of education, our spend per student (2011 figures) is above the OECD average, even higher than mighty Finland. But Finland spends more on third level.