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Part II – Analytic Section

6. Progress towards goals and targets (1990-1999)

GOAL 1 – Expansion of Early Childhood Care and Developmental Activities

The main channel of State support for early childhood education is found in the national school system. Although a child is not required by law to attend school until s/he has reached her/his sixth birthday, virtually all 5 year olds and more than half of 4 year olds attend primary schools. The participation rate among 4-year-old girls is four to five percentage points greater than that for boys.

State provision for younger children (less than 4 years) is significantly less developed. Just over one per cent of 3 year olds was classified as in full-time education on 1 January 1998. The State’s first involvement in the pre-school area – the Rutland Street Project – commenced 30 years ago. In recent years, the Department of Education and Science has introduced a range of other programmes which have a particular focus on early education: the Early Start Pre-school pilot programme, pre-school provision for travellers and for children with disabilities, and the Breaking the Cycle pilot project. Significant development of the sector is expected to follow the forthcoming publication of a White Paper on Early Childhood Education.

Other Government Departments are also involved in early childhood education provision, principally for children deemed to be "at risk" or as a by-product of programmes focusing on provision of childcare.

Goal 2. Universal access to, and completion of, primary education by 2000

A State-funded and administered national school system was established in Ireland in 1831. This provided universal access to primary education. As in the case of other developed countries, participation in primary education in Ireland is, and has been for some time, virtually universal. Ireland started from a high base rate, with participation in primary education virtually universal in 1990.

Innovative initiatives in the areas of disadvantage have sown the seeds for progress towards a more inclusive education system.

The Minister for Education and Science has introduced a new Education (Welfare) Bill which is currently being debated in the Oireachtas (Parliament) and will be enacted in 2000. The new legislation, which will replace school attendance legislation dating from 1926, will:

A new National Educational Welfare Board will be established under the legislation. The Board will include representatives of the education partners and the State agencies involved in the education, care and welfare of children. The emphasis of the Board will be on assistance to schools, families and children, rather than penalties for non-attendance at school.

The Board will co-ordinate State services to children who have school attendance problems. In addition the Board will conduct and commission research into the reasons behind school attendance problems and develop strategies and initiatives to address these problems.

The aim in this legislation is to improve our ability to ensure that children and young people remain within the education system for as long as possible.

Goal 3: Improvement in Learning Achievement

Exactly half of Ireland’s population aged 25-64 years had not completed upper secondary education in 1996 compared to 62 per cent in 1989. Our low relative ranking in this indicator reflects the low level of educational investment in Ireland up to thirty years ago. Even for the age group 25-44, Ireland still lags behind many other countries in relation to completion of upper secondary education. Again, this reflects the relatively recent increase in second-level completion rates. However for the younger age groups our position improves. One-third (34%) of Ireland’s population aged 25-34 years had not completed upper secondary education in 1996. The number of young people aged 20-24 without upper secondary qualifications has declined by the equivalent of 12 percentage points (from 38% to 26%) from 1989 to 1995.

11% of Irish 25-64 year olds had at least a higher education degree qualification in 1996 compared to 7 per cent in 1989. 14% of Irish 25-34 year olds had at least a higher education degree qualification in 1996.

Irish men without an upper secondary qualification are 2.5 times as likely to be unemployed as their counterparts who have completed upper secondary, while women are 2.2 times as likely to be unemployed.

There is a strong positive relationship in Ireland educational attainment and earnings. University-level graduates earn substantially more than upper secondary graduates. For men in the same age-range (30-44), the premium is 69 per cent. For women in the same age-range, the premium is 97 per cent. University education enhances earnings relative to secondary-level education more for women than for men in Ireland.

In Ireland, earnings differentials between men and women narrow with increasing educational attainment.

In Ireland women in the age group 25 to 64 have more average years of schooling than men in the same age group.

Intergenerational change in completion of tertiary education: In Ireland, for those aged 16 – 65, one is 5 times more likely to obtain tertiary education if one has a well-educated parent than if one has poorly educated parents (based on IALS data). The Irish situation may reflect a situation where a majority of parents did not graduate from secondary school and where a much smaller proportion of the descendants with a tertiary qualification came from these parents. It may also reflect greater barriers to access to tertiary education.

School expectancy: The number of years of full-time and part-time education that a 5 year-old child in Ireland can expect to receive over his or her lifetime was 15.6 years in 1996. Between 1985 and 1996, Ireland had large increase in the expected years in education. School expectancy increased in Ireland between 1990 and 1996 by 1.1 years.

Irish 15 year olds could expect 5.7 years in education in 1996.

Participation in full-time education increased for 16-18 year olds in the 10 year period from 1987/88 to 1997/98. For 16 year olds it increased from 89 per cent to 91 per cent, for 17 year olds it increased from 69 per cent to 82 per cent and for 18 year olds from 42 per cent to 61 per cent.

Qualifications of School Leavers: In 1996, 81 per cent of our second level school leavers left school with an ISCED 3 qualification, compared to 70 per cent in 1986.

Student achievement in Mathematics: In the TIMSS Ireland’s 9 year-olds had a significantly higher Mathematics performance than many other OECD countries like Scotland, England, Norway, and New Zealand.

Within country variation: The difference between the best and the weaker 13-14 year-old Mathematics performers in Ireland was 4 times the average progress in mathematics achievement made by students in OECD countries (33 points) between 1st and 2nd year in Junior cycle.

Variation of student mathematics achievement associated with classes and schools: Ireland displays a relatively large difference between classes (e.g. streaming/tracking) and schools (e.g. socio-economic factors) - 45 per cent of the overall variation in student performance for 13-14 year-olds can be associated with variability in classes and schools

Enrolment rates: The number of years at which over 90 per cent of the population were enrolled in 1995/96 was 11 for Ireland (for ages 5-15). 14.6 per cent of Ireland’s population aged 15-19 were students.

In 1995/96, Ireland’s net entry rate to full-time third-level Certificate and Diploma type programmes was 24% and our entry rate into full-time Degree type programmes was 29%

31.4 per cent of our 18-21 year olds were enrolled in third level in 1995/96.

Participation in tertiary education increased significantly in the early 1990s. The total number of students enrolled in tertiary programmes grew by 51 per cent in Ireland between 1990 and 1995. Ireland had relatively low levels of expectancy of tertiary education in 1990. Third-level expectancy in Ireland increased by 0.8 years over the last 5 years (2.2 years at present). A growth in demand, reflected in higher participation rates is the main factor that drove expansion in tertiary enrolments with the change in the size of the youth cohort only contributing slightly.

In Ireland the university survival rate is 77 per cent.

The largest concentration of Degree level qualifications awarded in Ireland in 1995 was in the Humanities field of study, and the largest concentration of Certificate and Diploma level qualifications was in the Law and business field. Ireland had few graduates in Medical science but a high number of graduates in the Natural science, Mathematics and computer science fields.

There was a high percentage of Certificate, Diploma and Degree qualifications in Natural science, Mathematics and computer science, and in Law and business awarded to women in Ireland in 1995. However, a disproportionate number of Irish Certificate and Diploma level qualifications awarded in the Engineering and architecture field were to men. In Ireland only 8 per cent of these non-degree qualification were awarded to women.

Goal 4: Reduction of the adult illiteracy rate, especially the disparity between male and female illiteracy rates

International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS): The IALS document scale tested the knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats such as official forms, timetables, maps and charts. At least one quarter of adults in all countries tested performed below the desirable minimum in the document scale but in Ireland the proportion at this level was 57 percent. This 57 per cent for Ireland decreases to 50 per cent for the younger age group (aged 16-25).

Goal 5: Expansion of basic education and training in other essential skills required by youth and adults

Participation in continuing education and training by adults: Participation rates (based on the IALS) were 22 per cent in Ireland. The participation rate in job- or career-related education and training (CET) is similar, with Ireland having a rate of 17 per cent.

Continuing Education and Training by age: The gap in participation rates between the younger and older population is wide in Ireland. Twenty two per cent of Ireland’s 25-34 year olds participated in job-related education and training in 1994-95 compared to only 13 per cent of 45 to 54 year olds. The mean number of hours, spent in all adult education and training, per 25-34 year old was 84, while the mean number of hours per 45 to 54 year old was 38.

With respect to participation in job-related continuing education and training, employed adults in Ireland are more than three times as likely to participate as unemployed adults.

Participation rates in adult education and training tend to rise with earnings. In Ireland those who are in the top 20 per cent income bracket are almost 5 times more likely to participate in job-related education and training than those who have no income or are in the bottom 20 per cent income bracket

The percentage of adult education and training courses that received at least partial funding from an employer in 1994-1995 was low in Ireland.

In Ireland female employees were more likely to participate in education and training than men. Female employees in Ireland were one and a half more likely to participate than male employees. Women were only half as likely, however to receive employer financial support for training.

Perceived barriers to participation in CET among non-participants who wanted to take training (1994-1995): Ireland had a highest percentage of non-participants who said they did not participate because the course they were interested in was not offered.

Goal 6: Increased acquisition by individuals and families of the knowledge , skills and values required for better living, made available through all education channels.

Adult rates of Participation in Education and Training

In Ireland adult rates of participation in education and training are below average. A Government Green Paper on Adult Education was published in 1998 and the Government is currently preparing a White Paper (policy statement) on the topic of adult education.

The Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS), operated through the Vocational Education Committees, is designed to provide education and training opportunities (courses of up to two years' duration) for long-term unemployed people over the age of 21. Its primary objective is to equip long-term unemployed people with the skills needed to enhance their chances of obtaining employment, either directly or through progression to further education and training. The annual cost of the scheme is IEP 25m (1998 figures).

The Area Development Management (ADM) Partnerships are also working to break the cycle of early school leaving, unemployment and poverty through the funding of preventive education projects. A recent OECD review has shown that the Partnerships are achieving some success in the areas of enterprise creation and development, education and training and services for the unemployed.

A Back to Education Programme administered by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs is designed to encourage unemployed persons to participate in a range of second or third-level education programmes or training and development courses.

Legislation was enacted in 1999 to:

The development of a national framework of qualifications will make possible arrangements for access, transfer and progression for learners. Thus each learner will be able to determine her or his own educational goals and see how they can be fulfilled. This will make education and training goals a continuing and lifelong ambition.

A major purpose of the legislation is the creation of greater partnership, co-operation and cohesion between the education and training sector on the one hand and industry, business and the wider community on the other.

Investment in Education

In Ireland public and private investment in education increased between 1990 and 1995 in real terms. The increase amounted to 32 per cent. However, the increase was even greater (at 42%) when looking at Tertiary education alone.

In 1995, the Irish proportion of total public expenditure accounted for by education was 13.5%.

The proportion of total public expenditure that was devoted to education increased in Ireland between 1990 and 1995 by about 1.2 percentage points. Most of the increase was at Primary and Secondary level.

Total public expenditure, as a percentage of GDP in Ireland in 1995 was low at 39 per cent.

Between 1990 and 1995, public spending on tertiary education institutions and on financial aid for students increased by 33 per cent in Ireland. Private spending increased by more than two-thirds (mostly because of Subsidies to students for tuition fees, pre the ‘free fees’ initiative).

Expenditure per primary student increased in Ireland by 34 per cent between 1990 and 1995. Second-level expenditure per student increased by 22 per cent over the same period despite an increase in second-level participation. Expenditure per tertiary student in 1995 almost kept pace with that in 1990 despite a 50 per cent + growth rate in tertiary enrolment.

Expenditure per student as a percentage of per capita GDP: Ireland’s expenditure per student, for all levels of education combined, as a percentage of per capita GDP in 1995 was 19%.

Does growing wealth translate into higher spending per student? The answer was ‘yes’ for Ireland for both primary and secondary students, where the change in per student expenditure from 1990 to 1995 was positively correlated with the change in GDP per capita (i.e. expenditure rose along with GDP per capita.

Our spending per student at primary level relative to second and third levels was low.. Setting primary level expenditure at 100, Second level expenditure would have amounted to 158 and third level to 338 in 1995.

Relative split between current and capital spending: At Primary and Secondary level the capital proportion of total expenditure in 1995 was only 4 per cent in Ireland. At Third-level the capital proportion of total expenditure in 1995 was 8 per cent.

Expenditure on teacher pay in primary and second level in Ireland, accounted for 84 percent of total current expenditure in 1995. This left only 16 per cent for other current expenditure.

Expenditure on teacher pay in third level in Ireland, accounted for 55 percent of total current expenditure in 1995.

Pupil teacher ratio: In 1995/96, Ireland’s p.t.r. at primary level was 23:1 compared to 27:1 in 1990. At Second-level, Ireland’s p.t.r. was 16:1 in 1995/96 compared to 17:1 in 1990.

Class Size

In 1997/98 there were 1,300 pupils in class sizes of 40 and over compared to 24,500 in 1989/90. There were in addition 174,900 in classes of 30-39 in 1997/98 compared to 361,500 in 1989/90.

Integration of Pupils with Special Education Needs

The number of pupils with special education needs in ordinary schools more than doubled between 1989/90 and 1997/98.

7. Effectiveness of the EFA Strategy, Plan and Programmes

As previous sections have illustrated, progress in the various target areas has been mixed. In the case of primary education for example, Ireland was starting from a high base rate, with participation in primary education virtually universal in 1990. Innovative initiatives in the areas of disadvantage, second chance and further education have sown the seeds for progress towards a more inclusive education system and a more equitable society. The pace of progress in early childhood education in particular has been slower. However, this relatively slow pace has facilitated thorough evaluation so that mistakes and problems encountered at pilot stage may be avoided later. Rapid progress in early childhood and adult education initiatives should be achieved in the next few years.

8. Main problems encountered and anticipated

As in the case of other developed countries, participation in primary education in Ireland is, and has been for some time, virtually universal. At second level, participation improved rapidly since the mid-1960s. However, in recent years, participation rates have reached a plateau and further progress will be more difficult. As indicated below, this progress can only be achieved through a re-focussing of effort and resources.

Another weakness highlighted in recent years is the lack of co-ordination of policy and effort between Government Departments and agencies. This lack of co-ordination may lead to duplication of effort and hamper the effectiveness of policy implementation. Efforts to improve co-ordination include the development of consultation mechanisms and the use of cross-departmental teams.

The Department of Education and Science itself must adapt to cope with the challenges of a rapidly changing environment and it is recognised that there is a need to overhaul the existing organisational structure, which has been in place for some time. Re-structuring plans are likely to involve a move away from a sector-based approach towards a thematic structure. This restructuring is taking place at a time of major change in public services in Ireland. The Strategic Management Initiative – a service wide process – seeks to ensure more efficient and effective policy formulation and implementation and a better service for customers. This Initiative requires all Government Departments to focus on their aims and objectives and to develop indicators to be used in evaluating progress towards the achievement of those objectives.

In 1996, 17 per cent of Ireland’s population was in the 5-14 age group.

The number of 5-14 year olds is expected to decline in Ireland by more than 20 per cent over the next decade.

In Ireland, the total number of students enrolled in 1995/96 was almost equal to the number of employed persons

9. Public Awareness, Political Will and National Capacities

There is a strong consensus that investment in education has been a major contributor to Ireland’s rapid economic growth in recent years. The Economic and Social Research Institute has stated that investment in human capital is at least as important as investment in physical infrastructure. It is recognised that continued investment in education will be necessary to sustain economic growth.

The rapidity of growth (fuelled in part by expenditure on education) has created its own problems. In particular, skills shortages have emerged and are emerging in a number of areas, notably in Information Technology, Teleservices, the Construction industry and hotel and catering services. The Government, in partnership with educational institutions and industry, is committed to tackling these problems head-on. Innovations such as the establishment of the Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund and the allocation of substantial funding for applied research will ensure that Ireland retains the capacity to remain at the leading edge in the technological arena. The setting up of the Future Skills Needs Group to identify and develop strategies to cope with possible skills shortages will ensure a proactive approach to the problem.

Labour shortages have highlighted the importance of increasing participation rates among women and long-term unemployed. A key issue in respect of raising female participation rates is affordability and availability of childcare facilities. Several inter-departmental groups have examined different aspects of the problem in the past two years and the Government is expected to finalize its strategy shortly. A range of initiatives has been introduced to educate and re-train long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged persons. The importance of these developments goes beyond economic considerations – they are underpinned by the need to promote a more just, equitable and inclusive society. Since the early 1990s, there has been increased recognition of the potential of education in this regard.

Although significant progress has been made in tackling educational disadvantage and raising participation rates in education over the last decade, further progress will be more difficult. Strategies must be tailored to tackle entrenched disadvantage. This is likely to involve a re-focussing of effort. The traditional approach has been to target disadvantaged schools, but this approach has a number of weaknesses, not least the fact that assistance is not available to the substantial numbers of students enrolled in non-designated schools – this is particularly a problem in rural areas.

In the coming years, the strategy will be re-focussed towards the identification of individual pupils in need leading to a more accurately targeted approach. In addition, schools will be required to bid for funding on the basis of specific plans. This will help to ensure more focussed and effective intervention.

Finally, major policy initiatives at each end of the educational spectrum will be developed in the next few years. A White Paper on early childhood education (birth to age 6) will provide a blueprint for the development of the sector. The key theme of the White Paper will be to raise quality of provision. At the other end of the spectrum, a Green Paper on Adult Education was published in November 1998. A process of consultation on the Green Paper is being undertaken and a White Paper on the subject will then follow. The development of the early childhood and adult education sectors illustrates the diversification of education beyond the traditional school system and reflects the consensus that has emerged concerning the importance of lifelong learning.

10. General Assessment of the Progress

Previous sections have highlighted the significant improvements over the last ten years in many of the target areas. The 1990s are widely seen in Ireland as a decade of rapid change. Not alone has the period seen significant economic growth accompanied by increased investment in education, but the education system itself has become more inclusive and all embracing. Initiatives in respect of the disadvantaged and second chance education have become increasingly mainstreamed. The findings of the International Adult Literacy Survey show that there is considerable scope for improvement in adult literacy levels in Ireland. The publication of the Green Paper and the forthcoming White Paper on Adult Education will set out the Government’s plans to tackle this area. Similarly, progress in early childhood education has been limited, but this is likely to change following publication in the near future of the Government’s White Paper on the issue.


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