Reports Highlight Need for Investment in Education

By Gemma Creagh - Last update

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While the education sector struggles with the start of the 2020/2021 academic year under the weight of COVID-19 and the latest restrictions that are affecting thousands of students who have been forced to start college life online, two recent reports have highlighted Ireland’s poor track record for investment in education. 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently produced its latest report, Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators (OECD, 2019[1]), an annual report that looks at who participates in education, what is spent on it, how education systems operate and the results achieved. It is the authoritative source for information on the state of education around the world. It provides data on the structure, finances and performance of education systems in OECD and partner countries.

Published on 8th September this year’s report contained some stark statistics regarding the need for more investment into the Irish education sector in order to address how under-resourced it is when compared to international standards.

Of the countries for which figures are provided, only three spend a lower proportion of national wealth on education than Ireland’s (3.4%). At second level, Ireland’s spend (1.1%) is the lowest of the 36 countries for which figures are provided, trailing behind the OECD and European averages (both 1.9%).

At third level, the ratio of students to teaching staff of 20:1 remains significantly higher than the OECD average of 15:1 and European average of 14:1. 

Also the data points to a lack of opportunities for young people with inadequate resources being provided to the publicly-funded further and adult education sector as 13% of Ireland’s 20-24 year-olds are neither employed nor in education (NEETs), according to the latest OECD data. 

PISA is a series of reports on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment’s periodic testing program on student performance. The reports generally compare student (15 year olds) academic performance across countries, or discuss the methodology used to gather the data.

The OECD report PISA 2018 Results: Effective Policies, Successful Schools [2], which was published today, 28th September, contains within it data which once again highlights Ireland’s poor track record for investment in education. Based on data for 2018, the report shows significant disparities between Ireland and other OECD-listed countries. The data highlights a lack of staff, adequate facilities and necessary digital resources in the sector. 

44.8% of Irish students were in schools where the principal reported that the school’s capacity to provide instruction is hindered to some extent or a lot by lack of teaching staff compared to the OECD average of 27.1%.

44.6% of Irish students were in schools where the principal reported that the school’s capacity to provide instruction is hindered to some extent or a lot by a lack of physical infrastructure (e.g. building, grounds, heating/ cooling systems, lighting and acoustic systems) compared to the OECD average of 33.1%.

45.3% of Irish students were in schools where the principal agreed or strongly agreed that the number of digital devices for instruction was sufficient compared to the OECD average of 59%.

45.4% of Irish students were in schools where the principal reported that an effective online learning support platform was available compared to the OECD average of 54.1%.

Commenting on these findings, ASTI President, Ann Piggott, said, “Covid-19 has brought to the forefront the importance of school infrastructural capacity and digital learning capacity. The Government must prioritise funding for education in the October budget to upgrade school buildings and facilities so as to ensure that students and staff are protected and that every school has the capacity to revert to partial or full remote learning during this pandemic. 

The reality of these findings, as always, is a reflection of the fact that those hit hardest by the lack of investment in education are those from disadvantaged schools and contributes to a growing inequality in the education sector. It is vital that our education system provides an equal playing field for all to participate within, ensuring that all schools have adequate resources to ensure that students from all backgrounds are given equal opportunities to learn and come through school to the very best of their potential.

Sufficient funding must be put in place to address the problems highlighted in both reports and to improve the quality of resources and better match them with student needs. In this way, we can improve the level of high-quality education and ensure that no individual is disadvantaged by a lack of facilities, materials, resources, opportunities or access as result of inadequate investment in the sector.

1.OECD (2019), Education at a Glance 2019: OECD indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

2.OECD (2020), PISA 2018 Results (Volume V): Effective Policies, Successful Schools, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Gemma Creagh

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