Spending on education

Irish Independent

IT COULD be argued -- and indeed is being argued -- that comparing this country's spending on education with that of other countries, expressed as a proportion of gross domestic Product, is a useless exercise.

Since a sizeable chunk of GDP flies out of the country in the form of multinational companies' repatriated profits, Gross National Product would be a more realistic base from which to calculate proportionate spending.

The Education Minister may draw some comfort from such logic this morning, as he reads an OECD report which places Ireland's spending on education -- as a percentage of GDP -- at the second lowest in Europe. When expressed as a proportion of GNP, the picture looks much more respectable.

The argument goes: if the Government had matched its spending on education with annual growth, year by booming year, there would be no prefabs in the playgrounds today and no overcrowded classrooms; schools would be equipped with splendid new computers to be plugged into the new broadband sockets, and the opposition would have less ammunition with which to bombard Mr O'Keeffe. Unfortunately, life and politics do not work that way.

Instead, the minister and his predecessor are being accused by Fine Gael of stealthily introducing a series of education cutbacks in the past 12 months, using deferral and diversion techniques.

For his part, the minister insists that the Government places the disadvantaged at the top of its priority list, at all levels of education.

The Government would "continue to target resources at those most in need . . . and continue to build the knowledge economy", he said. Unfortunately, today's OECD report also confirms that this country's school class sizes are among the highest in the world. A cursory glance at the geographic spread of overcrowded classrooms, as revealed in an Irish Independent survey on Monday, suggests that the "disadvantaged" have not yet received priority treatment where pupil/teacher ratios are concerned. The minister has defended the Government's performance on education and insists that things have improved since the OECD took its findings. Regardless of which method is used to measure investment in education, the most important thing is what goes on in the classroom. Until that is seen to be right, continued talk of a "knowledge economy" sounds increasingly hollow.


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