Ireland’s share of GDP spent on education is the smallest of 38 nations

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Ireland ranks last out of nearly 40 countries for the proportion of national wealth it devotes to education, according to a report by the Paris-based think tank, the OECD.

he spotlight on education systems around the world also highlights that Irish teachers are paid above the world average and that class sizes are larger than in other countries.

The annual Education at a Glance report compares the education systems of 38 OECD countries, as well as those of Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation , Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

It was released alongside a special report on the impact of the pandemic on education, including significant learning losses, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The State of Global Education: 18 Months into the Pandemic report states that lessons must be learned from experience, including the need for a strong digital learning infrastructure.

Data on Covid-related school closures between January 2020 and mid-May 2021 indicate that Irish preschools and primary schools have been closed longer than the international average. At the secondary level, Irish schools have closed for fewer days.

It indicates that in Ireland full school closures lasted on average 72 days (pre-primary), at least 96 days (primary), 91 days (lower secondary) and at least 72 days (upper secondary).

It compares to 55, 78, 92 and 101 days, respectively, on average across the OECD. Schools in many countries have also opened with reduced capacity, including a 19-day partial opening for upper secondary students in Ireland, below the OECD average of 57.

About two-thirds of countries reported an increase in funding for schools to help tackle the crisis in 2020.

In Ireland, this amounted to 330 million euros, as part of the envelope of 639 million euros covering the 2020/21 academic year.

Key findings from Education at a Glance include the fact that the 3.3% of Ireland’s GDP spent on education in 2018 was the lowest of almost 40 countries and compared to an OECD average of 4.9% and an EU average of 4.4%.

GDP is a measure of the size of the economy, although the Irish figure is likely to overestimate the actual size as it includes income repatriated by multinationals.

Teachers in Ireland are paid above the OECD average, and between 2005 and 2020 the salaries of those with 15 years of experience increased from 16 to 17pc, up from 2 to 3pc.

Female teachers in Ireland tended to earn slightly more than other female graduates, while the average earnings of male teachers are 71-75% of other male graduates.

Irish primary school teachers spend more time teaching than the OECD average, at 909 hours compared to 704 in the OECD as a whole. At secondary level, Irish teachers spend 704 hours teaching, compared to the OECD average of 685 to 723.

Irish primary schoolchildren spend twice as much time learning religion as the OECD and EU average, with 10% of class time devoted to the subject in Ireland, compared to 5% internationally . They also spend less than half of the time in physical education as children in other countries, with 4% of class hours devoted to the subject, compared to 9% in the OECD and 10% in the EU.

Ireland is one of the most advanced countries in terms of time spent on literacy and has fewer children from disadvantaged socio-economic groups who score lowest in reading – 16% compared to the OECD average of 29%.

Primary class sizes in Ireland are above the OECD average of 21 and the EU average of 22 (figures for 2019). At the time, the Irish figure was 24 and is now closer to 23.

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