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Literacy: minister pledges reform

Stephen Donnelly (ind, Wicklow) expressed his concerns at the fall in educational standards and literacy, as recorded in the 2010 PISA results (Dail Eireann, Debates, 24th May 2012, 697-8).  The Minister for Education & Skills, Ruairi Quinn, told him that there had been extensive analysis of the 2009 results, including one by the Educational Research Centre in Drumcondra.  The centre had subsequently endorsed many of the actions of the literacy strategy launched in July 2011, one which set clear targets for improvements.  A real decline in reading standards did appear to have taken place in 15-year olds from 2000 to 2009.


Stephen Donnelly criticized what he called the reluctance of some key players to accept responsibility for a system which was failing badly.  We had doubled investment in education and seen the biggest decline in educational standards in the developed world in a decade.  He had not heard an acceptance of that failure and if we did not reverse this decline, we would consign ourselves to being a second world country for a long time.  When the Finnish economy suffered an increase in unemployment in the 1990s, it increased its funding in education, but he was not seeing brave new ideas here.  New Zealand had been through a similar experience, but he had not heard of any game changers here in a system that was collapsing, with 20% less money at second level and 30% less at third level.  He was increasingly concerned at our decline.


The minister, Ruairi Quinn, admitted that he shared his concerns.  The PISA results were a wake-up call and the result was to shake us out of our complacency in believing that we had the best education system in the world.  We had an education system that badly needed to be reformed.  €19m had been provided last year to improve teacher training, but we would not know for six years if that worked.  Despite extra resources put into the educational system for 10 to 15 years, outcomes had not improved for working class boys of 15 and only 20% came out of the system functionally literate.  Stakeholders might  be defensive, but ‘I am not.  We will reform our education system’.