The Irish schooling system: playing catch-up with the world

Understanding the Irish schooling system

The sixteenth-century Tudor monarchs’ establishment of the first state-funded Educational institutions in Ireland, with the first printing presses appearing under Henry Queen Elizabeth; all in all, this led to the establishing Trinity College Dublin, approving the printing of the first Irish language books, and instructing Latin-free schools be established in each parish.

Six centuries of studies revealed that young people in Ireland are the most educated in all of Europe. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that 56% of 25 to 34-year-olds in Ireland have received higher or further education. 

In the fourth class, for example, students in Ireland ranked in ninth place for maths and 18th place for science. Northern Ireland students ranked seventh.

In the second year, students in Ireland ranked in seventh place for maths and 10th for science.

Encouragingly, the results show lower-achieving students in Ireland performed significantly better than the average of students in all countries surveyed.

However, there is a wide gap between the highest performing students in Ireland and their peers in countries with similar overall performance.

These overall performance patterns for students in Ireland reflect the findings gathered in the previous survey in 2015. This is despite junior cycle curriculum changes which were introduced over recent years.



Accepting the winds of change 

Nowadays not all school graduates pursue a 9-5 job. Some may decide to work freelance, open an online business, or take a less traditional career path. Instead of learning about these career paths in school (and many more important subjects that are necessary for students to live their lives fully), pupils are still “encouraged” to go the corporate way, to be a herd of sheep ruled by shepherds.

Let’s compare Ireland’s educational system to Finland’s. These are two countries that frequently rank in the top ten education systems in the world. Despite ranking well, the foundations of the education systems in these countries are very different.

For example in Ireland, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of school is uniforms. Uniforms of different colours everywhere. Meanwhile, Finland allows their children to wear whatever they want, whenever they want. Another comparison might be the fact that Ireland gives 7.3 hours on average of homework to pupils every week. Finland gives 2.8 hours a week of homework.

Then comes the fact that students in Finland spend only 3 hours and 45 minutes on average on a school day, but Irish students spend on average 7 hours.

To me, this shows that the Finnish education system puts the student’s well-being first and emphasises freedom for the students. On the other hand, Ireland believes that uniformity and obedience are the key to success.

This is why I believe Ireland will struggle to stay high in the world rankings. You cannot make a teenager listen to you by force or make them do what you want just because you are the teacher. The only way you make someone excited for school and excited to learn new things is by giving them freedom and supporting them, not dictating to them.

In my opinion, the conservative way of doing things that has been a part of the Irish society for so long, and that has helped Ireland prosper over the last couple of decades, has had its time. If we continue to do things the same way and fail to evolve with the times, the education system will get worse and worse.

The world is changing constantly so Ireland has a choice – to either change with it or to stay behind it.


What the future holds for the Irish schooling system 

George Muir has spoken at conferences across Europe, Australia and the US on the future of the workplace, artificial intelligence (AI) ethics and how AI will impact our professional lives in the future.

According to Muir, the Irish education system needs “to wake up fast” and adapt its approach to providing the right kind of skill sets to enable the future workforce to deal with the oncoming fifth revolution.

They need to learn to change their teaching practices to enable students here to think differently and properly for this new world and get them to collaborate on a different and advanced level,” he told

“The educational curriculum is based for the jobs in the 50s, 60s, 70s. In five years time, when you need to work in a completely different way you need to have skillsets like collaboration and innovation; universities and schools in Ireland are not thinking in that way whatsoever. “

Muir cites Finland as an example case where schools use open learning, no desks or classrooms, with 50-70 students of all ages in the one-room all learning and collaborating together.

With the education system being heavily affected due to the pandemic, various studies conducted indicate that Ireland’s struggling education infrastructure has negatively affected students and teachers alike. Issues like Patchy broadband services across the country mean many secondary school teachers are struggling to provide online learning for their students.

Unreliable internet access for teachers at their homes was a barrier to teaching for one in three teachers (35%), a survey of second-level teachers by has found. And teachers in rural areas have to struggle even more with bad internet connections, with 53% of teachers in Mayo, 50% in Wexford and 48% in Cavan reporting patchy internet services as a barrier to teaching online.



What Now?

 As the Taoiseach gears up to address the nation today there is one word you will be hearing in relation to the reopening of schools today and it will probably be “phased”.

Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn stated, “A phased return, a cautious slow return” is how he put it following a meeting of NPHET last week. Glynn went on to outline that students will return class-by-class over a number of weeks. 

He said that as classes return public health experts will “monitor the entirety of the situation”. He noted however that a full public health assessment won’t be required at each point. 

The national will know more when Taoiseach Micheál Martin gives a live address to the nation after 6 pm today, explaining when the Government’s revised Living with Covid plan.

School reopening will be the centrepiece of the revamped plan, however, with the lockdown seeming to be headed towards another extension there is much to be explained and accepted by the Irish public.

Detailed dates of school re-opening can be found: here 



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