Competitive Education

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Gerard Greally

Gerard is an Irish primary school & technology teacher based in Madrid, Spain. After training in London, he sought brighter skies and moved to an International school where he is ICT teacher to year 4, 5 and 6 students in an iPad one-to-one environment. Gerard...
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Should education systems be more competitive?

The Minister for Education in Ireland, Richard Bruton, recently announced that he plans to reform the Irish education system, introducing two years of ‘pre-school’ education and reforming the primary curriculum.

He has publicly announced that he is vying to make the Irish Education System the ‘best’ education system in Europe in 10 short years.

For me, this is a welcome new rhetoric. For far too long politicians have been short-sighted in their objectives, resorting to self-protection and providing short-term ‘patch-ups’ to ensure voters are satisfied come polling day.

With these announcements has come an unforeseen period of public consultations. Consultation with teachers and key players ensures that we learn from the shortcomings of the previous curriculum, while finding the optimum curriculum structures and time allocations to allow teachers a more “flexible approach” in the future. This ambitious target will not be achieved by a single big bang solution but by hundreds of incremental, brick-by-brick actions each year.

The Best in Europe

The recently published Action Plan for Education, the first in an annual series under the broader strategic framework, outlines not only key goals, but also targets and indicators. This is a brave move, as progress and success will be available for all to see.

Among the many novel aims of the plan, a key goal is to “help those delivering education services to continuously improve”, with key focus areas equipping teachers with the skills needed, and also increasing autonomy for schools. Surprisingly, I like the new model of Inspection; School-Self Evaluation (SSE) supported by ‘advisory visits’. It has the opportunity to be effective and timely, however wording remains vague and ominous!

By all means this ‘action plan’ appears to be a step in the right direction. There are hundreds of actions to be delivered over 40 months with yearly focus documents, regular updates and adjustments where necessary, allowing the flexibility needed for such sweeping changes to be implemented. This begs the question:

Our education systems form the foundation of the economic successes of the future (even more so when an economy is isolating itself from freedom of movement and free-market access). Bruton is all to aware of the importance of education and innovation. Previously, Bruton served as Minister for Jobs, promising to create 100,000 jobs in the middle of a recession; he actually outdid himself and created 200,000.

Difficult Decisions

It is all well and good, preparing students for today’s challenges, if they are entering into the workforce. However, if we think about what future awaits the children starting school, we are presented with a completely different set of needs and challenges.

Finland is leading the way once again, having announced that they are phasing out handwriting classes in favour of keyboard skills. It is these types of ‘difficult decisions’ that policy-makers need to make now for the benefit of the individual and the whole. Candace Lindemann in her article Full STEAM ahead: Designing education for the future states that:

“We may not be able to foresee the career of the future, but it is a good bet that critical thinking, creative problem solving, and familiarity with technology will be job requirements.”

Lindemann leans towards the idea that STEAM education should be at the core of our education systems, while being emphasised by a project-based approach. I cannot help but agree with Lindemann. When I attended primary school, science wasn’t even on the curriculum. Now, with advances in economies and curricula, science has been catapulted into the fore, and with it the rest of the STEAM ‘engine’. And for good reason. Innovation cannot take place confined to one track, STEAM ensures children’s learning encapsulates many of the important branches needed to provide innovative solutions.


Looking directly to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and their recent publication, Innovating Education and Educating for Innovation they specifically state that: “although education is not a change-averse sector, with improvements already taking place in classrooms, it has not managed to harness technology to raise productivity, improve efficiency, increase quality and foster equity in the way other public sectors have.”

This should not be seen as a failing, but an opportunity for us to improve how and what we deliver. There are many changes that can be made to our education systems to increase the quality and meet the needs of future, but maybe a bit of healthy competition is exactly what we need!


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