A pioneer in the introduction of ICT in schools and a champion of a significant educational tradition, the Republic of Ireland has managed to face the challenges posed by the new education, and its students are among the best scored in the PISA tests, as can be seen in the Education at a Glance report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We explain some characteristics of their teaching model that can help you understand the improvement of Irish education in recent decades.
TEN PILLARS OF THE IRISH EDUCATION SYSTEM
- 1. Education is considered the key to progress and involves the whole of society.The Irish conceive education as a fundamental axis to achieve a modern and inclusive society, where all NEW citizens have the opportunity to participate in the country’s economy, so the level of social involvement is very high. Thus, changes in educational policies are agreed between the Ministry of Education, families, teachers and institutions. In addition, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) develops digital materials intended for families to support their children in studying from home. Ireland has a great educational tradition, and 41% of the population aged 25-65 have higher education. Currently, according to OECD data, 93% of students graduate from upper secondary school, and 46% graduate from university.
- 2. Education is free and compulsory from 6 to 16 years old. However, the usual thing is that students attend preschool from the age of four and continue their studies after the age of 16 until completing the second cycle of Secondary. The Irish educational model includes four fundamental educational levels: Primary (Primary, from 6 to 12 years old), first cycle of Secondary (Junior Cycle, from 12 to 15), second cycle of Secondary (Senior Cycle, from 15 at 18 years), and university level.
- 3. Education is centralized, but has external advice. The Ministry establishes the curriculum, the regulations that regulate the management, resources, and personnel of the schools and teachers’ salaries. However, external agencies advise on reforms, such as the NCCA, and a network of regional offices. In this way, you can focus on education policy issues while responding to the challenges of the future.
- 4. There are different types of schools, the majority of which are Catholic. In Ireland there are public and private schools of different types, languages and funding. However, most are privately owned and operated, and largely confessional. More than 90% of primary education centers are Catholic, although there are other religions, especially Christian and schools without religious ideology, such as those participating in the project “ Educate Together”. This does not new mean that there is no public school. Although the ownership is private, the State subsidizes more than 90% of their expenses in exchange for complying with the curriculum, assessments, and established state programs, and that their teachers are duly qualified. The centers have a lot of autonomy, since they can control both the selection of teachers and the admission of students. This last point has been controversial , as Irish law allows Catholic schools to consider religion as a key factor in admission. In this way, students who do not profess the Catholic religion are excluded from most of the country’s educational centers.
- 5. Teachers are valued and their ongoing training is encouraged. Teachers are highly regarded and their salaries, which are readjusted every 18 months based on achievements, are only slightly lower than those of an engineer. At the end of their studies, the Ministry observes and evaluates their first professional year: if it considers them competent, it grants them the certification; if not, they should continue studying. After acquiring the certification, teachers are evaluated by the principals and the Board of Directors of their school, and each summer they must attend a training course for one week. The Government provides them with support and training courses in their areas and in digital competence and pedagogical methods.
- 6. The Irish language is protected. Irish or Gaelic is a compulsory subject in the curriculum and the vehicular language in the Irish-speaking regions and in Gaelscoileanna- type schools , Irish-speaking centers in the English-speaking regions of the country. These schools have been increasing in number in recent decades, in line with the growing interest of the population and the Government’s commitment to dedicate more resources and support to the teaching of Gaelic.
- 7. The development of skills and practical learning are encouraged. In recent years, the recommendations and reforms introduced by the NCCA have been aimed at promoting an increasingly competent approach to teaching and a curriculum where all key competencies are developed and assessed. Another example of this promotion of practical learning is the so-called Transition Year, a transition year without exams that is taken as an option at the beginning of the second cycle of Secondary to develop different useful skills, carry out work practices and do a project. Students choose between the curricular, vocational or applied program in the last two years of the cycle, each with a final state exam.
- 8. The student is the protagonist of learning. In 1971, Ireland reformed the curriculum, which then revolved around subjects, to commit to personalized learning, focused on developing the capacities and interests of each student to the maximum. Concepts such as action learning and discovery were then introduced. Today the curriculum promotes active learning and, from Primary, emphasis is placed on the unique character of each student and the importance of learning to learn to face challenges outside of school.
- 9. There is methodological freedom and flexibility of schedules. Although the curricula encourage scientific research, project-based learning, personalized and online learning, or cooperative learning, teachers are given freedom to apply the method they deem most convenient in each case, respecting their criteria. and attending to the needs of each group. Likewise, although the Ministry sets hours for each subject, it offers flexibility to schools and teachers to make variations as long as the set objectives are met.
- 10. The use of ICT is promoted in the classroom. Ireland was one of the pioneer countries in introducing ICT in schools and in 1999 they already appeared in the Primary curriculum. Since then, the Government has invested heavily in equipping schools with adequate and up-to-date digital equipment, training teachers in digital competence, and instrumentally integrating ICTs in all subjects.