Philosophy & Science of Learning

Education Cuts Seem to be Inevitable

It seems to be on the cards that there will be cutbacks in education as Ireland struggles to put together a four year budget plan to grapple with the financial debt crisis.
I like to talk about learning rather than politics or economy in these posts but it seems that cuts will have to be made – indeed are being made – and these cuts will effect all our learning futures and therefore warrant consideration.

As an educator I believe that, after the basic needs such as safety, health and sustenance are met, the primary task of any nation is the provision of education. Education is the means whereby culture and societal practices are developed and reproduced. Once we fail to educate then we fail as a society.
Furthermore, as John Dewey pointed out, the provision of open and accessible education is essential for the proper functioning of democracy. When we suppress education we undermine the process of developing new thinking, critical awareness, communicative discourse and creativity.

However, I do not believe cutbacks in education can be avoided; particularly if spending on health and social welfare are also going to be curtailed. So here are three ideas where money can be saved with minimal negative impact on peoples lives and future potential.

  • First, we could seriously revamp the functions of the State Exams Commission. This would involve abolishing the current Junior Certificate as a compulsory requirement for those remaining in school and its replacement by an expanded Leaving Certificate with a range of levels. The State Exams Commission should be renamed as the State Assessment Commission and its principle task should be to provide assessments for all pupils, regardless of age and ability, once they exit the school system. Assessments should be spaced through the school year and e-assessment technology should be harnessed to streamline the process.
  • Second, we could redirect much of the spending that is currently provisioned for training into programmes that are more educational – instead of focusing on specific skills for the unpredictable jobs market it is better to develop generic skills such as problem solving, entrepreneurship and creativity. The third level sector, college’s such as National College of Ireland, are better placed to deliver appropriate provision for adult learning rather than the troubled state training agency of FAS.
  • Thirdly, its time we looked more seriously at the potential of blended learning and the use of technology to support learning at all levels. I suggest that good pedagogically designed blended learning programmes can be more effective and engaging for learning.  At the same time there are opportunities for more cost-effective delivery models. Currently at NCI and as part of an EU project I am working on new designs for learning in the workplace at college level.  I believe this is an important area of future development for the sector. In my opinion, blended learning can structured so that student engagement is enhanced rather than diminished.

All of the ideas discussed above have the characteristic of a win win situation – such reforms would improve rather than diminish education while at the same time contribute to the financial savings that seem to be required.

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