Last week the government launched a plan. An education plan. Like all plans, it should be taken with enough salt to preserve a whale, but plans are needed if only to know what we should be doing. But plans should be coherent. A close examination of the plan suggests some worrying trends. We are creating an eduprenairship – full of ministerial hot air, conflating ideals that should not be conflated, slow to move, outdated, a hybrid nobody asked for which is hard to control and direct and prone to crashing. But it looks good and has a lovely dining trough, sorry car.
If you wordsearch the plan entrepreneurs are mentioned 15 times, Entrepreneurship 14 times while entrepreneurial is mentioned 4 times and while disadvantaged gets but 8 mentions. This tells us a lot about the mindset prevailing in the Department of Education and it is not cheerful. It is a mindset that sees education primarily through the lens of training and training for and in a particular manner. It is education to support the cult of the entrepreneur. All that it is short of is a series of inspirational quotes at the head of each chapter.
Education is vital. But the problem with education is that the effect of it is hard to measure and in any case it takes decades to ascertain. Recent research suggests that it may take up to 40 years . This positive effect of education is across the spectrum. For example, a very large scale study on universities suggests that doubling the number of higher education places per capita results, in the long term, in a 4% increase in wealth per capita. At the early childhood level , the other end of the spectrum, the effect can be nearly as large as that of primary school or parental education and this beneficial effect is concentrated in disadvantaged children.
Ireland ranks amongst the lowest of all OECD countries for enrolment in early childhood education. At age 3 only 46% of Irish children are in such whereas the OECD average is 70%. Nearly 40% of those scoring poorly on mathematical tests had attended a year or less of pre primary schooling. And yet, the education plan is rather mute on this, while laudatory on the ECCE (not really) free (not really a ) preschool initiative. While Irish families pay amongst the highest fees in the world for childcare there is little suggestion in the plan that this will be addressed. Rather than the plan containing a commitment to roll out a nationwide, full year, state provided Montessori or related system for 2-4 year olds there are in stead plans to increase the inspectorate for crèches and to introduce more reports and more linkage of reports between ECCE and schools. The ECCE costs a little over €200m per annum, and a proper national year round system at full market costs would probably be around €600m.
Rather than a discussion on the merits and challenges of this we have a report that lauds entrepreneurship. So much is it lauded that we are going to have entrepreneurship taught in both primary and secondary schools. There is a bald statement that the crisis dealt a “severe blow” to entrepreneurship, and thus what follows. This is not the case. A moments evaluation in the online data analysis section of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor , a vast annual global survey of entrepreneurial attitudes and action, this shows no such severe blow. As to the need for more education, the same survey covers expert judgement of the role of primary and secondary in providing students with the necessary skills for an entrepreneurial focus. This has risen steadily in recent years for Ireland and the trajectory is upwards. There is absolutely no evidence base for a need for increased resource diversion to this area. In any case, but bearing in mind the long timelags in education, the successful entrepreneur is typically NOT a school leaver or a college kid, but is in their late 30s. Much evidence suggests that entrepreneurship is at least as much a function of personal characteristics as of formal education, the education perhaps acting in some cases to catalyse or formalise an already present skillset. Teaching kids in third class about entrepreneurship is hardly going to get them excited about it as a career.
So, we have evidence of large payoff in an area where it is proposed to not increase funding. We have evidence of no lack in areas where there is a proposal to increase funding. We have no evidence that that funding will have any effect. And on we roll