Regular international surveys of student performance have become a feature of the world of education in recent years. The two best-known such surveys are TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – run by the IEA) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment – run by the OECD). The former measures the performance of 4th and 8th grade students (ages 9-10 and 13-14 respectively), while the latter measures the performance of 15-year-olds.
TIMSS is held every 4 years, while PISA is held every 3 years. By chance, both were held in 2015 and their results were published within a week of each other in December 2016. Thus, looking at both together provides a very good snapshot of the current state of education in Ireland. The results confirm that the standard of education in Irish schools is extremely high. In both surveys Asian countries dominated, but within what we term the Western World (Europe + the Anglosphere) Ireland did extremely well and much better than countries like Sweden and France, whose secular education systems are always being held up by liberals as the secular model Ireland should aspire to.
In TIMSS 8th grade 13 countries from what we call the Western World took part. Of these Ireland ranked 2nd for mathematics and joint 3rd for science. Ireland’s aggregate score for mathematics and science was was also the joint 3rd highest. Sweden’s aggregate score was 8th highest (of the 13). France fared disastrously in the TIMSS tests, the headline on the France24 website saying it all “France fares worst in EU in mathematics”. Yet the French education system has been repeatedly held up by liberals such as Fintan O’Toole as the model Ireland should emulate, being (in his view) truly republican and secular in character.
In the more comprehensive PISA tests Ireland’s aggregate score over all subjects was 11th highest of the 73 countries that took part. Restricting the analysis to the 41 European countries that took part. Ireland’s aggregate score over all subjects was 3rd highest, while France’s was 15th highest and Sweden’s was 16th highest. Ireland also ranked above America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Closer to home, interesting comparisons can be made between Ireland’s results and those for Scotland and Wales. One of the factors affecting education performance is culture. Ireland is culturally very similar to Scotland and Wales. Its standard of living is also broadly similar. Therefore, any differences in their results are quite likely due to their different education systems. Both
Scotland and Wales have much more secular education systems than Ireland, with the vast majority of pupils attending state-run secular schools. Scotland and Wales did not take part in the TIMSS tests but in the PISA tests Scotland performed badly and Wales performed disastrously.
Of the 41 European countries taking part, Scotland’s aggregate PISA score was 17th highest and Wales’s 26th highest (compared with 3rd highest for Ireland). Following publication of the results. Wales’ First Minister said they made ‘very uncomfortable reading’, while Scotland’s poor results have been partly blamed for the recent downturn in support for the previously all-conquering SNP, the headline in one Scottish newspaper summing it up as “SNP under fire as Scottish education system records worst ever rating”. The onus is surely on liberals to tell us why, in the event of a state-takeover and secularisation of Ireland’s schools, Ireland’s TIMSS and PISA results should not go the way of Scotland, Wales, Sweden and France.