Upbeat views on Irish Competitiveness nevertheless point to issues

Monday, January, 2011

Amidst all the political uncertainty of the past few days, which adds further to Ireland’s economic challenges, there are nonetheless some positive news items relating to the country’s improving competitive position (falling costs and exports growth).  However, these ‘good news’ stories also point to certain challenges that need to be addressed as a matter of priority and they will require some brave but necessary decision-making by the new government.

According to a recent German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce Survey (Oct 2010), half of the companies in Ireland represented by the chamber believe that Irish competitiveness has improved in the past three years. 

Other noteworthy conclusions of the survey are: 50% of companies say they will increase employment in the next two years; 40% intend to invest in Ireland in the next two years; for half of the companies surveyed, the Irish 12.5% corporation tax rate is “not a significant factor in their decision to stay or further invest in Ireland”; and 56% believe that the “Irish minimum wage regime contributes to current challenges their businesses face”.

These results are very significant because Germany is the third largest provider of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Ireland and German companies employ an estimated 20,000 people in Ireland.

However, according to the Chief Executive of the German-Irish Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Ralf Lissek, almost two-thirds of those surveyed felt that not enough was being done to encourage the teaching of foreign languages in Irish schools.  “Given the extent of trade between Ireland and Germany, we believe that it would be a good investment if more school children learned German and more schools offered German as a subject option.”

Mr. Lissek’s views have empirical support elsewhere.  According to earlier figures published by Eurostat (24 Sept 2010), Ireland lags behind other European countries in the teaching of foreign languages. 

The highest shares of pupils in primary education studying a foreign language in 2008 were found in Luxembourg and Sweden (both 100%), Italy (99%) and Spain (98%), and the lowest (by-far) in Ireland (3%).

Almost all students in upper secondary education general programmes in the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden were studying a foreign language (in 2008). The lowest shares of students studying a foreign language were found in the UK (32%) and Ireland (58%). More than 80% of students were studying a second foreign language in Finland (92%) and the Netherlands (86%).

The very low scoring of Ireland in the teaching of foreign languages at primary level reflects the compulsory nature of the Irish language in Irish primary schools.  While the Irish language is an important part of the country’s heritage and culture, PMCA does not see the need to have it as a compulsory subject at primary level, let alone secondary level. 

If Irish was such an important subject at primary level, why do the authorities not test it at primary level as they do for Maths and English (e.g. the ‘Drumcondra Tests’)? The simple answer is that the failure rates would be appallingly high, reflecting the inefficiency and abuse with which the teaching of the Irish language has been subject for many generations in this country.  The rise of Gaelscoileannan has been an expensive lesson – and potentially a huge waste of resources – in trying to circumvent the poor performance in the Irish language in Irish schools.  Those resources instead could have been put into enhanced maths, science and technology education, as well as foreign language education at our primary and secondary schools – not to mention the very fabric of the country’s schools themselves.  See the previous PMCA new items: Ireland and Greece, and some suggested educational innovations for Ireland (12 Dec 2010) and OECD PISA results published (8 Dec 2010)

Before very long, it will be necesary to start rolling out the teaching of Chinese at primary and secondary level – a justifitable response to a changing global system.

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