Education in Ireland
Education in Ireland is incredibly competitive and important for the future of students. Students are tested on a variety of subjects, including the Irish language, and their scores on one test determines their entire career path.

Education in Ireland mandates that children attend school from ages six to 16. But, most children attend free childcare/pre-school services between the ages of four and five. Then students move on to primary school and then secondary school.

Secondary schools are privately run and therefore are expensive or have a religious affiliation, typically. The secondary school system includes three years in the junior cycle during ages 12 to 14 and the senior cycle of two or three years for 15 to 18-year-old students. In order to move on from the junior cycle and into the senior cycle, students must pass a test that includes all of their coursework from their three years in secondary school.

Once in the senior cycle, students must choose three tracks and at the end of their schooling, they take a test corresponding to the track they chose. There is the Traditional Leaving Certificate, which is for students who plan to continue their education at a university, and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, which applies to technical jobs and the Leaving Certificate Applied.

Students who take the Traditional Leaving Certificate have their future laid out for them from those tests. Students are tested on six subjects and students must score 90% or higher in each subject if they hope to pursue any medical, or law degrees, and so on. Students must get a 70% in order to study history or English literature in university. This test determines what subject students are allowed to study and if students are allowed to even go to college. Students who do not make the correct scores for their dream jobs simply cannot practice that profession anymore.

Because of the recent recession, education in Ireland has changed trends. More and more students are attempting to go to university after secondary school because of the poor job market. And because it is so difficult for students to get into the major of study they desire in universities, there is a gap left that welcomes foreigners to enter and take the jobs that Ireland needs such as doctors and lawyers. Education in Ireland is intimidating for students and encourages others to work in Ireland, but leaves the Irish to fend for themselves.

Meagan Foy

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Ireland
Despite a flourishing economy, poverty in Ireland and deprivation rates are on the rise with an increasing number of employed Irish citizens living in deprivation. According to Social Justice Ireland, 16% of Irish adults living below the poverty line are employed and many more lack basic necessities.

Ireland’s Economy vs Deprivation Rates

Ireland’s economy has all but recovered since the 2008 European economic crisis that resulted in Irish citizens losing more of their personal wealth than any other nation during that time, but people in Ireland still struggle remaining above the poverty line.

While Ireland’s consistent poverty rate wavers around eight percent, the “hidden” poverty in Ireland lies in Ireland’s deprivation rate. The Central Statistics Office reports that Ireland’s deprivation rate increased to nearly 30% from 13.8% in 2008.

Deprivation rates reflect those who cannot afford at least two basic items of the 11 on the deprivation index. According to the Department of Social Protection, the inability to afford to heat at some stage in the last year or two pairs of strong shoes is some of the index examples.

Despite the struggling deprivation rates, Ireland’s GDP and the unemployment rate are on the rise. The country’s GDP growth rate was 3.8% greater than the EU average in 2014, and unemployment currently rests at 7.8%, down from 9.2% last year.

Ireland to Spain: The Deprivation Trend

Unfortunately, though, the rising poverty in Ireland and high deprivation rates mirror the poverty phenomenon occurring in Spain.

Just like Ireland, Spain received an economic resurgence after the European economic crisis. Also similar to Ireland, regaining economic footing was met with a volatile labor market and the prevalence of short-term labor contracts. Such unrest seems to directly counter Spain’s rising unemployment and poverty rates, but as with Ireland, things are not always as they seem.

Both countries’ increasing deprivation rates among the employed is an indicator that labor reform is essential towards reducing poverty in Ireland and Spain. In addition to increasing wages by 3.5% in 2014, Ireland is working to address high turnover rates and a critical shortage of skilled workers in sectors such as engineering, health and finance.

As both countries focus on restructuring their respective labor markets, restoring living conditions in Ireland is the second phase of recovery from the Eurozone crisis.

Ways Ireland Can Reduce Poverty Rates

The World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty (WACAP) highlighted three simple steps that Ireland could take to reduce poverty. These steps included increasing accessibility to education, eliminating violence and encouraging innovation and realization of potential.

In addition to implementing these changes, the Irish Times offers a few more solutions that could further reduce poverty — protecting welfare rates, providing more financial support for single parents and investing in free and equitable access to healthcare for all children.

Even in a developed country such as Ireland, more work needs to be done to help uplift both the employed and unemployed who live below the poverty line or are at risk of living in poverty.

Daniela Sarabia

Photo: Flickr

Countries around the world have been revamping their anti-poverty efforts in preparation for the establishment of new Sustainable Development Goals in September. Although Ireland has not yet met its target of allocating 0.7% of Gross National Product, or GNP, to overseas development aid, it is making improvements.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan recently stated his confidence in Ireland’s aid program. In fact, at the launch of the Irish Aid annual report for 2014, he described the program as one of the most effective in the world during tough economic years. He believes that the 0.7 percent target will soon be reached.

The report revealed that Ireland provided more than 85 million Euros in humanitarian assistance and 269 tons of critical humanitarian supplies like blankets and tents in 2014. Flanagan boasted of the Irish people’s engagement with development assistance, saying that they take pride in the collective Irish effort.

According to Flanagan, Ireland’s overseas aid program is lifting millions of people out of poverty and hunger. In order to evidence this claim, he broke down the program’s contributions to its Key Partner Countries—Ethiopia and Mozambique.

Flanagan pointed out that the program has worked to reduce the number of mothers dying during childbirth. In Ethiopia specifically, support for maternal health services for poor women contributed to a 70 percent reduction in deaths during childbirth.

In terms of education, support for training and recruiting teachers has helped to increase the number of girls enrolled in school. In fact, in Mozambique, the development program’s assistance contributed to a nine percent increase in the enrollment of girls in school.

Minister of State for Development Seán Sherlock has pointed out that 2014 was a year of unprecedented levels of humanitarian crises worldwide. He stressed the effectiveness and efficiency of Ireland’s response to such crises, and maintained a confident, yet realistic outlook on the program’s ability to respond similarly in the future.

As just one example, Sherlock claims to have personally witnessed the impact of roughly 18 million Euros in funding provided to Sierra Leone and Liberia during the Ebola crisis. This is the type of crisis that no one could possibly have planned for, and yet Ireland rose to the occasion, paving the way for other contributors during crisis.

Sherlock provided additional evidence for the effectiveness of the Irish Aid program by pointing to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s, or OECD, review. According to Sherlock, the OECD concluded—through thorough assessment—that the Irish Aid program was one of the most effective of its kind worldwide.

Sherlock echoed Flanagan’s re-commitment to reaching the 0.7 percent target, but he confessed candidly that this goal will not be reached in 2015. To clarify, this does not mean that Ireland is not on the right track, or that it has not carried its weight thus far in terms of the anti-poverty and sustainable development effort.

Both Sherlock and Flanagan have reassured the general public that with time, Ireland will proudly allocate 0.7 percent or more of GNP to overseas development aid. Until that time comes, the Irish Aid program will continue to combat poverty and improve the lives of the world’s most suffering people.

Sarah Bernard

Sources: Irish Times, Irish Mirror, Irish Examiner
Photo: Flickr

One-third of Irish children are at risk of living in poverty, and many are claiming that high childcare costs in Ireland is one of the reasons.

Childcare costs in Ireland are an outlier compared to the European Union’s average, taking up around 40 percent of the average wage, as opposed to 12 percent in Europe. High childcare costs are very detrimental to the more than 750,000 people living in poverty.

According to a report by the European Commission, which was designed to guild the Irish Government’s budget for 2015, the limited availability of childcare benefits means that parents bear almost the entire cost directly, unlike most other EU countries where childcare benefits are significant.

The report went on to state that the lack of childcare made it difficult for women and single parents to gain employment, thus leaving them without a way to improve their economic situation.

“Child poverty is a specific concern in Ireland and Britain,” said Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor, “along with inequality, poverty and social inclusion.”

The report recommended changes to the social welfare system, including cutting off payments for a period of nine weeks if a recipient refuses to take a job offer or take part in a training course.

A report from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) shows that in 2012, 756,591 people were living in poverty. Included in those numbers were 68,740 people over the age of 65 and 220,411 people under the age of 18, only highlighting the effects of a five-year recession on the population.

“The CSO employment data shows that the much talked about 1,00o extra jobs a week has slowed to little more than 1,000 jobs a quarter,” said Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath. “We have lost 5,000 jobs in the retail sector in the last three months and the domestic economy remains on the floor.”

Between 2007 and 2012, the number of people in Ireland living in poverty almost doubled, growing from 4.2 percent of the population to 7.7 percent. The number of people who were unable to afford new clothing increased from 5.2 percent in 2007 to 10.4 percent in 2012, the number of people unable to replace old furniture increased from 13.8 percent to 24.5 percent and the number of people who went without heating at some point in the past year went from 6 percent to 12.9 percent.

“The report highlights the critical importance of the social welfare safety net,” said Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, “namely jobseeker allowance, child benefit and state pension payments in protecting people against poverty.”

A new study from the Central Statistics Office shows that, while Ireland’s poverty line is shrinking, the number of people living in poverty has continued to grow. The study also showed that the annual income per household dropped by 5 percent and that there was an increase in income inequality. Those who live in the highest income bracket made five and a half times the amount made by those in the lowest income bracket.

“The report reflects that many of the actions in Ireland’s austerity program are ongoing,” said Economics Commissioner Olli Rehn, “but [they] need to be ended.”

– Monica Newell

Sources: Irish Examiner
Photo: The Guardian

While Ireland has been in the headlines for its work towards financial recovery, it has also made a significant contribution to the growth of social entrepreneurship.

Ireland is currently home to 1,400 social enterprises, which employ about 25,000 people, with an expected increase of 65,000 jobs in the next few years. The number of social entrepreneurs in the country has continued to increase as well, with much of the rise attributed to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI).

The organization SEI was established in 2005 to support the growth of social enterprises. SEI believes that when a social entrepreneur is working on an innovative project, they should get the funding needed for the project to grow. By supporting these new solutions, SEI hopes that these entrepreneurs will be able to help as many people as possible.

Since 2005, it has invested a total of €5.4 million in the projects of 169 social entrepreneurs. SEI supports each project for up to 2 years. The projects SEI has supported have directly affected over 250,000 people across the country and have also created 850 jobs.

In regard to Ireland’s opportunity to become a leader in social entrepreneurship, SEI’s Head of Engagement Darren Ryan said, “There is so much potential and a conducive environment for social innovation; why couldn’t Ireland be the global leader in the development of social entrepreneurship?”

In order to support these social entrepreneurs, SEI has its annual Awards Programme, which awards funding to 9 social entrepreneurs out of about 200 applications. A number of the projects are centered on reducing unemployment and rural isolation and improving mental health.

In addition to its Awards Programme, SEI also has a Social Entrepreneurs Bootcamp and its Elevator Programme. The Social Entrepreneurs Bootcamp was created to help give support to rising social entrepreneurs.

The Elevator Programme entails 12 months of support and helps about 4 to 6 social entrepreneurs every year, in hopes of helping them to choose exactly what issue they want to focus on and figure out their solutions.

SEI expects that for any project it supports, the success rate will be between 50% and 75% or the failure rate will be between 25% and 50%, depending on when SEI chooses to invest.

In light of SEI’s predictions, Ryan said, “Anything higher than that and we will know we’re not taking enough risk. We want to ensure that we are always thinking big and looking for the ideas that have the potential to change Ireland.”

Along with the SEI, the global organization the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) recently expanded to Ireland. The SSE offers courses to mentor and support social entrepreneurs.

The school holds study sessions that include witnesses, experts, and social enterprise visits. The school also offers Action Learning Sets, in which people have small-group discussions to talk about their ideas.

Another important feature of the SSE is its mentoring services, where the school chooses mentors for all of its social entrepreneurs. The mentors offer the budding entrepreneurs advice and guidance as well as additional information and support to help them in their projects.

With growing resources for social entrepreneurs, Ireland is likely to be a strong leader in helping solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: Forbes, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, School for Social Entrepreneurs
Photo: Meath Chronicle