How change happens in Ireland

An article in the Irish Times about Ireland's apparently poor standards of education contains a fascinating insight into the ways in which the Irish business elite set the political agenda. According to the article, Google Ireland's vice president convened a meeting with Education Minister Batt O'Keefe and several other tech executives where they basically scolded the Minister about the low standards of Irish university graduates. O'Keefe set to work and this week unveiled new plans for a regulating agency to prevent grade inflation. It was in Barrow Street last December that the Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, was alerted to the full extent of the grade inflation crisis. The meeting was convened by Google vice-president John Herlihy and others present included Jim O’Hara of Intel and Martin Murphy of Hewlett Packard.

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The Barrow Street meeting – described as “no holds barred” by O’Keeffe – was still more alarming. Many multinationals, O’Keeffe heard, were reluctant to recruit from certain colleges because of concerns about standards. There were even suggestions that several institutes of technology (ITs) and one university were on an unofficial recruitment “blacklist”. At the core of the problem was grade inflation across the education sector, from Leaving Cert to third-level degrees.

Google's John Herlihy also wants a reform of the Leaving Cert involving putting more focus on languages, maths and science, and less focus on rote learning, but the article complains that Irish teachers' unions have too much power to allow this happen.

Interesting stuff, one would have thought that a precondition of decreasing the focus on rote learning and increasing teaching quality would be to lower class sizes, something that teachers' unions have been agitating about for years.