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Reflections on Ireland's education/training policy making-process leading to the National Framework of Qualifications: national and international influences

Author - Thomas Duff


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The 1992 Green Paper, 1993 Education Convention and 1995 White Paper

In Ireland, as elsewhere, there were cultural and ideological struggles in addressing education and training reforms. The 1992 Green Paper, Education for a Changing World, contained a number of broad educational aims but no stated philosophy. In the context of increasing integration and economic, monetary and political union within the EU, the Green Paper noted that: "Ireland's education policies must make it clear that the modern world is a single entity, and many of its problems call for a global approach" (DES 1992, p75). Themes permeating the Paper related to obligations under the emerging Maastricht Treaty, which seem to have been interpreted by the DES as: utilitarianism in education, certification and qualifications framework arrangements; and governmental control through the 'dual system' (the so-called binary divide), and quality assurance. The utilitarian focus was represented by an emphasis on enterprise and individualistic values in contrast with a lack of emphasis on artistic and cultural aspects of educational development (Walshe 1999, p33). The Paper claimed that:

    it was generally recognised that the achievement of economic growth and industrial development depend on the availability of qualified personnel with the necessary technical and vocational skills and competences requiring a great level of flexibility in the labour force transferable skills [and] the development of knowledge, skills and competences. (DES 1992, pp. 109-113)
At HE level, the Green Paper proposed that all institutions develop a policy of linkages with industry (DES, p21). It linked economic growth and industrial development to the availability of personnel with the appropriate technical and vocational skills and competences again there were connections to the IPRG findings. The Green Paper stressed the need for employer involvement in the development of vocational skills, and in the assessment/certification of the levels of skills and competences. The 1993 National Education Convention's timing coincided with the publication of several official reports and some of its findings appear to have been influenced by them. The National Development Plan 1994-1999, for example, suggested that economic success was reliant upon "a highly educated and skilled workforce and a continued growth in productivity" (Government of Ireland 1993, p77). This was a signal of support for the Green Paper's utilitarian emphasis at all educational levels. Another important influence was the National Economic and Social Council's (NESC) Education and Training Policies for Economic and Social Developmenta (1993a), which stressed human resource development strategies:
    Workforce skills and management "human capital" are widely seen as a key determinant of economic performance. The human capital perspective which treats education and training as an investment and emphasises the direct impact of skill creation on productivity has been prominent in recent developments in economic theory. (p18)
This report analysed education/training and economic performance in a number of EU countries, emphasising that "there is no conflict between strategies to promote skill development and economic growth" (p199). Supporting this view, the NESC report, A Strategy For Competitiveness, Growth and Employment (NESC 1993b, p494) expressed concern at the incoherence in education policy, which "has not been based on a complete or coherent view of the educational process, [that] ad hoc initiatives and schemes exist at all levels, [with] little linkage or continuity between them". The EU report The Challenge to European Education (IRDAC 1994, p22) concurred with this view and stressed the need for education and training reform to meet the challenges of the changing employment environment. Following on from the Green Paper and the National Education Convention, a White Paper, Charting Our Education Future, was published in April 1995; it was driven more by economic needs than by a concern for the learner, as is illustrated by the following passage: The development of the education and skills of people is as important a source of wealth as the accumulation of the more traditional forms of capital. National and international studies have identified the central role of education and training as one of the critical sources of economic well-being in modern society in shaping national competitiveness. Interlinked with these trends is the emerging economic necessity for life-long learning The contribution of education and training to economic prosperity has been underlined in independent studies. (p5) Among the studies were the 1994 EU White Paper, Growth, Competitiveness and Employment (EU, 1994) and the OECD reports Education and Economy in a Changing Society and the Jobs Study Facts, Analysis, Strategies of (OECD, 1989 and 1994), all of which placed an emphasis on the value of a vocationally skilled and adaptable labour force (DES 1995a, p75). Coinciding with the White Paper's publication, a European White Paper, Teaching and Learning, called for "a more cohesive approach to the development of all vocational education and training to maximise the benefit to students, society and the economy" (EU 1995, p42). Ireland's Irish White Paper in outlining what it called the general acceptance of "the need for a more coherent and effective system of certification for the non-university sector of higher education", proposed a new body, TEASTAS (Irish language word for certificate), with responsibility for:
    the certification of all non-university third-level programmes, and all further and continuation, education and training programmes;
    the plans, programmes and budgets of the NCEA and the NCVA, which will be reconstituted as sub-boards of TEASTAS;
    the national qualifications framework; and
    the national authority for ensuring international recognition for all the qualifications under its remit. (p 83)
Arguing for the continuation of 'system differentiation', the emotive 'binary system' term was avoided just as it had been in the Green Paper, the White Paper reiterated the importance of the different missions and the diversity of the two sectors. It stated that the system "will be maintained to ensure maximum flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of students and to the wide variety of social and economic requirements" (DES 1995, p93). It emphasised outlined the importance of the course provision in the technological sector in addressing economic needs.

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