It has become widely accepted in recent times that the future health of a country's economy and civil society is partly dependent on the quality of its education system. This is why most countries spend large parts of their public expenditure on education, and agonise over standards in education.
The OECD provides comparative data for their member states and for a larger number of 'partner countries' as part of their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This is a "triennial survey of the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds" that focuses on science, reading and maths. The latest survey was in 2006 and showed the following results in respect of Ireland (26 counties) and the UK:
- Rank of countries/economies on the science scale
Both the UK and Ireland "statistically significantly above the OECD average", with the UK at place 12 and Ireland at place 15.
- Rank of countries/economies on the reading scale
Ireland "statistically significantly above the OECD average" at place 5, but the UK "not statistically significantly different from the OECD average" at place 14.
- Rank of countries/economies on the mathematics scale
Both Ireland and the UK "not statistically significantly different from the OECD average", with Ireland at place 17 and the UK at place 22.
The OECD provides copious tables containing the data that these rankings are based upon, and in some cases they provide regional data. In some cases this appears to show Northern Ireland outperforming England and Wales. So the real situation for Northern Ireland's kids may be closer to their counterparts in the south. Why then does unionism continue to shackle them to underperforming countries like England, Wales and Scotland, whose lower standards can only drag Northern Ireland down?
It would be in everyone's interests – but especially the kids – if they were educated to the same standards north and south. The south has shown that its education system is better than Britain's, but for purely ideological reasons unionists insist on keeping the north within the UK. In this case, as in others, a rational person would reject 'the union' and work for closer integration between the north and the south.