Ireland’s lifelong learning participation rate is slowly improving, rising to 13 per cent in 2019. Our national target is to reach 15 per cent by 2025 as set out in the National Skills Strategy. Those engaged in lifelong learning in Ireland are more likely to be professionals than low-skilled operatives and employed in public administration, professional services and finance, sectors that are more likely to provide in-house training, continuous professional development and have policies for subsidising education, than the retail or construction sectors. Employers must be encouraged and incentivised to participate in the development of any lifelong learning strategies. This not only supports the development of the employee, but contributes to the retention rate and effectiveness of the business, which in turn reduces the costs associated with hiring and developing new staff.
Various agencies (European Commission, Expert Group on Future Skills Needs) identify generic skills and key competences as a core element of the lifelong learning framework. These include basic skills such as literacy, numeracy, digital competence, language skills, people-related and conceptual skills, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, risk assessment and decision making. The recently published OECD Skills Outlook 2021 for Ireland gives an overview of lifelong learning in Ireland and looks at how Ireland compares with OECD counterparts.
The report outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting need for physical distancing, have caused an unprecedented disruption in the provision of education and training. Now more than ever, supporting people in learning throughout their lives, and equipping them with solid skills that they can use fully and effectively at work and in society, is key to ensuring that both individuals and society thrive in this increasingly complex, interconnected and changing world. Lifelong learning is key for individuals to adapt and succeed in labour markets and societies.
Supporting people in learning throughout their lives, and equipping them with solid skills that they can use fully and effectively at work and in society, is key to ensuring that both individuals and society thrive in this increasingly complex, interconnected and changing world. Lifelong learning is key for individuals to adapt and succeed in labour markets and societies.
OECD Skills Outlook 2021: Ireland – main findings:
The foundations of lifelong learning
Positive attitudes towards lifelong learning are associated with higher academic achievement. One such attitude is self-efficacy, which expresses the degree to which individuals feel confident about performing academic tasks.
- In Ireland, 15-year-old students reported levels of self-efficacy that were below the OECD average.
- Students with at least one parent who had obtained a tertiary degree reported higher levels of self-efficacy compared to students with no parent educated at the tertiary level.
- Students in socio-economically advantaged schools reported that their teachers had greater levels of enthusiasm compared to those attending disadvantaged schools.
- 15-year-old students with at least one parent who completed tertiary education reported that their parents provided them with greater support compared to students whose parents were not educated at the tertiary level.
Effective transitions into further education, training and the labour market
The early years spent in compulsory schooling represent a crucial period for developing foundation skills, during which schools tend to equalise the learning opportunities to which individuals are exposed. Across OECD countries, overall literacy achievement grows between ages 15 and 26-28, but growth differs across countries and population groups.
- Between 2000 and 2018, the average literacy achievement of students in Ireland at age 15 declined by 9 points in the PISA scale.
- When comparing the literacy achievement of the cohort of individuals who were 15-year-old students in 2000 and 26-28-year-old adults in 2012, literacy achievement in Ireland declined by 3 points on the PIAAC scale, and this is in contrast to an average growth across OECD countries of 13 points.
- In Ireland, the literacy proficiency level of the cohort of students who were 15 years old in 2000 was 279 points on the PIAAC scale, which was above the OECD average of 268 points.
- Among individuals whose parents completed tertiary education, literacy achievement at ages 26 to 28 has been similar to the literacy level at age 15; the OECD average growth was 14 points. Among individuals whose parents did not complete tertiary education, literacy achievement at ages 26 to 28 declined compared to the literacy level at age 15 by 6 points; the OECD average growth was 10 points.
Engaging adults in learning
Engagement in adult learning can reduce the loss of foundation skills owing to ageing. It can help individuals acquire new skills and knowledge so that they can remain engaged in the labour market and society, despite technological and social transformations. Adult learning encompasses learning occurring in formal settings, such as vocational training and general education, as well as through participation in other forms of non-formal and informal training. Participation and willingness to participate in the available adult learning opportunities were already low before the pandemic. COVID-19 mitigation strategies had a strong impact on the availability of learning opportunities, especially derived from informal and non-formal learning.
- In Ireland, 42% of adults do not participate in adult learning and report being unwilling to participate in the learning opportunities that are currently available to them (“i.e. they are disengaged from adult learning”). This rate is lower than the 50% average disengagement rate across all OECD countries.
- Workers who obtained a tertiary qualification (“highly educated”) are 28 percentage points less likely to be disengaged than workers without a tertiary qualification, which is in line with the OECD average.
- Estimates indicate that before the pandemic, workers in Ireland spent on average 5 hours per week engaged in informal learning, compared to 5 hours per week in OECD countries.
- Estimates indicate that in the presence of widespread shutdowns of economic activities, workers might have spent 1 hour and 15 minutes less per week on informal learning, compared to the OECD average of 1 hour and 15 minutes.