Wot knowledge-based society?

Defenders of Northern Ireland’s education system often claim its one of the best in the world.

Indeed, in their promotional materials, InvestNI make the (unreferenced) claim “the education system in Northern Ireland is recognised as one of the best in Europe, consistently outperforming all other UK regions in academic qualifications“.

What to make then of the just-published report from the Asssembly Public Accounts Committee, which notes that the proportion of unqualified workers in Northern Ireland is the highest in the UK and a major hindrance to the development of a knowledge-based economy?

The report, ‘Improving Adult Literacy and Numeracy’, says that more than one in five (22%) of our workforce have zero qualifications, with many having low levels of literacy and numeracy – all of which harms Northern Ireland’s economic competitiveness:

The Committee notes that the current economic thrust of the Executive’s Programme for Government, based on Northern Ireland’s development as a knowledge-based society, cannot be fully realised while significant numbers of the working population have no qualifications and many experience low levels of literacy and numeracy.

Neither does the situation do much for the life opportunities of the tens of thousands failed by our fractured school system, which delivers for some, but fails many others.

This was a theme also reflected in the recently published report by Dawn Purvis’ task force on educational disadvantage and the Protestant working class. This report, like others before it, noted that the problem of under-achieving children – and an underqualified workforce – requires a response that demands more than just fixing the education system itself: “systemic educational improvement will require comprehensive, long-term responses to inequality“.

Will Northern Ireland’s post-May 5th Executive be up for the task of addressing the problem that outgoing Assembly members have identified?

I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.

I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan