Teachers want to teach, not tick boxes. AI could be key to realising this

We must harness the potential of technology while ensuring that risks are adequately policed

As hundreds of Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) representatives meet this week for the union’s annual congress in Killarney, it will come as no great surprise that teacher recruitment and retention crisis remains a grave concern.

The latest survey carried out by the TUI’s Principals’ and Deputy Principals’ Association last October found that over three quarters of schools advertised positions in the previous six months for which no teacher applied, while two thirds of schools had unfilled vacancies. This crisis is painfully real, and the continuing absence of political will to properly tackle it is unfathomable.

It is clear what measures need to be taken. We will continue to vigorously campaign for contracts of full hours upon initial appointment, a restoration of posts of responsibility to boost teacher retention and a halving of the period of the Professional Master of Education (PME) to ensure that the profession remains affordable to those who wish to pursue it.

In addition, if we are to persuade teachers to return to Ireland from jurisdictions such as Dubai and Australia, they must be awarded full incremental credit recognition for their service abroad.


In September, we welcomed Minister for Education Norma Foley’s decision to shelve plans for teachers to assess their own students for State certification purposes. We have made it clear at all times and in all forums that in terms of senior cycle redevelopment, external assessment for State certification is key to the integrity of the process and must be retained. This remains our emphatic position.

Minister Foley said that concerns over artificial intelligence (AI) guided her decision, which we believe was prudently made. Public trust in the Leaving Certificate cannot be gambled with.

However, it is also very clear that AI is here to stay. Standing still or trying to ignore it is not an option; we must harness its potential benefits while ensuring that risks are adequately mitigated and policed. With this in mind we recently organised a conference on what AI might mean for the education system.

Now, it is critical that Government departments intensify engagement with all stakeholders to ensure the education system is no way “outpaced”. Robust departmental guidelines and regulatory safeguards on this rapidly-developing area must be formalised and then regularly assessed and updated.

In terms of opportunities, the potential of AI to reduce the ever-growing administrative burden on educators should be fully explored. In a series of surveys, our members have consistently cited bureaucratic overload as an ever-increasing and demoralising distraction from teaching and learning, one that in many cases is driving teachers and lecturers from the profession.

Teachers detest the drift towards “performativity”. They want to teach, not tick boxes or attend meetings that benefit neither them nor their students. In this regard they are deeply and justifiably concerned about the usage and value of the so-called Croke Park Hours in schools.

At third level, following the advertisement of some senior positions in Munster Technological University (MTU) at a lower pay scale than similar positions in Dublin, TUI members gave an overwhelming mandate for industrial action over the non-adherence by the management side to a landmark collective agreement concerning the establishment of the technological university sector.

Following nationwide protests and the serving of industrial action by TUI, the Department of Further and Higher Education agreed to pause the recruitment process.

However, we have made clear that there must be parity of esteem across the technological university (TU) sector – we will not accept a situation where individual TUs are free to operate without regard or recourse to national negotiation.

In third level colleges, the ratio of students to teaching staff in Ireland has now worsened to 23:1, a level far above the OECD average of 17:1

Meanwhile, in adult education, the delay in providing appropriate terms of employment to adult education tutors is an insult to the vitally important work that they do.

Of course, and inevitably, critical to many of these various issues, is funding. We as a nation are starting from a shamefully low base.

The latest OECD indicators show that of the countries for which figures are provided, none spends a lower proportion of national wealth (GDP) on education than Ireland. This is even more pronounced at second level, where, at 1 per cent, investment is just half that of the OECD average.

In third level colleges, the ratio of students to teaching staff in Ireland has now worsened to 23:1, a level far above the OECD average of 17:1, a legacy of the ongoing failure to address the sector’s resourcing crisis.

Across all levels of education, it is students who lose out as a result of inadequate education budgets, which result in larger class sizes, inadequate or non-existent supports for those who most need them and facilities that are ill-suited to modern, experiential teaching and learning.

Our policymakers must finally match the commitment of our students and educators by providing levels of investment to our public education system that ensure all can prosper.

David Waters is president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland