New fears Irish teens don't make the grade in science and maths
The fall in Ireland's performance in an international science test for 15-year-olds is being partly linked to a lack of engagement with computers in schools.
The latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed a rise to third place in reading for Irish teens.
But there was no change from the previous study in Ireland's 13th place in maths, amid worries that the best students are under-performing.
In science, there was a decline from ninth to 13th position. This fall was attributed to the use, for the first time, of computer-based testing along with changes in the types of question.
Gender differences emerged, with girls performing better than boys in reading, and boys performing better than girls in mathematics and science, a gap that widened in both subjects.
Dr Gerry Shiel, of the Educational Research Centre, Drumcondra, in Dublin, said: "Part of this may be explained by the transition to computer-based testing, where some girls may feel less confident or have less prior experience, but it may also relate to the types of thinking elicited by the new PISA items, including the virtual experiments that students are asked to engage with in science."
Other OECD research has highlighted how Ireland has lagged behind in computer use in schools. Dr Shiel said a survey of Irish PISA participants found 57pc had never been tested on a computer before, a figure higher among girls.
Every three years, PISA assesses 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science. It covers 35 OECD countries in the developed world, and 70 overall.
The findings triggered a warning from the employers' organisation Ibec that the outcome for Ireland in maths and science "is not good enough". Ibec head of education Tony Donohoe said: "A major improvement in science and maths outcomes is required if we want to compete at the highest levels."
Education Minister Richard Bruton said: "It was good to see Irish students performing above the OECD average in maths and science, but we still need to make improvements."