News Education

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Schools fall behind in bid to lead field on Stem education

Richard Bruton: Plans to start addressing issues in report. Photo: Tom Burke
Richard Bruton: Plans to start addressing issues in report. Photo: Tom Burke
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Major deficiencies around the teaching of science and technology subjects in Irish schools have been pinpointed in a new report, being launched today.

A lack of expertise among primary teachers, a shortage of qualified physics and chemistry teachers at second-level and not enough use of digital learning are among the problems.

The gaps in the system around the so-called Stem subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths - fly in the face of the Government's ambition to have the best education system in Europe within a decade.

Education Minister Richard Bruton is now promising a series of actions to start addressing the issues identified in the report, from the Stem Education Review Group (STEMERG).

The group, chaired by Professor Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University (DCU), included experts in Stem education and industry figures from world-leading companies, including Intel and IBM.

The report outlines the extent of the economic and job opportunities for Ireland that are dependent on high-quality Stem education and also stresses the need for scientifically literate citizens in a modern democracy. It makes 47 recommendations.

Mr Bruton is committing to delivering on 21 of the actions as a priority, stating he wants to make Ireland a world-leader at providing Stem education. He says the 26 remaining actions will be considered further as he prepares a Stem Education Policy Statement, to be published in the first half of 2017.

The report highlights the 'average' performance of Irish students in Stem subjects across a number of international assessments, such as the OECD PISA study, in the past decade or so.

Prof MacCraith warns that "the overall levels of performance and engagement in Stem subjects are not good enough if we aim to provide the best for our nation's children, and if we wish to sustain our economic ambitions for the future".

He said a "step-change in Stem performance and outcomes is required throughout the educational system if we are to move our Stem performance up to the highest levels", as he welcomed Mr Bruton's initial commitments.

The introduction of computer science, including coding, as a Leaving Certificate subject, which has already been flagged, is one of the 21 promised actions.

So too is a means of recognising participation in extra-curricular Stem events and activities, such as CoderDojo and the BT Young Scientists, in student assessment.

Other priority actions include addressing the shortage of physics and chemistry teachers "as a matter of urgency", through initiatives such as an upskilling programme similar to the one introduced for unqualified maths teachers in 2012.

Mr Bruton promises supports in primary teacher training to build expertise in science, maths and technology and will review the minimum entry requirements for entry to primary teacher courses.

There is also a commitment to enable greater use of technology for digital learning.

Irish Independent

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