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Students need to know physics and chemistry are important


Students need to realise the importance of physics and chemistry

Students need to realise the importance of physics and chemistry

Students need to realise the importance of physics and chemistry

Biology is now the fourth most popular subject for Leaving Cert students after Irish, English and mathematics, with 61pc of all students plumping for it. However this year only 13.5pc of students sat the physics exam and 16pc opted for chemistry, much the same as the last 10 years.

The Action Plan for Jobs 2014 talks about having built up a very strong science base following a prolonged period of incremental and substantial investment in the area of Science, Technology and Innovation.

This doesn't quite hold true when you scratch the surface.

Ireland remains a key location for foreign direct investment and with that comes jobs in a range of sectors like pharmaceuticals, aviation, ICT, R&D and medical devices.

Many of them will need physics and chemistry PhD graduates but are we producing them in the numbers that we need?

We see an imbalance at Maynooth University in the teacher education courses, the BSc in Science Education and in our Professional Master of Education, with very few students choosing to teach physics,while biology is very popular

This mirrors the reality in schools where the majority of junior science teachers have biology in their degree, and very few have physics

When the physics section of the course is not being taught by a specialist teacher with the insights, passion and experience they bring, this has to have an effect on the student experience and their ultimate choices for Leaving Cert.

With the relatively small numbers of students taking physics at third level - a trend reflected across the water in the UK - it is very likely that such out-of- field teaching will increase. There are also issues with the gender balance of subjects with biology being dominated by females and physics and agricultural science by males.

Let's be frank.

Physics and chemistry are seen as 'difficult' subjects, tackled by the most able students and disproportionately done at higher level over ordinary level.

Is biology on the other hand really an 'easy' subject or are we, here in Ireland, vastly more interested in the life sciences over the physical sciences?

Not all schools offer physics, and according to the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) , due to austerity measures, schools are dropping physics and chemistry.

With science due for change in the Junior Cycle reform, there is an opportunity for addressing some of these issues: *if teachers were to teach the subjects in an integrated way students could get to see the everyday applications of chemistry and physics.

• Put in proper professional development supports to help teachers integrate physics and chemistry with biology.

• Introduce short courses on practical applications of physics in science, technology and innovation.

Transition year could also offer an opportunity for students to try out physics and to see what an exciting subject it is.

We at third level also need and could do more to promote both physics and chemistry.

I would urge the minister to consider these issues. We cannot afford not to.

Majella Dempsey is course leader, BSc Science Education and BSc Mathematics Education, Maynooth University.

Irish Independent