Wednesday 22 January 2020

Katherine Donnelly: Getting the chemistry right with the sciences

Encouraging and supporting pupils to pursue STEM study at third-level requires whetting the appetites. Stock photo: GETTY
Encouraging and supporting pupils to pursue STEM study at third-level requires whetting the appetites. Stock photo: GETTY
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

What Leaving Certificate students in physics, chemistry and biology are studying today was shaped by curriculum advisers about 20 years ago.

Some things, like Boyle's Law, never change. On the other hand, there has been a veritable explosion in fields such as biotechnology in the past two decades.

The reforms promised in the teaching, learning and assessment of physics, chemistry and biology in Leaving Certificate classes are necessary and overdue.

Increasingly, Ireland will rely on what are known as Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills to sustain and grow the economy. Even now there are not enough graduates coming through to meet needs and, with demand rising, shortages could get worse.

Encouraging and supporting pupils to pursue Stem study at third-level requires whetting the appetites. Biology is very popular among second-level students, but physics and chemistry struggle in the popularity stakes. Part of their appeal problem may be that they need freshening up.

Ireland has lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of science practicals; what's now envisaged is in line with the best.

Research on science education allowed for benchmarking against international practice in drafting the new syllabuses.

It is 11 years since the NCCA started this review, three years since it signed off on the new specifications. Any further delay would be unfair to students or the economy.

Irish Independent

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