Sunday 21 July 2019

In the age of social media our Young Scientists provide a glimmer of hope


Our View

In terms of news, January tends to be a rather dreary month but one ray of sunshine always breaks through the winter gloom.

For much of last week the best and brightest students from all over the country gathered in the RDS in Dublin for the annual Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

The Young Scientist competition is a marvellous event that provides a brilliant showcase for the genius of Ireland's youth and the excellence of our often unfairly maligned education system.

All to often our young people are written off as a generation of cosseted, social media obsessed drones who offer little hope for the future of the country.

It is a grossly unjust and inaccurate opinion that seems typically to be held - and loudly shared - by cynical underachieving adults who themselves may offer nothing of substance to society.

Every January the Young Scientist exhibition offers our young people the chance to utterly refute that notion and they do it in spectacular fashion.

There is another wonderful aspect to the exhibition. In a world where athletic prowess tends to be appreciated more than academic talent, the Young Scientist contest shows our young people - and indeed many adults - that when it comes to success, brains are just as important as brawn. Often much more so in fact.

For all that, there was one aspect of this year's competition that might be a cause for concern and which the Government and the country's educators should take a closer look at.

During his address to the Young Scientists at the RDS, President Michael D Higgins made a very interesting point. The President noted that while girls accounted for 55 per cent of the participants in the competition - comfortably out-numbering boys for the 12th year in a row - women still account for only 25 per cent of people working in the science, technology, engineering and maths sector.

That 30 per cent difference is statistically enormous and it needs to be looked at. Perhaps some of the Young Scientists themselves might look into it in the future.

Why is it that young women who excel at STEM topics, and frequently outperform their male counterparts, tend to opt for careers in other areas?

What is it about the STEM sector that is so off putting. Is it a pay gap? Is there still a glass ceiling in the sector? Are women still not afforded the same opportunities?

The Irish economy is set to become increasingly dependent on STEM jobs yet, clearly, the sector is failing to attract some of the best young minds in the country.

That's a worry and it's something that needs to be addressed.

So the next time you look at a teenager and blithely assume they're entitled, lazy and obsessed with Fortnite and SnapChat remember the Young Scientists and think again.

You may be right but you could be very wrong. Young people are the future of this country and they deserve support, not disdain.

Competitions like the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition prove that in ways few other events can.

Long may it continue.

Enniscorthy Guardian