Time to get serious about STEM education in Ireland - In the final of our series of columns from Royal Irish Academy members, Prof Brian MacCraith says we can no longer delay when it comes to ensuring STEM education in Ireland is of the highest international quality.
To coincide with Science Week, members of the Royal Irish Academy have been sharing their thoughts on various issues within and outside of the classroom that Ireland needs to focus on to position itself as a learning and learned 21st-century society. We round up this series with a column from Prof Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University (DCU) and chair of the STEM Education Review Group.
For many reasons, it is essential that all stakeholders (Government, educators, enterprise) aim to ensure that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Ireland is of the highest international quality. These reasons include the intrinsic educational benefits, economic imperatives and the need for well-informed democratic processes:
With these reasons in mind, the then-Minister for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock, TD, established a STEM Education Review Group in November 2013 to carry out a comprehensive review of STEM education in Ireland, with a particular focus on primary and post-primary education.
I have the privilege of chairing the Review Group appointed by the minister to carry out this work. The Review Group will complete its work in the coming weeks and will submit its report to the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, TD, before Christmas. O’Sullivan has expressed strong interest in the recommendations that will be contained in the report.
Given the multi-faceted nature of STEM education, the multiplicity of disciplines involved, and the importance of producing a report in a timely manner, it was necessary to focus the efforts of the Review Group on those topics that were deemed central to a high-quality STEM education system.
The Review Group also recognised that a number of important STEM initiatives were already under way (eg, Project Maths and CoderDojo clubs) or were well-established (eg, SciFest and the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition) and that other potentially important developments were evolving (such as Junior Cycle Reform). Bearing all these in mind, the STEM Review Group decided to focus on the following:
One could summarise the ‘Terms of Reference’ above as reflecting a clear focus on teacher quality (“the quality of an education system can never exceed the quality of its teachers”), new pedagogical approaches (including assessment for learning) and the broad issue of awareness of STEM careers and opportunities. In itself, that selection (after significant deliberation) points to some of the key underlying issues that must be addressed in order to enhance STEM education in Ireland significantly and sustainably.
The approach adopted by the STEM Review Group to the task given to it was to combine detailed research by members of the group with widespread consultation (both written and face-to-face) with various stakeholders and experts.
Furthermore, an audit of current STEM education activities (such as CPD) countrywide was carried out and relevant data were gathered regarding some of the key issues. While it would be inappropriate to divulge any outcomes or anticipate the recommendations of the report at this stage, it is instructive to highlight some of the issues that have been the focus of particular deliberation by the group:
Whatever the specific recommendations in the report, one thing is abundantly clear at this stage: that enhancing STEM education in Ireland is a critical, multi-faceted issue and requires serious engagement and investment from all stakeholders.
This article was first published here ...