24 November, 2016 - Ireland should aim to be a world leader in STEM education – Minister Bruton

Minister Bruton launches the Report of the STEM Education Review Group led by Prof Brian Mac Craith, announces 21 actions for priority delivery

Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, today (Thursday 24th November) launched an expert report on education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in Irish schools, and set out a programme to deliver on the ambition set out in the report of making Ireland a world-leader at providing STEM education.

These actions form part of the Action Plan for Education, published by Minister Bruton in September, which has the overall aim of making Ireland the best education and training service in Europe within a decade.

The STEM Education Review Group (STEMERG), which produced today’s report, was led by Professor Brian MacCraith of DCU, and included experts in STEM education as well as 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 outlines that a step-change is needed in the provision of that education if we are to compete on an international level. It also sets out how, for social policy and community reasons, it is important to have scientifically literate citizens in a modern democracy.

It outlines 47 actions in order to deliver on these ambitions. In response to the publication of the report today, the Minister has identified 21 of these actions for initial priority implementation. These include:

·        All STEM teaching should be delivered by qualified STEM teachers. Currently there are challenges in the sciences, including an imbalance between the number of teachers with biology, chemistry and physics qualifications, which we are committing to address

·        Introduce computer science, including coding, as a Leaving Certificate subject

·        Deliver improvements in continuing professional developments for teaching in STEM, including a coherent Policy framework in the area, development of a comprehensive suite of STEM Continuing Professional development (CPD) programmes, upskilling programmes in the sciences, and Technology-Enhanced Learning CPD Programmes for Primary and Post-primary teachers

·        More inquiry-based learning as part of the curriculum in STEM subjects

·        Develop a means of recognising participation in extra-curricular STEM events and activities (e.g. Coder Dojo, BTYSE etc.) as part of STEM curriculum and assessment

·        Improvements in teaching methodologies in STEM subjects, including better curricular materials, including a central cloud-based repository for digital learning and STEM teaching resources

·        Support online communities of learning and practice

·        Better marketing of STEM qualifications, including highlighting career possibilities for students and parents. The report finds that there is a gap in awareness of the importance of these subjects

·        Address gender imbalances in specific STEM disciplines

·        Produce an integrated National STEM Education Strategy (STEM Education Policy Statement)

·        Review minimum entry requirements into the B.ED. programme for Primary Teachers

The 26 remaining actions will be considered further as we prepare the STEM Education Policy Statement which will be published in the first half of 2017.

Earlier this year, the Minister asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to consider approaches to introducing the teaching of coding in primary schools. The Minister wrote to the Council to ask it to consider coding as part of a review of the primary school curriculum which is currently underway. The Council is considering this matter in the context of reviewing the primary mathematics curriculum. This will ensure that every child has an opportunity to develop the computational, and flexible and creative thinking skills that are the basis of computer science and coding.

The STEM report will be furnished to the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills and the committee may wish to consider the report.

Speaking at today’s announcement, Minister Bruton said:

“The basic aim of this Government is to use our economic success to build a fair and compassionate society. No area is more central to this goal than education.”

“I am determined that we should continually improve the education system in this area. For the generation of children currently in school and about to enter it, creative thinking and problem-solving skills will be absolutely key to how they develop and achieve their potential. In particular, their ability to think critically and develop solutions will be vital for their prospects in life. Providing STEM Education of the highest quality is essential if Ireland is to become an innovation leader at the forefront of technological and scientific change.”

“We need to encourage our existing students, as well as future generations of students, to understand and embrace areas related to STEM.  We must instill in our students that a STEM education can open many doors, even for those who do not pursue a STEM career.”

“The recommendations proposed by the STEM Education Review Group will add significantly to the development of our STEM Education Policy Statement, which I will publish in the first half of 2017. In the meantime, I have set out 21 actions from the report which we will begin implementing immediately.”

The Minister thanked the members of the Review Group and their Chairperson Professor Brian MacCraith for their detailed work in preparing the report.

Also speaking at today’s announcement, Professor Brian MacCraith, Chairperson of the STEMERG, said: 

“"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. A step-change in STEM performance and outcomes is required throughout the educational system if we are to move our STEM education performance up to the highest levels. The focus of our report has been to identify pathways to achieving that step-change so that, through implementation of our recommendations, the quality of STEM Education in Ireland will be enhanced considerably and sustainably. I am delighted that Minister Bruton has commented so positively on the report and that there is an immediate commitment to implementing many of the recommendations."

Ends.

Notes for Editors:

The Report of the STEM Education Review Group is available at http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/STEM-Education-in-the-Irish-School-System.pdf

 The STEM Education Review Group (STEMERG) was established by the then Minister for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock TD, in November 2013. Its remit was to carry out a comprehensive review of STEM education in primary and post-primary schools in Ireland and to make recommendations that would address deficits and significantly enhance the quality of STEM education across the system.

The Report is the result of extensive consultation with a wide range of education, scientific and enterprise stakeholders.  The considerable expertise of the Review Group is evident in the analysis and insightful recommendations for system improvement.

The Minister’s 21 Priority Actions for Implementation will assist the development of a coherent STEM Education Policy Statement.  The 21 Priority Actions are summarised below:

·        Preparation of teachers (at primary and post-primary level) for STEM education in Ireland:

Ø Support all primary teachers (in Initial Teacher Education) in building their subject matter knowledge (SMK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) in science, mathematics and technology as part of a broader professional portfolio of expertise and related activities.

Ø All STEM teaching in post-primary schools should be delivered by qualified STEM teachers (as defined by the Teaching Council), and the imbalance in the proportions of teachers qualified in biology, physics and chemistry should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Ø The minimum entry requirements into the B.Ed. programme for primary teachers should be reviewed.

·        The best methods of supporting the current cohort of STEM Teachers within the system (with a particular focus on Continuing Professional Development):

Ø Develop a coherent policy framework for CPD in STEM education, recognising that this may be part of a broader CPD framework for teachers. The DES, together with partners such as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Teaching Council, Higher Education Institutions, Science Foundation Ireland, subject associations and the private sector, should address this as a matter of urgency.

Ø Working with the Teaching Council, all stakeholders should ensure that a comprehensive suite of STEM CPD programmes is available to post-primary teachers as part of their professional learning requirements under the forthcoming Teaching Council Framework for Continuous Professional Learning.

Ø Develop STEM up-skilling programmes in physics, chemistry and biology for science teachers (post-primary) so that they can upgrade their registration status to a level of being qualified to teach in these subjects. Such programmes could build on the successful DES blended education model developed for the out-of-field teachers of mathematics (at UL).

Ø Maintain a strong CPD programme in mathematics, because mathematics is fundamental for all STEM education.

·        The introduction of new teaching and learning modalities that would enhance STEM education in our schools and for which there is a strong evidence base:

Ø Put essential measures in place to support the implementation of inquiry-based learning within the Primary School Curriculum and at post-primary level as part of the revised curricula for STEM subjects. Innovative assessment that aligns with inquiry-based teaching and learning should be developed.

Ø Develop a means of recognising participation in informal (extra-curricular) STEM events and activities (e.g. Science Fairs, BTYSTE, SciFest, CoderDojo, Intel MiniScientist) into the STEM curriculum and assessment at Primary and Post-primary levels.

Ø Develop extensive curricular materials for teachers that operationalise learning outcomes in STEM subjects at primary and post-primary levels.

·        The use of technology to enhance learning (especially digital and / or on-line approaches):

Ø Support the creation of online communities of Learning and Practice together with rich multimedia educational content.

Ø Provide a central (cloud-based) repository for digital learning and teaching resources in STEM subjects, approved by the Department of Education and Skills and teaching bodies. This should also include a collaborative space for teachers and learners.

Ø Promote and facilitate hardware-enabled approaches to technology learning, e.g. Tablets, Maker boards and kits; 3D Printers etc.

·        The promotion of STEM careers and the identification of methods to enhance the engagement of students in STEM subjects:

Ø The career possibilities for students who follow a STEM career path should be highlighted not only to students but also to parents. Parents have a strong influence on students’ subject choices. Market STEM qualifications with an emphasis on future economic needs and as a pathway to important, challenging and well-paid careers.

Ø Ambitious targets and a sustained, multi-faceted action plan for addressing the gender imbalance in specific STEM disciplines should be established and implemented as a matter of urgency. Particular emphasis should be placed on the marketing strategies and language used in this regard.

Ø Avail of partnerships with STEM enterprises (e.g. within the national Smart Futures initiative) to promote STEM careers at all levels in education.

·        Conclusions and general recommendations

Ø Produce an integrated National STEM education Strategy (STEM Education Policy Statement) with input from, and relevance to, all stakeholders across the continuum of education in Ireland (primary, secondary and third level). This strategy should include a detailed implementation plan with responsibilities and timelines clearly outlined.

Ø Introduce computer science (including coding) as a Leaving Certificate curriculum subject. This is critical to address the ICT skills deficit in Ireland.

Ø Establish the STEM 2020 Partnership in consultation with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, with the initial focus of the Partnership being the establishment of a common vision and approach for supporting STEM education among enterprise and the education sector