Major review of STEM education in Ireland to take place

20 Nov 2013

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Prof Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University, at today's launch of a STEM Education Review Group in Dublin

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STEM education in Ireland is to undergo a major mapping exercise and review in the coming months.

The Minister for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock, TD, this afternoon announced the launch of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) Education Review Group, which is expected to prepare a report on STEM education in Ireland over the next six months.

“We recognise the importance of STEM education not only as an aspect of economic recovery but as an important way of helping create informed citizens in an ever-developing technological society," said Minister Sherlock at the launch, which took place at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

The review group, which is chaired by Prof Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University (DCU), aims to map existing initiatives in STEM education in Ireland and review aspects of teacher training, approaches to learning and assessment, the use of technology and encouraging wider engagement with STEM, mainly at primary and secondary level.

“Given the pivotal importance of STEM education in knowledge-based societies and knowledge-based economies, it is imperative that if Ireland is to prosper in the future that we aim to put in place the best international practice in STEM education," MacCraith said at the launch. "If we take our eye off that ball it will be to the detriment of our shared society."

He described how the review group wants to carry out an "open and independent" analysis, that there were "no pre-cooked outcomes" and that the group expected to prepare a report within six months. "We will be focusing on implementable recommendations," he says.

Map and review

The launch heard that the review group aims to map existing STEM education initiatives in Ireland.

"There are many good things happening already," said MacCraith, who also described how the group would tackle several areas for analysis and recommendation. They include teacher training and professional development, as well as more enquiry-based and collaborative learning. MacCraith also noted that assessment plays an important role, and he stressed the difference between assessment of learning and assessment for learning. "More sophisticated approaches [to assessment] can enhance the learning experience," he said.

Technology, too, will be a topic for review, added MacCraith. "We are surrounded by advances in technology and we will explore the potential here," he said. "This can also open door to dialogue with the enterprise sector and we have the potentially huge benefit of having most if not all of the key players in the ICT sector here in large numbers in Ireland."

He also described the importance of encouraging students to engage with STEM subjects, and he highlighted the need for role models and tapping into the excitement generated by initiatives such as the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

Multifaceted issue

MacCraith spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about the "multifaceted" issue of STEM education. "It’s about teacher support, technology, assessment, promotion – the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts if we get the parts individually right and that is why we have broken it down in that way," he said. "The idea is to get the recommendations in before the end of the school year. I would expect to see some outputs in the next academic year and rolling out a number of years after that."

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Sherlock described the review as "a progressive approach" and how he welcomed the inclusion of State agencies, industry stakeholders and academics.

"I think that is the triangulation that you need in order to progress the STEM agenda," he said, adding that the mapping exercise was an integral part of the process. "The mapping is vital – we have lots of disparate groupings all doing wonderful things within the system but I think by mapping it and then correlating it, interpreting it, interrogating it and replicating it out universally, I think that is the way to go."

The STEM Education Review Group, announced today, were present at the launch:

  • Prof Brian Mac Craith (chairperson): President of DCU
  • Mr Bill Kearney: Director Dublin Lab, IBM Software Group (IBEC representative)
  • Dr Pádraig O’Murchú: Education and Research manager, Intel
  • Ms Anna Walshe: Education officer, NCCA
  • Mr Seán MacCormaic: Chair of the Irish Maths Teachers Association
  • Prof John O’Donoghue: NCE-MSTL and Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Limerick
  • Dr Thérese Dooley: Lecturer in Mathematics Education, St. Patrick’s College
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