Mexican stand-off over science in schools

25 Apr 2003

ICT Ireland has warned the Government that there was a danger of a “Mexican stand-off” between the Minister for Education and the ASTI over the introduction of a new Junior Cert science syllabus in Irish schools.

ICT Ireland, which represents the interests of some of the major multinational technology companies based in Ireland, called on the Education Minister Noel Dempsey TD to ensure that the proposed syllabus proceeds as planned. It warned that failure to do so would have serious implications for the future of the Irish hi-tech sector.

At the TUI conference this week, warring teachers carried a motion directing union members not to implement the new science syllabus on the basis of the appalling state of at least 40pc of school labs throughout Ireland.

ICT Ireland’s chairman and country sales manager for Dell Ireland, Tim McCarthy, said the organisation was seriously concerned at the drop-off in second-level students taking science subjects and that this has been reflected in the decline in the number of students applying for science-related degree courses.

“In 2001 only 12pc of Leaving Cert students were enrolled in chemistry and 16pc in physics. This compares to 1990 when 16pc took chemistry and 20pc took physics. All of this is against a background of demographic change, which shows the total number of students who took the Leaving Cert fell from 55,146 in 1990 to 51, 935 in 2001,” he explained.

“The implications of the decline in science at second level could seriously undermine the future of the ICT [information and communications technology] sector in Ireland. Almost 100,000 people are employed in the IT sector in Ireland and exports accounted for €31bn in 2001. Of the 10 major software companies in the world, seven have substantial operations in Ireland. One of the major reasons for foreign-based companies choosing Ireland as a base is our reputation in having a young, well-educated work force with high IT skills. This competitive advantage is now in danger of being eroded and we must act now if we are to retain our attractiveness as a location of choice for foreign-based companies,” McCarthy warned.

ICT Ireland proposes a public private partnership (PPP) to upgrade and maintain science laboratories in second-level schools as a possible route to assuaging the concerns of teachers. “PPPs are currently in place for construction of a number of schools and this approach in terms of upgrading and maintaining labs should be give serious consideration,” McCarthy concluded, calling on the minister and the teachers unions to enter into discussions to end the present impasse.

By John Kennedy