Science shirkers should be taught lesson: ICT Ireland

1 Sep 2003

ICT Ireland, the technology industry lobby group, has called on the government to give teachers a lesson by withholding payment of benchmarking to those who refuse to co-operate with the new science syllabus.

This week the Association of Secondary School Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) will issue a directive to teachers warning them not to co-operate with the new science syllabus. The union claims that Irish schools lack the teachers’ time and the actual labs and other resources required to implement the new syllabus. The syllabus was introduced by the Department of Education in an effort to arrest the fall-off in the number of students taking science subjects.

ICT chairman Brendan Butler has reacted angrily to the ASTI directive; an action he believes could seriously impact the future of the ICT and other science-specific industries like pharmaceuticals which depend on a high output of science graduates at second and third level.

Butler described the directive as a clear breach of the spirit and the intent behind benchmarking. “The Irish taxpayer will have to fund benchmarking at an annual cost of €1.4bn. If this directive is an example of what we can expect in return for benchmarking it augurs poorly for the future. ICT Ireland points out that teachers recently received 25pc of the benchmarking award and the action commencing today must raise a serious question over the payment of the remaining 75pc of the benchmarking award.”

Butler described the new science syllabus as an essential plank in the Department of Education’s efforts to address the decline of students taking science in secondary school. He pointed out that in 2003 less than 13pc of Leaving Cert students were enrolled in chemistry and 17pc in physics. This compares to 1990 when 16pc sat the chemistry exam and 19pc took physics. In terms of a backdrop of demographic change, the total number of students that took the Leaving Cert fell from 55,146 in 1990 to 51,969 in 2003.

In addition, technology subjects at third level universities and colleges have reduced their points level due to falling interest in technology courses. This has prompted alarm amongst professionals and employers in the technology sector that the industry may not field the 14,000 IT professionals that are estimated to be needed in 2005.

Butler said: “The implications of the decline in science at second level could seriously undermine the future of the ICT sector in Ireland. Almost 100,000 people are employed in the IT sector in Ireland and exports accounted for almost €31bn in 2002. Of the ten major IT 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.”

By John Kennedy