Ireland’s STEM education system facing chronic shortage of teachers

27 Nov 2017

Image: David Tadevosian/Shutterstock

While much has been said about encouraging more students into STEM subjects, the number of teachers coming through has reduced to a trickle.

Ahead of the launch of a new Government strategy aiming to make Ireland a European leader in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education, preliminary data shows that this is unlikely to be the case.

While the strategy wants to achieve European excellence in just under a decade, the data of soon-to-be graduates seen by The Irish Times shows that the number of STEM teachers is set to fall significantly, leading to a shortage in the years to come.

This shortage will particularly affect the subjects of physics, chemistry and applied maths, contrasting with the abundance of teachers expected to graduate in the subjects of English and geography.

When trying to pinpoint how exactly the Irish education system has gotten to this stage, the draft report found a number of issues, including graduates taking longer career breaks, switching to jobs in other sectors and the lack of any permanent teaching positions.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, TD, has called the reasons for this shortage “complex”, going on to say that his department hopes to improve data collection on STEM teacher availability and will give priority to adding more teachers.

Principals at ‘the end of their tether’

The report also found worrying signs for the number of students expected to take maths education courses at both a graduate and undergraduate level.

All of this should make the goals of the new strategy very challenging, with it hoping to boost the number of girl students taking STEM subjects at Leaving Cert level by 40pc, on top of a targeted of 20pc boost across all students in the senior cycle.

Education groups have reacted with alarm, with the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) calling the findings “extremely serious”.

Moira Leydon, assistant general secretary of the ASTI, said: “STEM is critical to future economic growth and to opening up job opportunities for thousands of young people.

“If we don’t have teachers with the appropriate skills to teach these subjects to the highest level, then I have to say we should all be very concerned.”

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals has gone as far as to say that some principals are at “the end of their tether” trying to find substitute teachers due to maternity leave and career breaks.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic