Physics, chemistry and maths boosts in Leaving Cert welcomed

17 Aug 2016

A spike in candidates sitting physics, chemistry and higher level maths has been welcomed by industry as hopes for an improvement in Ireland’s ongoing skills gap rise.

Increases of 20pc in candidates taking physics and 11.4pc sitting chemistry in comparison to 2013 makes for positive reading across the STEM industry.

The figures come hot on the heels of a governmental report on the necessity for upskilling ahead of a boom in biopharma jobs throughout the country.

Let’s get physical

Future Human

Physics, in particular, has come in for attention with its gradual rise in popularity (up 3pc on 2015) lauded by the Institute of Physics.

“Not only is physics a fascinating subject, qualifications in this area give students a real edge in competition for highly-sought after careers,” said Dr Mark Lang, chair of the organisation, noting claims that nearly one-quarter of all students do not have the opportunity to study the subject.

“To deny thousands of students right across Ireland the chance to study this highly-valued subject runs counter to all government efforts to increase the uptake of physical sciences at third level, which are seen as critical to the country’s economy.”

Totting it all up

Another notable spike in this area comes with maths, which saw a huge jump in the number of people sitting the higher level exam (28pc, compared with under 16pc in 2011).

“Today’s results are clear evidence that our secondary school system is succeeding in placing emphasis on STEM education,” said Bob Savage, head of EMC Ireland.

“The increase in those opting for STEM subjects and the results achieved is encouraging and hugely beneficial as Ireland’s information technology sector – a high-growth sector in our economy – continues to grow and attract inward investment.”

Combining the physics, chemistry and maths results, this bodes well for the future of biopharma. Ireland’s position as a potential biopharma global hub is dependent on acute upskilling, with an estimated 8,400 new jobs unlikely to materialise if we fail to acquire the skills needed.

Biopharma boom

A recent report commissioned by the State found that the sector could increase its headcount by close to a third over the next four years, and we’re at a “critical” time in the reskilling and upskilling of our citizens.

“The availability of people with the right skills and talent to work in biopharma will be critical to the continued growth of the industry as these investments come on stream,” said Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD.

However, the gender breakdown of those sitting these exams remains a concern, with just 25pc of those taking physics this year girls.

No comprende

Another worry is the numbers taking up relevant foreign languages, with IBEC concerned that “only” 44pc took French, and 13pc took German.

“Language skills help students become more culturally aware and mobile,” said Claire McGee, senior education and innovation policy executive at the organisation.

“This declining trend shows the urgent need for an innovative Foreign Languages Education Strategy to improve the desirability and uptake of languages among students.”

Main classroom image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic