Call for Ireland to foster early interest in Stem subjects

Warning comes after fall in points for third-level Stem courses, except for maths

This year’s Leaving Cert results show an increase in students securing top level marks in Stem subjects. Photograph: Getty Images

This year’s Leaving Cert results show an increase in students securing top level marks in Stem subjects. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Ireland needs to take “an early, more rounded approach to fostering an interest among students in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects” if it is to remain competitive over the next decade.

The warning comes as points for these third-level courses, known collectively as Stem subjects, fell this year, except for maths.

Mari Cahalane, head of BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE), said CAO points for 2017 “are interesting”.

“However, we are not perceiving it as negative as there are mitigating circumstances that we do not know the full effects of yet, such as the new marking system.”

While engineering is down, maths has increased and science and technology are only down slightly. This year’s Leaving Cert results show an increase in students securing top level marks in Stem subjects.

“We at the BTYSTE have long campaigned to highlight that Stem subjects are for everyone,” she added, “and to highlight that you do not need to be an ‘A’ student to have a career in Stem.

“As these courses traditionally carried a requirement of high points, this fall in points may in fact open it up and allow many other Stem enthusiasts to consider studying it at third level as it is now even more achievable.”

More jobs

As organisers of the Young Scientist Exhibition they are aware of just how important Stem education is for Ireland, particularly when experts predict more and more jobs will require Stem skills into the future. The American National Science Foundation has estimated that 80 per cent of jobs globally within the next decade will require Stem expertise.

“Ireland has an enormous opportunity ahead of it as we are already seen as leading the way in innovative developments,” Ms Cahalane said, “However, we need to foster an early interest in Stem.”

Science Foundation Ireland director general Prof Mark Ferguson echoed similar concerns last week after the Leaving Cert results were issued. While there was a lot of focus on how students performed in Stem subjects, often looking at failure rates and rising points, “instead we need to focus on what is key for Ireland’s growth as a leader in science, and promote their engagement with science education”, he said.

“As Ireland continues to make a name for itself as a tech hub we need to ensure the next generation is engaged and skilled in Stem, and this will give them the best opportunities for the future.”

Important step

Ms Cahalane said parents and teachers could play an important role in encouraging young students to take a greater interest in science and technology subjects. “Participating in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition can be an important step to foster and grow this lifelong interest in Stem.”

BT Ireland managing director Shay Walsh reminded schools and parents of the importance of encouraging students to take an interest in Stem when they are young so they are confident and comfortable progressing to third-level Stem education.

“Such a holistic approach is vital to increase the number of people working in Stem. If we do not ensure an increase in the number of students taking Stem subjects, we will struggle to remain competitive.”