Most pupils and teachers feel Stem subjects are ‘too hard’ and take up too much time

Research suggests students’ participation in Stem subjects ‘stagnating’ despite job growth in sector

Student participation in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects is “stagnating” despite job opportunities in the sector, according to new research.

The findings are contained in a poll of hundreds of secondary school pupils, teachers and parents that was conducted in recent weeks by Accenture.

While Stem is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, the research indicates many students are struggling with these subjects.

The research found a total of 69 per cent of teachers and 56 per cent of students agree the Stem subject curriculum is too hard and takes up too much study time .


Teachers believe students are most likely to drop out of higher level in subjects such as maths, following by physics, applied maths and chemistry.

The reasons for high dropout levels are because the subjects are too hard for students (69 percent) and take up too much time (44 percent), according to teachers.

Students agree they are too hard (56 percent) and nearly a third say difficulty arises from how they are taught.

While there has been a strong uptake in higher level maths since the introduction of bonus points in 2012, the number of students taking other Stem subjects has not increased significantly.

In addition, the number of students choosing Stem courses at third level is falling behind areas such as teaching/education, arts and medicine.

The research also points to a gap in understanding between Stem in school and opportunities in the workplace.

A large majority of students - 86 per cent - believe work experience will help them in understanding their career opportunities.

A similar proportion of students believe work experience should be embedded in second-level education.

However, more than half of secondary school students (54 per cent) think they are not being taught the correct subjects to succeed in the workplace.

The research was conducted last October through online surveys across about 180 teachers in primary and secondary schools, 150 parents with school-going children and just over 190 secondary school students.

Commenting on the findings, Paula Neary, managing director and Stem sponsor at Accenture in Ireland, said it was clear career opportunities in the sector are not resonating with students or teachers.

“It is disappointing that students are unaware of the amazing career opportunities on their doorstep, but I am encouraged by their appetite to learn more about Stem careers through work experience,” she said.

She said research points to key areas for improvement, such as the teaching of Stem subjects, making the benefits of a career in Stem more tangible and bridging the gap between classroom and the workplace.

“We believe that Government and industry can work together to ensure the best outcomes for future generations,” she said.

The research indicates there is greater interest in Stem at primary level, but many students may be disengaging at second level.

For example, 72 per cent primary teachers and 58 per cent of parents would like to see a greater emphasis on Stem subjects.

Accenture says the research results point to a need to build awareness of Stem jobs in Ireland to empower teachers through Stem training and practical experience, as well as formalising Stem work experience in transition year.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent