Irish STEM teaching to be best in Europe

Education Minister Richard Bruton expects plans being launched today to make Ireland’s teaching of science and technology the best in Europe.

The policy statement for science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) is a decade-long strategy, stretching to 2026.

The plan outlines a number of areas in which Ireland “will seek to match or exceed benchmarks of best European practice.”

Although no measurable targets in that regard appear in the report, a Department of Education spokeswoman said the identification of targets with associated benchmarks and key performance indicators will be one of the immediate areas of work.

“There are actions in relation to the establishment of the baseline STEM data and use of this data to set informed targets,” she said.

The report does, however, set targets on numbers doing STEM exam subjects, such as 20% increases being sought for Leaving Certificate students taking chemistry, physics, technology and engineering.

Many aspects have previously been announced, including the early introduction of a Leaving Certificate computer science course from next September.

Mr Bruton is also targeting a 40% increase in the number of female students taking STEM subjects for Leaving Certificate and a new primary maths curriculum to include creative and computational thinking and coding.

Earlier this month, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) said the question of whether, or how, coding might taught or integrated would be considered as part of a review of the entire primary curriculum.

There will be an increased focus on encouraging traditionally under-represented groups, including females, to take part in STEM activities.

With an expectation that teachers will use a cross-disciplinary approach to incorporating STEM across all subjects, an associated implementation plan includes plans to significantly increase support teachers and school leaders. Mr Bruton said there will be encouragement of innovation in teaching methods.

However, the Department of Education did not include some related elements recommended by last year’s report of the STEM Education Review Group chaired by Dublin City University president Brian MacCraith.

It said that, following consultations, it was decided not to include the recommended creation of an annual Excellence in STEM Teaching Award which was proposed to recognise teachers who pioneer innovations in STEM Education.

A proposal to encourage the development of STEM champions, primary teachers with appropriate postgraduate qualifications who would share insights and best practice with colleagues, is not being adopted either.

The department has also chosen not to include the review group’s recommendation of credits for teachers who complete continuous professional development in its implementation plan.

The department spokeswoman said some of these initiatives are being explored with Science Foundation Ireland and that the strategy continues to 2026.

“There will be learning along the way and the identification of new measures and ideas to help realise the ‘best in Europe’ vision,” she said.

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