Targets to increase the number of students taking STEM subjects in the Leaving Certificate by 20% by 2026 are unlikely to be met, according to the results of a new study by the Department of Education.
The report on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education found there was only a 5% increase in the total number of students taking chemistry, physics, engineering and technology for the Leaving Certificate in 2019 compared to 2016.
The combined uptake of the four subjects in 2019 was 24,734 – an increase of just 1,098.
“While this is a welcome increase, it is less than that required in order to reach the goal of a 20% increase by 2026,” the report stated.
Although there was only a 2% increase in numbers taking physics and 5% increase in numbers studying chemistry last year, the report noted there was significant growth in numbers studying technology – up 32% since 2016, to 1,871.
At the same time there has been a less than 1% increase in numbers studying engineering in the Leaving Certificate.
The report showed another target to increase the number of female students taking STEM subjects by 40% is not on track to be achieved by 2026.
The numbers taking subjects including wood technology, technical graphics, metalwork, technology and science for the Junior Certificate have increased by only 12% since 2016 – up 4,054 to 36,971.
While the report said the figures were encouraging, it acknowledged there was still work to do to achieve the 40% target which it claimed would require further growth in numbers studying STEM subjects outside the sciences.
The report, which evaluated STEM education practice in early learning and care settings, primary schools and post-primary schools last year, found schools in general were very aware of the importance of STEM education.
However, the level of awareness in almost a third of early childcare centres was deemed less than satisfactory.
Inspectors visited 100 schools and early learning centres in which they observed 218 lessons and sessions.
Overall, the report said students were provided with many opportunities to engage with STEM activities to foster and support effective learning and development.
The participation by students in STEM education across all school types was rated as satisfactory or better in 79% of lessons.
However, participation in a fifth of all lessons observed in pre-schools and at post-primary level was rated as less than satisfactory.
The report said the finding in relation to post-primary schools was “a cause of concern” as students in such lessons were perfectly placed to experience STEM education in a real and meaningful way.
The quality of learning achievements in STEM lessons was considered satisfactory or better in 80% of cases on average.
However, 28% of achievement in early learning and care sessions were deemed less than satisfactory.
The performance of teachers in STEM lessons was classified as good in more than four out of every five lessons.
The report said the most effective engagement and achievement in STEM at primary level was where pupils were able to explore, investigate and create in ways that encompassed a variety of subjects, activities and approaches.