Ireland’s struggle to be a centre for science and technology

For the past few years we have all known that Ireland has a problem: we need to be a centre of excellence in which research and development and high value investment can find a natural home; but our indigenous population has been turning away from the subjects – at school and university – that could make this vision a reality: science and mathematics. There are a number of issues: the lack of a proper primary science curriculum; totally inadequate science laboratories in secondary schools; the perceived complexity and difficulty of mathematics and science as school subjects; the demanding nature of these subjects at third level; and so forth.

As I said, all of this has been known long enough; it has been confirmed by various expert groups set up by the government, including the Expert Group on Future Skills, and the Task Force on the Physical Sciences. The latter group made some very significant recommendations in 2002, but the government never even issued a response, and indeed the website on which the report was published has now even been taken down.

Just this week the Minister for Education and Science has announced the establishment of yet another expert group, which will look at how the Department of Education and the private sector can improve technology in the classroom. It is tempting to say that we don’t need more reviews, we know what the situation is. What we do need is action.

One possible measure that has been proposed by a number of organisations, including the employer’s body IBEC, the government’s enterprise and science advisory body Forfas, the Irish Software Association, and Engineers Ireland – that bonus points should be added at Leaving Certificate level for honours Mathematics – has been ‘ruled out’ by the Minister for Education in a Dail answer. He did this despite the fact that it is very doubtful whether this is a matter the Minister can take a decision on at all, since the points system is controlled by the universities themselves through the CAO.

We must urgently get beyond the stage of talking and get on with doing. The risks we run are obvious enough, and recent comments by major companies that they cannot get enough employees skilled in science and technology are enough of a red alert. There needs to be an action plan, and it needs to be announced at once. And though some of my university colleagues disagree with me on this, I think that we should not dismiss the idea of bonus points for mathematics. We cannot afford to see the present trend continue.

Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, science, technology, university

3 Comments on “Ireland’s struggle to be a centre for science and technology”

  1. Jilly Says:

    No great surprise that the government feel able to ‘rule out’ increases in CAO points for science subjects even though that’s a probable breach of the Universities Act. The demand, back in the summer, that the Universities cut their payroll expenditure by 15%, was also a breach of the Universities Act, given that the autonomy guaranteed under that Act means that how the Universities choose to allocate their funding is their decision, not the governments.

    I understand the general feeling is that it’s not worth challenging these breaches, for fear of new, retaliatory legislation. I’m beginning to wonder.

  2. ultan Says:

    CAO applications are up ( I think the economic conditions will see more people opting for “scientific subjects” as their parents realize the need to help in creating an innovative, export-led economy.

    Instead, we’ve had too many people not going to university at all and going onto construction sites. That hundreds of millions of Euros of taxpayers’ money were provided to facilitate this by way of FAS courses geared towards this kind of employment (such as the Safe Pass and CSCS courses) has now been shown up for what it is – a subsidy to the construction industry, and the condemnation of part of a generation to a future life of emigration, or poverty and ignorance. Breakfast roll culture has imploded in on itself.

    Universities can help by moving the whole fees issue to an “end game” by publishing a list of proposed fees for all courses on the home pages of their websites and showing that science and innovation related courses will be one third lower than courses for journalism, law, marketing, architecture, creative writing, multimedia studies, and the rest of that trendy Neasden Polytechnic curriculum that’s de rigeur across the land now.

    That said, introducing fees will also put additional pressure on universities to deliver a quality education. That’s a good thing. Who would pay for a computer science course that turns out graduates who can just about manage “Hello, World”?

    If the government does not reintroduce third level fees AND include the offspring of IFUT and other trade unions working with universities within that remit in time for the next academic year, then I shall take to the barricades. Worse, I may even write a letter to the Irish Times.

  3. Teri Says:

    I cannot agree more. I truly believe one major path forward which will provide a lasting effect – but this may not be felt for several years to come – is to promote science education from primary school onwards. Two of my children have just entered the formal education system, one chap is dying for scientific information. Speaking to the school’s head master about this he told me the cupboards in the school were full of equipment provided by the Dept of Education, however most teachers are “reluctant” to be involved! I am severly tempted to volunteer myself.

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