The 2019 Accenture in Ireland, What Now For STEM?, report shows there is a welcomed consensus about the importance of learning STEM subjects in schools, but confusion about its implementation and long-term life benefits. The report points to the need to bring a better understanding of STEM-driven jobs
into the classroom. Read our findings in the full report here.
2 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Report reveals more students would take STEM
subjects if they understood the career opportunities
A 2016 report from the STEM Education
Review Group (STEM Education in the
Irish School System, November 2016)
highlighted a shortfall: “The overall levels
of performance and engagement in
STEM subjects are not good enough if we
aim to provide the best for our nation’s
children, and if we wish to sustain our
economic ambitions for the future”.
Three years on and
challenges remain. While
there has been a significant
increase in the uptake of
Higher Level Maths since the
introduction of bonus points
in 2012, the number of
students taking other STEM
subjects has not moved as
much (Education Indicators
for Ireland, October 2019).
It states the percentage of sixth year
students taking one or more STEM
subjects, excluding Maths, has not
significantly changed among girls (86.1
percent in 2014 / 85.8 percent in 2018) or
boys (91.8 percent in 2014 / 90.7 percent
in 2018). There are signs of improvement
among girls taking one or more subjects,
excluding Maths and Biology (36.3
percent in 2014 / 39.5 percent in 2018),
but overall numbers are still low.
The National Council for Curriculum
and Assessment (NCCA) is in the final
phase of identifying areas for further
development in senior cycle education,
including Transition Year, Leaving
Certificate Applied, Leaving Certificate
Established and Leaving Certificate
Vocational Programme. The impact of
40 chosen schools rolling out Computer
Science as a Leaving Cert subject is also
Key findings in this report suggest that all
of these initiatives will be vital in making
STEM participation in schools more
The overall levels of
engagement in STEM
subjects are not good
enough if we aim to
provide the best for our
nation’s children, and if
we wish to sustain our
economic ambitions for
STEM Education Review
4 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Students are most likely to drop out of Higher Level Maths, according to
70 percent of teachers. Many teachers expect other STEM subjects to
suffer similarly: Physics (50 percent), Applied Maths (44 percent), and
Chemistry (41 percent).
Teachers say 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); students agree that they are too hard (56 percent)
and nearly a third say difficulty arises from how they are taught.
Almost 9 in 10 (86 percent) teachers agree that students would be more
likely to study STEM subjects if they knew what career or job prospects
they might have at the end.
Teachers (61 percent) and parents (66 percent) think that students are
not given enough information about their potential future careers when
they are in school.
New STEM jobs are absent from students’ first-choice career plans—
Teaching/Education (20 percent), Arts (13 percent) and Medicine (10
Careers guidance in schools is a missed opportunity. Only around a
quarter of students (24 percent) consider career guidance counselling
influential when choosing subjects.
Students agree that
STEM subjects are
Teachers agree that
students would be
more likely to study
STEM subjects if they
knew what career or
job prospects they
might have at the end.
5WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Elements of all of these initiatives are already
happening. Accenture in Ireland is actively
involved in a number of programmes, including
the STEM Teacher Internship. What started as
a collaboration between Dublin City University
(DCU), 30% Club Ireland and CWIT —with
Accenture working in partnership from the initial
pilot—has now become a powerful programme
run by the DCU Institute of Education.
As well as partnering with progressive
organisations that are challenging gender
imbalance, including I WISH , Accenture is an
active collaborator with the Irish Business and
Employers Confederation (Ibec), which has
been preparing Ireland for workplace change
and a new era of jobs through its Smarter
World, Smarter Work campaign. Partnership
and collaboration, spanning public and private
sectors, will be key to unlocking the challenges
to STEM participation revealed in this report.
Research results point to the need for initiatives that can bridge
the gap between classroom and workplace:
jobs in Ireland
STEM training and
among girls by
INSPIRE EMPOWER CATCH
Launch of the STEM Teacher Internship Programme with Dublin City University
skills and diverse
thinking and more on
primary where STEM
6 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Like a lot of people working in STEM-related businesses
in Ireland, I have first-hand experience of the exciting
careers at the leading-edge of science and technology
that this country has to offer. While the relentless pace
of change makes it hard to know exactly what future
jobs will look like, we can take comfort in the fact that
Irish-based companies—multinational and indigenous—
will play host to many of them.
Our 2019 STEM survey suggests that this isn’t being
picked up in secondary level education. While it
concerns me that many school students are unaware of
the amazing job opportunities on their doorstep, I am
encouraged by their appetite to learn moreabout STEM
careers and that work experience is something they
actively want. This looks like one way to bridge the gap
between STEM learning and STEM careers.
While engagement in STEM needs to start at primary
school, inspiring students through awareness of STEM
jobs is something that sits naturally in Transition Year,
before the intense curriculum-driven learning of the
Leaving Cert cycle kicks in. It’s already happening in
many schools, but a more formalised approach will be
needed to achieve the maximum impact and increase
the number of students taking STEM Leaving Cert
courses and degrees.
Accenture has been running three one-week Transition
Year internships for a number of years, inviting students
into our offices to get a flavour of the work we do.
The feedback we’ve had is steering us towards a more
formalised approach to the programme which we plan
to develop further in 2020.
Another path to STEM careers is through
apprenticeships. Accenture works closely with FIT
(FastTrack to IT), sponsoring apprentices to undertake
paid work experience as part of ICT Associate
Professional, the new National Apprenticeship
Programme for people wanting to pursue a career
in Ireland’s technology sector. We also run ReSUME,
a four-month ‘returnship’ programme where
professionals who have taken a career break are
provided with four-month paid work placements to
support them return to work.
Back in school, empowering teachers through training
and practical experience is another way to address
some of the challenges in the current system.
We believe that the STEM Teacher
Internship programme has the
potential to be a game-changer if we
can scale the programme and involve
more companies—Claire and Tom’s
experiences (see Teachers Benefit
from Work Experience) give an insight
into how it has directly informed their
Another aspect of this report that Accenture has
experienced through our approach to recruitment, is
the importance of students entering the workplace with
a broad set of skills. As jobs change, we see a greater
need for STEAM, putting the ‘A’ for Arts into the mix. It’s
interesting that this is reflected in
9WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
There is a high level of agreement between teachers
(82 percent) and parents (85 percent) that there
should be a more rounded focus on education.
Science and the Arts should never be considered
Graduates in Arts and Humanities bring a different
set of skills to problem solving that we value in
Accenture, and we have no doubt that jobs in the
future will continue to benefit from a mix of skills,
including critical thinking and analysis.
This is the fourth of Accenture in Ireland’s STEM
reports and the first not to focus exclusively on
gender. I wish that this was because the problems
have been solved—they haven’t. Little has changed
in the number of girls taking STEM subjects and
pursuing STEM careers. Once again, all the evidence
points to a need for earlier intervention, going right
back to primary school to change mindsets.
As someone who graduated with a Bachelor of
Engineering, one of only 10 percent of women in
my year, I am disappointed that the numbers remain
roughly the same. This matters because diverse
teams with a good gender mix will develop more
Accenture’s 2019 Getting to Equal report shows
employees’ willingness and ability to innovate is over
six times higher in Irish companies with a robust
culture of equality, where everyone can advance and
thrive, than in less-equal companies.
Finally, this report is a constructive attempt to
advance the Department of Education and Skills’
mission “to provide students in Ireland with a STEM
education experience of the highest international
quality.” This is a big and difficult task that many
developed countries are struggling with.
Our report highlights challenges which the
Department will be familiar with, but it also shines
a light on solutions, primarily the importance of
educating teachers, students and parents on the
synergy between STEM subjects and the exciting
STEM careers available to young women and men in
The challenge is not just formalising initiatives that
can bridge the STEM gap but delivering them in a
scalable way that can make a real difference. This is
why collaboration with industry will be important.
Working together, public and private sectors have
an opportunity to make Ireland a world-leader in
STEM participation, which will be a stimulus to the
economy and to the personal development of our
Parents believe that
there should be a
more rounded focus
““As someone who
graduated with a Bachelor
of Engineering, one of only
10 percent of women in my
year, I am disappointed that
the numbers remain roughly
the same. This matters
because diverse teams
with a good gender mix will
develop more innovative
Accenture in Ireland
10 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Promoting STEM in schools is seen by Government as
a way to create a talent pipeline to support Ireland’s
economic development, a big challenge compounded by
A World Economic Forum report,
The Future of Jobs and Skills, says 65
percent of children entering primary
school today will ultimately end up
working in completely new job types
that don’t yet exist.
While it’s impossible to second guess the exact
requirements for unknown jobs, there is consensus on a
need to foster curiosity and problem-solving skills among
students, and to increase the participation of women
in fields where they are under-represented. This report
shows that the current STEM education experience needs
to be revisited and improved. No cohesive connection
is being made between bonus CAO points for studying
STEM subjects and pursuing STEM-driven careers. Uptake
among girls has barely changed.
Among the cohorts of this report—stakeholders in schools
where programmes have been implemented—the
acronym is not entirely understood. While 9 in 10 (89
percent) teachers claim to understand what STEM subjects
are, awareness levels are lower amongst parents (74
percent) and secondary school students (72 percent).
There is a need for universal clarity on what STEM
encompasses, and crucially, what it can deliver. Almost
9 in 10 (86 percent) teachers agree that students would
be more likely to study STEM subjects if they knew what
career or job prospects they might have at the end of it.
The majority of parents and students (65 percent) felt
the same. Just over half of students think 17-18 is an
acceptable age to make career decisions (54 percent)
and most believe the subjects they choose have a big
impact on their final career (69 percent). But just over half
(54 percent) don’t think they are being taught the right
subjects to succeed in the workplace.
The majority of students are choosing subjects with
careers in mind, but the subjects are not necessarily
Students think 17-18 is an
acceptable age to make
Students believe the subjects
they choose have a big impact
on their final career
Students don’t think they
are being taught the right subjects
to succeed in the workplace
11WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Bonus points have increased the number of students
taking STEM subjects, particularly Higher Level Maths,
but there is a caveat.
They might take the courses but they won’t always
complete them: 7 in 10 (70 percent) teachers claim that
students are most likely to drop out of Higher Level
Maths; Physics (50 percent); Applied Maths (44 percent);
and Chemistry (41 percent).
Biology is the next most studied STEM Leaving Cert
course after Higher Level Maths, more a reflection of
its perception as the easiest science subject than a
reflection of STEM success.
None of this appears to have impacted on a broad
acceptance of the way STEM is incentivised in schools.
Almost the same cohort of teachers (66 percent),
parents (69 percent) and students (66 percent) think
that the allocation of extra points for STEM subjects
at Leaving Cert is just right. Almost two thirds (65
percent) of secondary school teachers claim that they
are “confident” in teaching STEM subjects, but less than
a quarter (23 percent) would claim that they are “very
confident”. They believe the main reason students are
not studying STEM subjects is because they are too hard
Teachers Parents Students
What subjects do you think are most important for students to
study in secondary school?
12 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
While there is broad acceptance of prioritising STEM, there is little
evidence in schools of any correlation between STEM courses and
students choosing STEM-driven careers.
When students were asked about career plans, choices were largely
traditional. Teaching/Education, Arts and Medicine are the most
desired areas to work in after school/college, with students wanting
to work in areas they enjoy or find interesting.
Over half of teachers (55 percent) and parents (56 percent) want to
increase the focus on STEM in schools, but only a third (33 percent)
of students. This may be because they are unsure of the benefits.
The report reveals a need to educate students more on their options
for future careers. While they feel “informed” (70 percent), the
proportion who feel “very informed” is quite low (21 percent).
Teachers are less likely to feel that students are informed about the
choices and skills which lie ahead (59 percent).
Teachers want to
increase the focus on
STEM in schools
Parents want to
increase the focus on
STEM in schools
13WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
I Don’t Know
When you finish secondary school or graduate from college,
what area do you want to work in?
15WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
work experience is
a great way to help
Teachers think STEM
subjects will open up
well paying career
Almost one in four Irish parents (24 percent) feel “very
informed” and 48 percent “fairly informed”, a significant
improvement from our 2015 report, where just one
in seven parents felt “very informed” about career
Parents are also more likely to identify how STEM
subjects lead to well-paying jobs (64 percent) and
exciting career opportunities (65 percent)
Report feedback suggests exposure to work experience
would give cohorts a clearer understanding of how
STEM skills translate to jobs. Almost 9 in 10 (86 percent)
students believe work experience is a great way to help
understand career opportunities—a big increase from
the 2017 report (59 percent). Most think (83 percent)
they should have some experience under their belt
before they leave secondary school. A quarter of
teachers believe partnership with companies would
increase participation in STEM subjects.
An appetite for real-world experience
mirrors a lack of confidence in careers
advice. Just over 6 in 10 (61 percent)
teachers think that students are not
given enough information about future
careers when they are in school, with two
thirds (66 percent) of parents feeling the
Teachers are mostly clear in their understanding of
the transferrable skills that STEM subjects provide:
improving problem-solving skills (85 percent); making
them more innovative/creative thinkers (68 percent);
improving their decision making (59 percent). Just over
half (53 percent) thought it would open up well paying
career opportunities for students; less than parents (64
percent) but much more than students
16 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
When it comes to primary schools, just over 7 in 10 (72 percent)
teachers and almost 3 in 5 (58 percent) parents would like to
see a greater emphasis on STEM subjects. Thought leaders in
this report (see STEM Learning: The Earlier the Better) draw
on other research to make the point that a failure to instil
STEM thinking at an early age—preschool and in parenting—
is the fundamental reason why participation is a problem in
secondary level and beyond.
The way STEM is taught in primary, however, has to be different
from secondary. More rounded STEM skills were valued by
teachers rather than their connection to specific careers.
This aligns with the wider remit of STEM policy: “Stimulating
curiosity and fostering a sense of wonder are essential
elements of educating our students from the earliest years”
(STEM Education in the Irish School System, 2016).
In the report, teachers thought that the ability to
solve problems, teamwork and creativity should be
studied more. Nearly half thought there should be
more science. Computing ranked lowest among
teachers. It’s a topic that divides parents. Just over
half of parents claim that they would you like to see
more technology used in primary school education,
but just over 2 in 5 are concerned that their children
already spend so much time online/on screen that
any increase in school might be a pitfall.
Teachers are very clear on the role of primary
schooling in the education cycle, that first and
foremost it’s a stepping-stone towards secondary
education. The majority believe that what a child
studies in primary school will have an impact on
what they might study in secondary school (84
percent) and what they might study in college
(61 percent). Over half (53 percent) believe that
the subjects studied in primary school have a big
impact on future careers.
Teachers would like to
see a greater emphasis
on STEM subjects
17WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Which subjects or areas, if any, would you like to see children
study more of in primary school?
Ability to Problem Solve
Strong Work Ethic
General Internet Awareness
Prioritisation of Tasks
Arts & Humanities
18 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
The notion that STEM-related careers are mostly for males
is largely dispelled by all cohorts in this report, although
attitudes around engineering still exhibit male bias.
Attitudes may be changing but there’s still a problem.
The Education Indicators for Ireland report, published in
October 2019, shows that the number of females taking
STEM subjects has barely altered since 2014.
The widely held belief that earlier intervention would
increase female participation needs to be developed,
because our report results paint a picture of career-
focused young women at secondary school who are not
particularly interested in STEM.
They already have an idea of what college
course they want to take (80 percent) and they
are choosing the subjects they are best at (65
percent). When asked what they considered
the most important skills for the future, they
prioritised Communication (26 percent) and
Technology (18 percent). Advanced Maths was
bottom (1 percent), even lower than engineering
(3 percent). Science fared better (11 percent), the
same as Languages.
Females are highly engaged in speaking to people
about their future career prospects (78 percent)
– Mother (70 percent) followed by Friends (52
percent) and Guidance Counsellors (51 percent).
Father (44 percent) and Teachers (32 percent)
were less sought after for advice. The report
also shows that females are very inspired by role
models (85 percent), which suggests exposure to
more women in STEM jobs might influence career
plans and go some way, along with an increased
focus in primary school, to increase awareness of
college and career opportunities.
Females are very
inspired by role
20 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
The experience of Firhouse Community College,
a Dublin secondary school, mirrors findings from
the Department of Education and Skills (Education
Indicators for Ireland, October 2019), which shows that
the uptake of STEM subjects is not increasing. “We’ve
had a similar number of boys taking STEM courses and
the number of girls hasn’t increased significantly,” said
Senan Nolan, Principal. “The numbers aren’t changing
to any real level which is disappointing.”
He knows first-hand how more effective ways of
teaching can make a difference. When the school
upgraded the Design and Communication Graphics
room with cutting-edge computers there was a spike in
numbers taking the Leaving Cert course, but he believes
a better understating of STEM careers is needed to
affect greater change.
“Transition Year is the best place to do it.
Once students go into fifth year and start
their Leaving Cert, it’s very pressurised. It’s a
busy two years and there isn’t space there for
a lot of timeout,” he said.
Like a lot of schools, Transition Year work experience at
Firhouse is highly varied. Motivated students who land
proper internships tend to get the most out it.
“Some come back from an area they thought were
interested in and know now that it’s not for them; others
have discovered absolutely what they want to do,” said
Senan. “We had one boy recently who worked in an IT
department for a week, had a very positive experience
and now has a career direction in mind.”
Some students spend their Transition Year work
experience placements in what really are part-time jobs
and gain little from the experience. Each year Firhouse
will have around 140 students looking for local work and
competing with other schools in the area. “Organised
students will get the best places and the less organised
and less confident students tend to leave it to the end
and have more limited choices,” he said.
Career Days are another way that the school introduces
students to possible jobs, where past pupils come in and
show them where education choices can lead. Senan
also welcomes a revival in apprenticeships, which were
largely wiped out during the last recession. “They are
absolutely needed. We are operating on the idea that
one glove fits all, that everybody stays on in school, but
the vast majority of pupils are taking a fairly academic
Leaving Cert that doesn’t suit all of them,” he said. “More
practical courses would be really helpful.”
Senan also backs the STEM Teacher Internship
programme undertaken by one of his staff, Tom
McMahon (see Teachers Benefit from Work Experience).
“It’s useful and a good way to go,” he said. “Someone
could go through school, go to college, decide they
want to do teaching, do the training and then they’re
back in school. If they haven’t had summer jobs, they
will have no experience of another world outside of
school. That has to be limiting.”
“We are operating on the
idea that one glove fits
all, that everybody stays
on in school, but the vast
majority of pupils are
taking a fairly academic
Leaving Cert that doesn’t
suit all of them. More
practical courses would be
Secondary school Principal
Firhouse Community College, Dublin
22 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Launched in 2016, the STEM Teacher
Internship programme has so far provided
54 trainee teachers with work experience
lasting three months in some of Ireland’s
leading companies, including Accenture,
Intel and Microsoft. Developed at Dublin
City University’s Institute of Education,
in collaboration with CWIT and 30% Club
Ireland the goal is to provide teachers with
first-hand experience of STEM careers
Before taking up her first job, teaching first class at
Pelletstown Educate Together National School in Dublin,
Claire O’Halloran spent three months in Microsoft’s
headquarters in Dublin. She got to work for the first time in
a modern office environment where employees hot-desk
and use screen-based technologies for every type of task,
from setting up meetings to coding. “Microsoft really
opened my eyes,” she said. “I knew it would be tech-savvy
but not to the level I experienced.”
Claire’s two big takeaways were the importance of
collaboration and communication in the way teams
worked. She brought a pared-down version of what she
experienced to a classroom project where nine-year-olds
set about designing a game.
One was assigned the role of timekeeper, another was
the designer, and a third was put in charge of quality
checking to make sure it worked.
“You have to be taught how to work in a team,” she
said. “We are preparing children for the workplace
not just getting them through the school year. There
is lots of focus on the curriculum and getting it done,
but I believe that transferable skills—writing reports,
interpreting different kinds of data—are the most
important skills, and you don’t need a laptop to do
Our report reveal an appreciation for exactly what
Claire was teaching. Communication and collaboration
were ranked by teachers as the first and second most
important skills of the future. Technology came in third.
Exposure to Microsoft technology, specifically dictation
tools, has enhanced Claire’s teaching techniques. “I
realised how much I could use dictation with children
who have literacy difficulties,” she said. “If they are not
able to write a story, it may be a barrier to learning, but
they might be able to tell it to you.”
The intern experience has convinced her that showing
children what adults do in their jobs would be of
“I don’t want to teach STEM for the sake of it; I want to
be able to show what can be achieved with it,” she said.
“I’d like to see people with STEM backgrounds come into
the classroom and let children see where it can lead. An
optician, for example, could show how they use science
in their jobs.”
““You have to be taught how
to work in a team. We are
preparing children for the
workplace, not just getting
them through the school year.”
Claire O’Halloran, Pelletstown Educate
Together National School
24 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Before taking up his secondary school post as a Maths and
Chemistry teacher at Firhouse Community College in Dublin,
Tom McMahon worked for three months in Accenture as
part of the STEM Teacher Internship programme. As part
of a research and development team, he was involved in
validating the strengths and weaknesses of new technology
and attending weekly stand-up meetings where they would
discuss their challenges. “It was a very positive experience
and I got lots of transferrable skills that I have been able to
bring to the classroom,” he said.
The big thing that it inspired him to do, almost on a daily
basis, is to tell stories that connect what he is teaching
his students with real-world scenarios. “Giving them ‘live’
examples, as opposed to pointing at something in a book,
helps to embed what we’re teaching,” he said.
Environment is everything, according to Tom,
so it helps if someone in the family or even
a neighbour has the kind of job that echoes
something they are being taught. If they can’t
find a STEM connection that way, it’s up to him in
the classroom to make one. After he introduces
a new topic, he opens it up to the students and
asks if they can think of how it might be used,
then he gives examples. It only takes a few
minutes but it contextualises the application of
STEM in the workplace and makes it more than
part of the curriculum.
“With something I’m teaching in statistics, for
example, you might look to explain how banks
could use it,” he explained. “Or it might be
geometry in writing a computer game or in
the design of an aeroplane wing. It might be a
particular skill that someone is using down the
corridor in the woodwork department. It all helps
to make the subject more accessible.”
“It was a very positive
experience and I got lots
of transferrable skills that
I have been able to bring
to the classroom. Giving
them ‘live’ examples,
as opposed to pointing
at something in a book,
helps to embed what we’re
Teacher, Firhouse Community
26 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
A combination of research and personal experience has
convinced two of Ireland’s leading STEM advocates that a
bigger focus is needed on primary school education.
As the Executive Dean of the DCU Institute of Education,
and former Chief Executive of the NCCA, Anne Looney is
constantly looking at ways to improve teacher education.
She believes learning in the early years is particularly
underserved when it comes to STEM.
“The Government likes to introduce a lot of STEM in
Transition Year and encourage more students to study
Leaving Cert STEM courses, but I have a firm belief that
it’s way too late,” she said. “You have got to get kids much
earlier and you’ve got to put really good teachers in front
The teacher part is crucial, according to Anne. Pupils
need someone at primary school with a STEM mindset
who can help them begin to look at how science,
technology and engineering impacts everyday life.
“If an 8 or 9-year old girl or boy has a teacher who is
enthusiastic, excited and curious about STEM, it could
be a game changer. We tend to worry too much about
what school to send our children to. It’s the quality of the
teacher, not the school, that makes the difference.”
Part of her remit is to oversee the STEM Teacher
Internship programme (see Teachers Benefit from
Work Experience), exposing future teachers to how
STEM subjects and industry connect. She believes the
programme could enhance a child’s primary school
experience in particular.
“We have a great early years curriculum with a real focus
on exploration and discovering the world, but it’s too
early to ‘schoolify’,” she said. “If you can persuade a
primary teacher who teaches everything to the student
to have a STEM mindset, to begin to look at how science,
technology and engineering impacts everyday life, you
will grow that child’s sense of curiosity and willingness to
Everyday engagement with simple science is a missing
piece even in a child’s early life, according to Áine Lynch,
Chief Executive of the National Parents Council (Primary).
She is looking beyond State-structured education to early
parenthood and the child’s pre-school experience.
“We are very good at messaging parents around literacy
and reading to children but we don’t pay any attention to
the science world around babies –
something as simple as the bubbles
in a bath. We don’t support parents to engage in
conversations around everyday things and label them as
science,” she said.
“We do it really well around literacy and
need to have the same intentionality
By the time they get to school it should be about
engaging with science in their real world, not something
that’s abstract and separate to them. Áine described
how a child’s appreciation can be deeply affected by
different teachers: the one who does practical and
fun experiments will engage children much more than
someone who takes it from a text book and asks the class
to write it up.
“The Government likes to
introduce a lot of STEM in
Transition Year and encourage
more students to study
Leaving Cert STEM courses,
but I have a firm belief that it’s
way too late.”
Anne Looney, Executive Dean of
the DCU Institute of Education
27WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
“Young children align with science because
they like exploring and are inquisitive. To miss
the opportunity at primary, and suddenly be
expected to learn Physics at 13 is a big leap,”
said Áine. “Children are naturally inquisitive;
it’s the teacher’s job to encourage that.”
She thinks it would be good for children
to hear about different work experiences
from trips out and people coming into the
classroom, but not in a careers way. It should
be about stirring their imagination and
making connections with science rather than
connecting with jobs.
“If we can spend more time
trying to engage children and
young people in the subject
itself, and how it links to their real
world, then I think the careers
connection will come in the
future,” she said.
The time may also be right to revisit the idea
that primary schools have one generalist
teacher who teaches everything. “There are
lot of good things in the class/teacher model
that young children need around nurturing,
but it doesn’t mean to say we couldn’t bring
more expertise in or even look internally,”
she said. “Primary schools have groups of
teachers who could specialise and rotate. You
would tap into their areas of interest rather
than force specialisms on them.”
28 WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
Entire industries have been wiped out; long established
business models overturned. In this context, the career
choices of students in our report look quaint. They are
also at odds and disconnected from the lives that young
people are living outside of school, where screens, apps
and social media play a part in almost everything they
do. They effortlessly connect and communicate in a
web-powered world that is largely absent in their career
There is further disconnection inside
the classroom. It’s not that students don’t appreciate the
importance of STEM subjects—research results suggest
they do – but they are not sure why they are important.
Worse, they are not enjoying them. When asked what
criteria influenced subject choice, enjoyment came out
top (61 percent). And we know that they are not choosing
STEM subjects in any significant numbers despite the
best efforts of the Department of Education and Skills to
The report shows a need to bring STEM subjects alive and
make them engaging and enjoyable for students from a
very early age. At primary school, this is about problem
solving and analytical interpretation, transferable skills not
anchored to subjects or jobs.
It’s about empowering teachers to inspire young children.
Áine Lynch described it as encouraging a child’s natural
inquisitiveness with practical and fun experiments, rather
than textbook-driven study. This is also the time to address
the STEM disengagement that’s embedded in many girls
by the time they attend secondary school.
29WHAT NOW FOR STEM?
At secondary school, when college and career
choices loom on the horizon, it’s time for more
exposure to what STEM subjects can lead to.
There is consensus that Transition Year
provides the best opportunity to have
meaningful workplace experiences,
but as Principal Senan Nolan points
out, it’s not a level playing field and is
disproportionately dependent on the
student (or their parents) having the
initiative to find a decent placement.
Such a key window for work experience should be
afforded more formal structures to maximise the
opportunity. Transition Year may be the most obvious
point in the education cycle to explore STEM-related
careers, but there are others.
The good news is that
many of the mechanisms
for improving STEM
participation in schools
are already in place,
albeit unstructured and
It is exciting to hear how the STEM Teacher
Internship programme has helped Claire and Tom’s
teaching techniques; the way they are discretely
introducing facets of the working world into the
classroom. There are seeds here that need to be
cultivated and allowed to grow.
The good news is that many of the mechanisms
for improving STEM participation in schools
are already in place, albeit unstructured and
Working together, the public and private sector
have an opportunity to put it right and achieve the
goal of the Department of Education and Skills:
to provide a STEM education experience of the
highest international quality.
Research was conducted through three bespoke online
surveys across teachers in primary and secondary schools
(183), parents with children in primary and secondary school
(150) and secondary school students between 16-18 years old
(193 – 103 females/90 males). Fieldwork was conducted from
October 4-18, 2019.
30% Club is a global campaign group of Chairs and CEOs taking action to increase
gender diversity on boards and senior management teams.
CWIT (Connecting Women In Technology) is a network of women from tech
companies in Ireland, which aims to attract and retain women to the tech sector.
I WISH is an initiative to inspire, encourage and motivate young secondary school
female students to pursue careers in STEM.
FastTrack to IT (FIT) is a not-for-profit, industry-led organisation that promotes
an inclusive smart economy by creating routes to marketable technical skills for
people at risk in Ireland’s labour market.
31WHAT NOW FOR STEM?