Thursday, 16 October 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of students enrolled in courses in the physical sciences at universities and institutes of technology for the academic year 2003-04; the numbers enrolled in such courses for each of the past ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23764/03] Full-time and Part-time
These figures refer to those classified under “science” in the ISCED, one-digit, field of study; ISCED stands for international standard classification of education systems. Under this classification, “science” covers those enrolled in the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and statistics, and computing.
A number of important steps have been taken to arrest the decline in interest in science which is a problem not just in Ireland but in most developed countries. In particular, important progress has been made in regard to: curricular reform and inservice support, with new syllabi already implemented in leaving certificate biology and physics and chemistry, revised syllabi in primary science and junior certificate science beginning in schools in 2003-04, and work under way on a new leaving certificate physical sciences syllabus to replace the physics and chemistry combined syllabus. All of these developments are being or have been supported by national inservice programmes for teachers. Three days of inservice training was provided for all primary teachers to support the implementation of the primary science programme, supported by a national team of 24 trainers.
Some 1,700 second level biology teachers, 900 chemistry teachers and 1,000 physics teachers received inservice training for the leaving certificate revised syllabi, and a national programme is now being implemented for the revised junior certificate science syllabus.
Progress has also been made in relation to: resourcing, with substantial grants issued to primary schools in 1999, 2001 and 2002 at a cost of €10.376 million over three years; an additional per capita grant for physics and chemistry at leaving certificate; a capital grants programme for senior cycle science ICT and science equipment allied with the recent announcement of a once-off grant scheme, likely to cost in the order of €12 million to support the implementation of the new junior certificate science syllabus ICT integration projects in teaching and learning under the schools IT initiative, and a new Scope initiative in partnership with RTE, NCCA and the National Centre for Technology in Education; provision of materials and publications to schools to promote the attractiveness and relevance of science for students as a subject option and career path; reviews on mathematics, grading of subjects in  the leaving certificate, gender equity issues in science, and initial reports on teacher training undertaken; awareness measures supported by industry and third level colleges linking with schools; foundation, bridging and progression measures to promote access to third level education; quality assurance initiatives in third level, including the sciences; and the development of a national framework of qualifications by the National Qualifications Authority as an important step in developments to improve access, promote flexible assessment and accreditation processes, and enhance mobility across the further and higher education and training sectors.
This work continues to be progressed and enhanced as resources permit in collaboration and consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Forfás and industry. My Department is fully committed to strengthening the quality of science teaching and learning, promoting increased scientific literacy and encouraging more students to choose science subjects at senior cycle and progress to third level options in this critical area as a vitally important part of the national strategy to support competitiveness and employment.
While the effect of these measures may only be felt in the longer term there are already some signs of improvement. At leaving certificate level there are three main science subjects, biology, chemistry and physics. Biology remains a popular subject with 40.3% of the cohort sitting the examination in June 2003, an increase from 39.8% in 2002.
The uptake of physics and chemistry has been a cause of concern for some time. The decline in uptake of these subjects started in the 1980s and continued until recently. There has been a reversal of the trend in 2002. In the leaving certificate examination in June 2002, 15.6% of the cohort took physics, up from 14.1% in 2000, and 11.7% took chemistry, up from 11.1% in 1999. In 2003, 15.7% took physics and 11.9% took chemistry.
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