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CS and STEM learning in schools hampered due to lack of resources

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CS and STEM learning in schools hampered due to lack of resources

May 13
10:53 2016

people-woman-coffee-meeting-mediumFundamental reform in Ireland’s education system is needed if the digital skills gap evident in Irish society is to be met, a senior academic from Trinity College Dublin said today.

Brendan Tangney, Professor in Computer Science & Statistics,Trinity College Dublin said that teachers need comprehensive resources, whole school supports, training and technology available in the classrooms in order to effect change in the classroom.        

He was speaking at the inaugural ‘21st Century School of Distinction’ Awards, which launched  a new report from Trinity College Dublin today assessing the impacts achieved in the first year of the Trinity Access 21 (TA21) project based on research involving over 400 teachers and 800 students. TA21 is a three year (2014-2017) project, funded by Google through a €1.5 million donation, which aims to effect change in the Irish education system by preparing teachers to teach Computer Science (CS) and related topics through a collaborative learning model. It also aims to increase the number of students from DEIS schools pursuing STEM and CS focused college courses and careers.  

“What we have seen clearly is that with the proper training teachers are more confident in teaching CS and STEM subjects to their students.  63% of teachers who participated in TA21 CS workshops introduced new CS content in their classroom, but they are limited in what they can achieve under current structures,” he said.  “Ireland is not unique in this regard – educational systems across the globe face the same challenges and, if we get it right, we are giving our young people a huge advantage in the digital age,” he said.

“Over 60% of the schools that participated in the T21 project reported having little access to the technology needed to make a real impact in their school.   Some schools participating in TA21 had no access to wifi or the internet and one 500 student school had just one computer for every 20 students. We really have to ask if the Government is just paying lip service when it talks about delivering broadband to every school in the country and ensuring that our young people are equipped with digital skills,” he said.

Structural issues such as short class times and a pressure to teach to test and prepare students for exams were also identified by teachers as limiting their capacity to introduce their newfound CS skills.

Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, who coordinated the Trinity Access 21 research said that schools were attempting to address these barriers, “Schools with supportive leadership structures were able to overcome the most commonly reported barriers.  For example teachers formed after school clubs, while others developed classes within school time that were not restricted by timetabling issues to overcome the time constraints of the classroom. Schools where resources were limited would bring students to activities outside of the school and one school created an entire regime change throughout the school.”

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