Future-proofing Ireland’s education — “I am obsolete three months from now if I don’t keep up.”
I attended an event at the Royal Dublin Society’s Library on 21 June, 2022. Here are my notes.
Geraldine Ruane, CEO, RDS, introduced
ESB Science Blast evening talks.
Childhood influences later decisions and love of STEM learning. Develops problem solving and critical thinking skills. Facing some challenges. Can be hard to engage young students if they form poor opinions of science. Also need to engage primary teachers.
The ESB Science Blast Roadshow toured primary schools around Ireland. Topics covered included digestion and organs. Do plants prevent soil erosion?
The next ten years — shift in how we deliver STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) education.
Keynote speaker: Alastair Blair, Country Manager Director, Accenture.
Pat O’Doherty, then CEO of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), started the Science Blast programme, saying it was to ignite curiosity in children.
He has no Master’s degree or PhD. Did engineering — hard subjects. He got just enough points for college. Graduated in 1980s — not enough jobs. Lucky enough to grow up with decisions such as free education. Fundamental gift — never lose sight of that. World is changing more rapidly than before.
Pandemic — impact horrific on communities. He used to spend 20 days at home — Pandemic, almost every day. Had to adapt. Young people have been hit hard. Economic fallout, climate change, war waged on our continent. Labour market changed. Have — have nots has become more nuanced, more divide re skills, and digital skills. Use of internet to find a job — 70% higher socioeconomic class scored themselves 70% on that, 38% lower socioeconomic groups.
I am obsolete in three months from now if I don’t keep up.
“I would argue that I am obsolete in three months from now if I don’t keep up. Marry this with soft skills — critical thinking and collaboration. Social challenges. Ethical development of AI which is something our clients are talking to us about constantly. I changed Accenture’s strapline to let there be change. We need profound change in education.”
Primary, second, third, lifelong learning. Children are digital first, not analogue. Pharmaceutical etc. now digital businesses. Potential to create profound change over society. Accenture — 50 years. Problems can not be solved by those who specialise in one discipline. Multi-talented teams needed.
Around the world he never hears anything but good about the Irish work ethic, attitude, etc. In a points-weighted Leaving Cert exam, the young people are working on topics they may never use again. Need to broaden their horizons later. Better equipped now to take on board skills for future work. Still have tendency to push people towards three- or four-year degrees in only one area. Need flexibility and need it earlier.
Unwire some of the hardwiring in the education system. Not all, as deep focus is highly valuable. Need to act fast for ten years from now.
Other countries are looking to take our jobs. We are small enough to be nimble. Science Blast is held at a formative age in learning cycle. Global illiterative — nothing is more enraging than people denying science. Creative skills now critical — user experience, creativity. Apprenticeships, equipping young people for skills.
Will take a nation — the RDS, communities, government. Partnerships with business and universities. Collaborative. Respond to employer skills needs. Equipping people with skills needed for the future.
41% of adults do not understand STEM. Also, children not given enough info relating to STEM courses and careers. Need to get to women and girls earlier, gender imbalance. Diversity needed.
Tech became a critical factor in the pandemic and will continue to be. More than a third of people aged 50 years said they don’t see a need to improve their digital skills.
The danger of being at the leading edge is you need to stay there. Ireland’s decision to become an open economy is considered one of the most important factors in our modern economy. Agri and other industries. 2020s, need to be a decade of renewal and recovery.
Dr. Mairead Hurley, School of Education TCD, research into education
Meadhbh Costello, Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC)
Dr. Niamh Shaw, moderator.
One in five computer science grads are women.
MC — One in five computer science grads are women. Communication — critical thinking — collaboration — creativity.
MH — I’m not an arts person because I can’t draw — although she played piano from four years. Wanted to study astronomy but there was almost nothing in school — one class in Geography. She fought to do physics and astronomy and graduated with a degree in astronomy.
MC — What are fish stocks like in the Mediterranean, what are forestry issues? How could we help this? Big questions to ask fifteen-year-olds in Science Blast but they will have answers.
MH — Inheriting crises, we need to help them fight them. Open schooling — projects on water quality, consumption, behaviour. Need more flexibility to implement. The schools are running out of space in transition year to do all this. [A year between the first major exams and the senior cycle of study for the final exams.]
MC — More resilient — skills for future of work. Lifelong learning, micro courses online, credentials.
NS — Putting a lot of pressure on schools but should be putting more emphasis on lifelong. Workshop on teaching older people to use a mobile phone, banking online.
MC — In Ireland, 53% of population have basic or above basic digital skills. Just because they can use social media does not mean they are digital natives.
Resilient — skills for future of work. Lifelong learning, micro courses online, credentials.
MH — Data awareness, tools. Her son is four and has started coding. It is a toy.
NS — Intuitive, iPad. Touch it and it works. Hears “I was never good at maths or science at school” often, this shoots down their involvement. “Oh, I’m not creative.” Block.
MH — The earlier we start the better. “What is a dataset,” had to be answered for people trying to make artistic representation of climate issues.
NS — Words we use can be elitist because we are so used to those who understand our department.
MH — We have to spend six months learning how to speak to each other on a mixed skill project.
MC — Digital futures programme. Can be hard for industry people to talk in or work in a school. They need a family connection.
NS — We need a ‘town scientist’ we could all go to.
MH — There are programmes, but people don’t engage because they don’t think it’s for them.
Research from UL shows that informal spaces are hugely valuable. Amsterdam had a shortage of science teachers, so a makerspace was given the class once a week.
MH — Research from University of Limerick (UL) shows that informal spaces are hugely valuable. Practitioners in informal — coding club — connect with formal. Amsterdam had a shortage of science teachers, so a makerspace was given the class once a week.
MC — Problem-based learning. Doing science without realising it.
MH — EU Project Fedora [a future-oriented model enabling formal and informal science education]. Future Shock. We can’t see the horizon and some young people are freezing. Sense-making skills, strange-making skills. For teachers it might be uncomfortable, but they can learn at Science Blast alongside pupils.
Q: Leaving Cert needs to change?
MC — Tests only one day of four years. Tests recall, not team work and verbal skills. MH — 100% agree. Should credit the learning that happens outside school. NS — She would empower students to say they don’t understand how the facts might apply to their lives.
Paddy Hayes, CEO of ESB, closing remarks
Survive and thrive skills are needed in schools and workforce.
We need active and informed citizens, engaged choices. Not zero by 2040. Depends on people working in ESB now and future, partners, some jobs that don’t yet exist. Science Blast — Question, what is the best way to lift 1 litre of water by 1 metre? Kids answered using Canva, poetry, photos, ingenious ideas.
Turlough Hill is almost fifty years old. Stores electricity in water. Can use clean power to lift about a billion litres = 1 billion kg per day. For release when wind is not available, or a boost required. Survive and thrive skills are needed in schools and workforce. ESB wants to provide clean and affordable electricity. Modern infrastructure. Combat climate change.