Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Choose Life, Choose a Job, Choose STEM!

Choosing a third level course is an important decision and one that will have lasting effects on you and your career. As a Guidance Counsellor, I believe that decision is ultimately about finding a course / direction that suits your personality, aptitude and ability. However, it's also about looking to the future and about giving you the best opportunity to grow in your career. With the "official" closing date for CAO (Irish university applications) at 5:15pm tomorrow, my advice is to think STEM! 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics and encompasses a wide range of training courses which help to develop critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills. These skills are highly sought after and valued across a range of industries and a degree in science, engineering, technology or maths will provide a solid foundation for a future career. According to the IDA, the technology and science industries in Ireland are set to grow in the coming decade, providing well qualified young graduates with job opportunities. Saying that, the skills obtained while studying STEM subjects are highly transferable to other industries - areas that value critical thinking and analytical skills.

The Irish universities and IT's offer a wide range of STEM courses - at NFQ Level 6, 7 and 8. There is a STEM course for everybody and a quick search through Qualifax will help you find the STEM course for you. has a brilliant section to help you find out more about STEM careers. You can explore hundreds of career possibilities through their website and view all the CAO courses in the STEM disciplines. There is also a large video library of people involved in STEM professions.

Let's face it - if you're studying for the Leaving Certificate this year, you are likely to face an extremely competitive jobs market in 5 years time. Choosing a STEM course will help you develop the skills that will help you get you that job - you will need to add a little bit of your other strengths to guarantee it's yours. 

Note: The closing date for normal CAO applications is tomorrow, however you don't need to finalise your course choices until much later. While the CAO system will shut for a few months, from early May you will be able to able to change your course preferences if you need - except restricted courses (including nursing) which need to be on your preference list by tomorrow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Quinn Challenges Teachers to Find Savings in Education Budget

Minister for Education & Skills Ruairí Quinn challenged teachers to come up with ideas to make savings within the total DES budget. Speaking on the Last Word with Matt Cooper, Quinn hinted that his department colleagues are coming up with some savings ideas but he urged teachers, who work within the system, to offer their advice. He declared that, to date, both unions and individual teachers were not willing to engage in a discussion on possible savings. There was a great reaction to the interview with loads of suggestions coming in from teachers and the general public alike. Some of those ideas included digital payslips, removing chaplins from community schools, staging oral examinations over the Easter holidays and more.

I think we can all admit that savings can be made in certain areas, thereby protecting educational services to the disadvantaged and vulnerable. So I thought it might be a good idea to use this short post to collect ideas from the online teaching community. Please leave a comment below with your idea and I will email the Minister next week with your proposals and the names of those who contributed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ruairí Quinn Launches SAILS - A "New" Approach to Science Education

Today the Minister for Education & Skills Ruairí Quinn launched a new €3.75 million programme for science teaching and learning. Dubbed SAILS, which stands for "Strategies for Assessment of Inquiry Learning in Science", the new programme aims to promote the sciences in second level by training teachers to impart critical thinking and analytical skills to their students. The programme will see thirteen partner organisations and higher education institutes from twelve EU countries cooperate to formulate new strategies in teacher training to develop these skills and ultimately improve the number and quality of students studying science, technology, engineering & maths (STEM) subjects at third level.

While I am always glad to see new thinking (and funding) in the realm of science education, and equally delighted to see companies like Intel take an active interest in second level education, I am struggling to see what exactly is new about this! I would also love to know how the €3.75 million will be spent, what way will the training be given, who will give the training and over what time scale? I don't necessarily agree with the sentiment that science teachers don't currently impart critical thinking or analytical skills to their students, but if this is true then the State Examinations Commission must take some of the credit. They have continually produced examinations that promote regurgitation of facts rather than the ability to think critically. Teachers must work within a system that is flawed. If Ruairi Quinn is serious by improving the levels of critical thinking amongst second level schools then significant changes to how science is assessed will yield tangible results.