Written Answers. - School Curriculum.

Michael Creed

Question:

698 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps he proposes to take to promote science as a subject in primary and post-primary schools. [8235/01]

Since September 1999, preparations for the introduction of science, as part of social environment and scientific education in the revised primary school curriculum, have been under way. During the 1999-2000 school year, a number of supports were provided for schools: the science curriculum and teacher guidelines were disseminated to all primary teachers; a total of £1.7 million in the form of grants was made available to schools for the purchase of science equipment; a school development planning initiative was launched to assist schools in curriculum planning; and a comprehensive programme of courses for teachers in primary science was run during the summer of 2000.

In the current school year, a developmental project in science was initiated in a representative sample of schools through the primary curriculum support programme, which is charged with the organisation of incareer development programmes to support the implementation of all subjects within the primary school curriculum. This developmental project is designed to familiarise teachers with the approaches, methodologies and materials used in the teaching of science, and to build capacity towards the implementation of science throughout the primary school system. The developmental project will continue in the school year 2001-02 and in September 2002, a national incareer development programme for all primary teachers will be organised. The implementation of science in all primary schools will begin from September 2003.

As is the case with all subjects in the revised primary school curriculum, schools may commence the implementation of science in advance of the formal incareer development programme if they so wish.

At second level, science is taught as a single subject in the junior cycle and as five separate subjects in the senior cycle. They are biology, physics, chemistry, agricultural science and the combined subject of physics and chemistry. In the junior cycle the uptake of science has remained fairly constant for a number of years at just under 90% of the cohort. At senior cycle the uptake of agricultural science has been increasing somewhat, albeit from a fairly low base. The uptake of biology has been decreas ing in recent years, while the uptake of the physical sciences has been on the decrease for a number of years.
In the context of initiatives to increase the uptake of the physical science subjects at second level my Department is implementing a range of measures that are designed to make these subjects more attractive to students.
Revised syllabi in leaving certificate physics and leaving certificate chemistry were introduced in September 2000 for first examination in June 2002. As well as the addition of new, up to date content these syllabi have an increased emphasis on student practical work and on the interface between science, technology and society. These changes are intended to highlight for students the relevance of these subjects to their everyday lives.
A new format of examination paper in ordinary level junior certificate science was introduced in last year's examination. In leaving certificate physics and chemistry the structure and layout of questions on the ordinary level papers has been revised. These changes have been designed to make these examination papers more accessible to the cohort of candidates for whom they are intended.
A comprehensive incareer development programme for teachers of physics and chemistry was put in place in September 1999 and is designed to run for three years. During the first year of the programme a total of two and a half days of inservice training was provided for teachers of physics and for teachers of chemistry. The programme has continued in the current school year with a particular emphasis on practical work. The programme has received a very enthusiastic response from teachers and will make a major contribution to reinvigorating the teaching of these subjects at both junior and senior level.
The incareer development programme includes the provision of support materials for teachers. In addition to these materials my Department has produced comprehensive reference handbooks in both physics and chemistry and has distributed them to all second level schools. These handbooks have been provided in both printed and CD-ROM formats. In addition to the copies sent to schools individual teachers are being provided with further copies of the CD as part of the incareer development programme. These materials have a particular emphasis on practical work and on the interface between science, technology and society.
In April 2000 schools offering the physical sciences received a capital grant of £4000. Of this, £1,500 was designated for the purchase of basic laboratory equipment while the remainder was designated for the purchase of a computer and associated hardware and software specifically for use in the science laboratory. At the end of last year schools received a further capital grant of £6,500. This was intended primarily for the purchase of data logging equipment.
As well as these capital grants, an additional annualper capita grant for each student studying the physical sciences at leaving certificate level was introduced in the school year 1999/2000.
I have recently set up a task force on the uptake of the physical sciences at both second and third level. The brief of the task force is to devise and recommend additional measures to improve participation rates in physics, chemistry and related courses at second and third level. The task force has met three times to date and, following an advertisement in the national press, has received submissions from some 40 institutions and individuals. Two full-time national science strategy co-ordinators have been appointed to assist the task force in its work. The co-ordinators, who are from second and third level respectively, have taken up their positions from 1 March 2001. It is expected that the task force will produce an interim report within a few months and a final report in about a year.