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Written Answers. - School Curriculum.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 76. Mr. Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  the action he intends to take to address the low uptake of science at second level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16411/02]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey): Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey I am very conscious of concerns expressed about the uptake of the sciences at second level. Before outlining the measures being taken by my Department to address the issue, I should point out that there are a number of science subjects in the second level curriculum and that the uptake pattern varies considerably across these subjects.

At junior certificate level there is one science subject and the uptake of this subject has been consistently high, with approximately 89% of the cohort studying it. At leaving certificate level there are three main science subjects – biology, chemistry and physics. The uptake of biology, though falling somewhat in recent years, is still quite high, with almost 40% of the cohort sitting the examination last June.

The uptake of physics and chemistry has been a cause of concern for some time. I should mention that this is so, not just in Ireland, but also in most developed economies. The decline in uptake of these subjects started in the 1980s and continued until recently. There has been a reversal of the trend in recent years. In the leaving certificate examination in June 2002, 15.6% of the cohort took physics, up from 14.1% in 2000, and 12.0% took chemistry, up from 11.1% in 1999. I believe the current uptake rates are still too low, given the importance of these subjects to our economy and the all-pervasive nature of science and technology in modern life. Nevertheless, the modest [1512]reversal in the downward trend is a positive indicator that, with appropriate support and interventions, we can attract more students to the study of the physical sciences.

The task force on the physical sciences presented its final report in March. A consultative period followed, with a deadline for submissions of 1 September 2002. Last month I brought a memorandum to Government on the matter. I can tell the Deputy that the Government is fully committed, in principle, to the proposals that I have put forward and to the implementation of the recommendations of the task force. I am at present exploring possible ways forward having regard to current budgetary allocations. I intend to press ahead with priority areas for action and to approach the implementations of the recommendations on a phased basis.

I am confident that the measures already in place, together with those being planned by my Department in response to the task force report, will have a significant impact on the uptake of the sciences at second level.

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