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Dr. Michael Ievers is a Senior Lecturer at Stranmillis University College and Dr. Kieran McGeown is a Senior Lecturer at St. Mary’s University College; Michael and Kieran are both RSA Fellows and Kieran is also currently a Fellowship Councillor for Ireland.

The initial vision and ‘agenda’ for the future in relation to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Northern Ireland (NI) was articulated by the Report of the STEM Review: “Empowering future generations through science, technology and mathematics to grow a dynamic economic economy”.

The report made 20 recommendations, which were listed under four major headings:

  1. Business must take a lead in promoting STEM
  2. We must alleviate key constraints in the STEM artery
  3. There needs to be increased flexibility in the provision of STEM education
  4. Government must better coordinate its support for STEM
From 2009, schools in NI and the rest of the UK were encouraged to embrace the notion that STEM education plays a very important role in a nation’s future prosperity. The main argument for such a focus was that young people had apparently become uninterested in STEM subjects and that there would therefore be a significant shortfall in those suitably qualified to take up STEM related professions and positions in the future. This shortage, it was argued, could have a significant negative effect on the nation’s future economic growth. 

As a result of RSA funding, we have been able to complete a comparative case study focused upon Northern Ireland that examines current perceptions and impact of the STEM ‘agenda’ in light of these arguments.

The aim of this research was to record pupils' voices regarding how STEM education should be developed within the Primary Schools of Northern Ireland, alongside the voices of individuals who occupy positions that have significant impact upon the experiences of those same pupils. There is often a lack of the pupils’ voices within literature and we believe that it is important that it be listened to and acted upon, as children naturally have very important insights to offer in helping us to develop our understanding of teaching and learning.

Our principal objective was to film an ‘Academic Documentary’ to constitute both a methodology for data collection and a medium for dissemination. Small group interviews with pupils were filmed, while filmed interviews with education professionals and representatives from industry and politics were conducted in a one-to-one setting. Key findings from the pupils were the relevance and importance they attributed to STEM education, together with the enthusiasm with which they engaged with STEM experiences. From the adults, key findings were the critical need for training, the need for societal value of practical skills, the consensus that STEM education should be problem-based and compulsory, the need for effective transition, and the need for a more effective coalition with business. We were subsequently interviewed by a NI television network, which can be viewed here.

Thanks to the initial funding that we received from RSA Ireland, the impetus was provided for further ongoing research, which is presently underway.

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