Thursday, 3 February 2005
Question 4: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the progress being made on the implementation of the recommendations of the task force on the physical sciences; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3284/05]
There were 39 recommendations in the report of the task force on the physical sciences, four of which do not apply to the education sector. Their costed proposals total €244 million, of which €66.3 million would be a recurring annual cost. Progress has been made on 25 of the recommendations. In particular, important progress is being made in regard to curricular reform and in-service support, with new syllabi already implemented in leaving certificate biology, physics and chemistry, revised syllabi in primary science and junior certificate science beginning in schools in 2003-04, and work under way on a new leaving certificate physical sciences syllabus to replace the physics and chemistry combined syllabus. All these developments are being or have been supported by national in-service programmes for teachers.
Another development is resourcing, with substantial grants issued to schools at primary level in 1999, 2001 and 2002, an additional per capita grant for physics and chemistry at leaving certificate, a capital grants programme for senior cycle science, information and communications technology and science equipment, the implementation of a once-off grant scheme to support the implementation of the new junior certificate science syllabus, and ICT integration projects in teaching and learning under the schools IT initiative and the new TV Scope programme in partnership with RTE, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the National Centre for Technology in Education.
Other developments include the provision of materials and publications to schools to promote the attractiveness and relevance of science for students as a subject option and career path, reviews on mathematics, grading of subjects in the leaving certificate, gender equity issues in science and initial reports on teacher training undertaken. Awareness measures supported by industry and third level colleges and which link with schools have been introduced, and the new discover science and engineering programme was launched in October 2003 which brings together all the existing awareness activities in a unified strategy. Investment in the programme for research in third level institutes continues apace to enhance and promote world class standards in research, innovation and development.
That reply is practically identical to one I received from the previous Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on 30 June 2004. I would not have submitted the question if I thought I would receive the same reply, because it is already on the record. I submitted the question again because I wanted to know what progress has been made since June 2004. I presume the answer is none, because if there had been progress, I may have received a different response to my question today.
As the OECD report has since been published, my question does not relate to that. That report pointed out a number of aspects, including the fact that we are engaged in a catching-up process that will require sustained investment over a long period. The task force on physical sciences should have been the beginning in this regard. If progress has not been made in the last six months in implementing the recommendations, rather than quoting what has happened following the report, how does the Minister intend to progress the remaining recommendations? Some progress has been made on 25 of the recommendations but there has been no progress on 14 of the recommendations, ten of which are the responsibility of her Department. How does the Minister intend to go forward with the implementation of the task force?
I am committed to ensuring that we increase the standards of science and the facilities available to its teaching in our schools. Before Christmas I allocated capital funding for schools for science and science teaching. Equally, some of the proposals involve extraordinary expense though they would no doubt be very valuable, such as the employment of school laboratory assistants, which would cost an extra €18.8 million annually. This would raise questions for other practical subject teachers such as woodwork, metalwork and home economics teachers, who would not have assistance. Such assistance in those areas is not found throughout Europe.
We invested substantially in the development of school science laboratories last year and this year to upgrade them so that the syllabus can be introduced as needed. We are moving forward in every way we can but some developments, such as employing laboratory assistants, are not currently feasible. Other major developments such as in-teacher training can, however, have a huge impact on schools and teaching if new approaches are introduced. The use of technology and its application will also help the development of the sciences.
Regarding the implementation of the task force recommendations, will the Minister tell us which of them cannot be implemented so that people can discuss the merits or otherwise of what is there rather than indulging in a vain hope that it will all happen eventually, because it will not?
My aim is to progress as many of the recommendations as possible. A day may come when we can employ laboratory assistants in schools but it has not yet arrived. it would not be appropriate to say we will not employ them when I hope some day we will.