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Grant catalyst for science;Briefing International

Ireland

Concern over the declining popularity of physics and chemistry in secondary schools has prompted action by the Republic's education minister Micheal Martin.

He has announced a IRpound;15 million (pound;12m) package to upgrade labs, provide grants for science subjects and more in-service training for teachers.

In addition, the curriculum is to be reviewed and examination papers revised. Schools will also receive a grant to buy computer equipment specifically for use in teaching science.

Official figures show that in 1986-87 one in five Leaving Certificate students was studying physics but this had declined to 16.4 per cent a decade later. To make matters worse, the failure rates in the science subjects are among the highest for all Leaving Certificate subjects.

The package of measures has been welcomed by the teacher unions. But they warned that science teacher shortages are already emerging, as candidates are being tempted by higher salaries in the expanding pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

The Irish Business and Employers' Confederation has also welcomed the minister's measures but has criticised an over-reliance on written state exams to assess students' abilities. It wants a wider range of techniques of assessment used in secondary schools.

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