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JAI welcomes new guidelines for STEM school–industry partnerships published by Department of Education and Skills

Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI) welcomes the school–industry partnership guidelines for STEM activities published by the Department of Education and Skills and we were pleased to have contributed to their development.

The guidelines are designed to assist all those involved in education-industry engagement and are available on the Department's website here.

Our partnerships with industry and education allow us to recruit, equip, train, vet and support volunteers to serve as role models, sharing their own real-life experiences while working on specially-designed modules aligned with the curriculum, helping students to see the importance and relevance of STEM-related subjects.      

More than 28,000 students participated in STEM programmes facilitated by JAI-supporting organisations in the last school year alone.

JAI’s emphasis is on the importance of role models from local supporting organisations working with the students in a variety of learning environments, in their own classrooms or school labs or in the volunteer’s workplace.

Research on the ‘role model effect’ shows the strong influence that a positive role model, particularly for girls, can play in changing perceptions and dispelling gender-stereotypes. JA STEM programmes, such as Energize aimed at 6th class students and supported by Gas Networks Ireland, and Futurewize for junior cycle students, supported by Science Foundation Ireland, are fully complementary to the formal curriculum and provides opportunities for acquiring and practising key skills which are in demand by employers.

Having participated in the work to generate the Department’s guidelines for supporting STEM education across business, industry and the education sector, we are proud to report our adherence to these guidelines and to commit to continuing to set standards of excellence in industry-education engagament as set out below:

1) The benefits for learners and the learning experience should be central to the partnership plan being put forward by either the school or business/industry and there should be clarity as to roles and responsibilities of all parties. This may be informed by Learning Outcomes on the subject specification.

The experience of the students is at the core of all JA activities. There are learning outcomes clearly outlined in the guidebooks provided to all volunteers and which are reflected in the students’ workbooks, the design of activities and the materials provided for each module.

2) The activity/ initiative should have clear, tangible links to the curriculum, the STEM Education Policy Statement, the Digital Strategy for Schools, school priorities and other relevant policies.

JA programmes are designed, developed and rolled out in line with all Department of Education policies and guidelines and in keeping with each school’s policy and practices.

Based on the needs of their students, school leaders select from a menu of structured, quality-assured programmes, which are mapped to the formal curriculum at both primary and second level.

JAI works closely with education stakeholders to ensure our work continues to complement the work of educators and we enjoy hugely positive relations with nearly 600 schools annually and liaise closely with representative bodies such as the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) and the National Association for Principals & Deputy Principals (NAPD).

JAI has collaborated with Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT) to highlight the development of key skills through JA programmes and recently launched TESA to promote and celebrate the work of schools in providing opportunities for students learning in non-formal activities to acquire and practice entrepreneurial skills.

See how JA programmes map to the primary curriculum here

See how JA programmes develop key skills in second level here.

3) Consideration should be given to the scale and sustainability of the plan over short, medium and long-term.

Since our inception in Ireland in 1996 we have developed long term school and industry partnerships, which continuously evolve to serve the needs of the students in our care. Plans for work with students are agreed in discussions with both school and industry partners to ensure that they are deliverable and sustainable.

4) Those engaging with schools must adhere to any relevant codes of practice in the school, in particular in relation to child protection, health and safety and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

JAI is committed to safeguarding children. By working under the guidance of our safeguarding policies our volunteers and staff maintain a safe environment for young people to grow and develop. JAI employs two vetting officers who work with the NVB to ensure all our volunteers secure vetting certificates in advance of their work in schools. Our statement on child safeguarding can be viewed here.

JAI has risk assessment procedures in place to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of students involved in JA activities.

In addition to adhering to vetting protocols for in-classroom programmes, all volunteers sign Codes of Conduct which oblige them to adhere to school policies on all aspects of their behaviour when working with students, including but not limited to photo policy, language and exchanging contact details.  

5) It is important that the teacher is present, and involved at all times when there is interaction between the business/industry and the learners. Focus should be on the transfer of skills and knowledge from the business/industry to the teachers and learners.

It is JAI policy that a teacher is present during all volunteer interaction with students. In seeking to collaborate effectively with school leaders, we continuously ask what we can do to address at least some of the factors that influence young people and the choices they make while still within the formal education system. Much research in this area refers to the difficulties encountered by students in seeing any relevance to what they are doing in school and what they see as the real world. Our volunteers deliver hands-on learning experiences that empower students to make connections between what they learn in school and how it can be applied in real life.

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6) It is important that the activities are appropriate for the audience. Activities should take into account prior knowledge of the group. For example, at junior primary, pupils may use play or small world scenarios to understand; older primary pupils may have a deeper knowledge and understanding to work on a project or similar; at Junior Cycle, learners may be interested in investigating a particular area or the work of a business/industry in more detail; at Senior Cycle learners could expand on this further by looking at how and why something works, the practical implications for the career and the pathways to the career.

JAI has a full time learning and development expert on staff. We also collaborate with other specialists as required to design programmes, which are both learner-centred and which can be facilitated by STEM industry volunteers. The activities are age-appropriate, complementary to the formal curriculum, have clear learning objectives and designed using a learner centred methodology, which is sufficiently flexible to allow the volunteer to facilitate in a meaningful way. For instance, each session in the JA junior cycle STEM programme includes a career focus, broadening the students’ knowledge and understanding of the variety of STEM careers.

Our volunteers serve as positive adult role models from the world of work and are taught how to share their career stories with the students in an age-appropriate manner.

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7) The learning experience should be interactive and inclusive of all learners. If learners can interact with the process they will engage better, having a practical task for learners to do on site or in a classroom situation is important.

JA STEM programmes are practical and interactive, using a learning by doing, learner centred methodology. The activities help the students link what they learn in the classroom to practical real-world scenarios and are built on constructivist learning theory where students’ own experiences are utilised to provide context for the application of knowledge and understanding.  

JA activities are designed to be inclusive and cater to all learnings styles regardless of ability or disability and we are working with the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design to ensure JA learning materials are accessible for all learners ensuring that our learning materials can be accessed, understood and used regardless of a person's age, size, ability or disability. In addition to the in-classroom programmes we support industry volunteers who want to arrange a visit to their place of work for the students participating in the JA programme which helps to reinforce the learning.

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8) Connecting real world experiences to STEM education is important to help the learner understand the practical application of what they study as well as identifying the different pathways the can take toward a STEM career. The business/industry should tap into what young people want such as to help society or the environment, so projects could be focused on, for instance, something that helps people with a specific disability, or addresses a specific environmental problem in their area. It should also support the provision of information and experience on future skills needs.

Practical real-world application is at the core of JA programmes.  JA STEM volunteers share their career stories and life experiences with students in order to broaden the students’ horizons and to encourage them to see a future for themselves in a STEM career. 

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 9) Business/industry should give great consideration to the staff who engage with schools. Presenters should be enthusiastic, engaging and inspiring and able to relate to their audience. It is important to keep presentations brief and relevant, in order to keep the audience engaged.

All JA activities are facilitated by enthusiastic volunteers recruited from supporting organisations who are fully trained during a 2.5 hour preparatory session before they commence their programme. 79% of JAI volunteers who were surveyed last year (783 respondents) stated they got involved to give something back.

JAI ensure that volunteers are recruited, vetted, equipped, trained, and supported to effectively deliver JA programmes. All equipment and learning materials which the students may require are provided while JAI’s learning-by-doing methodology ensures students are fully engaged throughout.
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10) It is important to look towards sustaining the momentum beyond the engagement itself. Some companies give out a goodie-bag, a pen or note pad at the end of a visit. It might be preferable to engage learners with an activity to follow-up with at home or school, something that can further develop their STEM/Digital skills and bring parents into the process. It is also important to consider creating a follow-up activity for the teacher, in order to sustain the impact of STEM/Digital Technologies learning for all.

Our materials are available to the teachers in advance so that they can incorporate the learning outcomes within their own plans for the term – either before, during or after the volunteer’s time with the students. JAI’s junior cycle STEM programme includes a STEM@Home section which includes follow-up activities, which can be completed in school through the teacher, or at home, to sustain the momentum beyond the visits to the classroom by the volunteer.

 JAI supports educational visits to workplaces as part of an annual plan for many of our supporting organisations. Visits facilitated by volunteers at a STEM workplace also increase the engagement of students and make them aware of the relevance of STEM skills to their post school futures.

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24,000 students looking forward to Smart Futures thanks to Futurewize schools programme

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The classroom based Futurewize and Smart Futures initiatives have reached nearly 24,000 students nationwide over the last three years. The initiatives are aimed at inspiring second level students to explore a new world of career possibilities that are opened up through the study of STEM related subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and are run in partnership with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

1st years Blakestown Community School Dublin 15Designed by JAI and developed for delivery by business volunteers, the five week Futurewize programme has been facilitated by more than 350 trained volunteers from STEM-related roles. Futurewize has a 65% female participation levels as a key focus is bridging the existing gender gap in girls pursuing further education and careers in STEM related fields. Research on the ‘role model effect’ has indicated the strong influence that a positive role model, particularly for girls, can play in changing perceptions and dispelling gender-stereotypes in STEM careers.

Having trained role models from industry working with 13-14 year olds in their own classrooms, Futurewize aims to show Junior Cycle students the importance and relevance of STEM related subjects. These role models from industry share their own real-life experiences as they work through the Futurewize modules.      

5A longitudinal study of the impact of Futurewize undertaken by the Science Education Evaluation Research Group in Dublin City University show that students do connect role models with interest in or motivation for doing a subject.

Futurewize Ambassador Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, Assistant Professor in the UCD School of Mathematics & Statistics, said:  “I have seen first-hand how the Futurewize programme is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn more about STEM subjects in a fun, interactive way and also be inspired by positive role models from industry who can provide them with an insight into what it is like to work in STEM related organisations. I am particularly passionate about addressing the gender gap in students studying STEM subjects and with 65% female participants Futurewize is at the forefront of tackling this issue.”

Futurewize is aligned with the strands of the Junior Cycle science curriculum, and the physical, biological, and chemical worlds; and Earth and Space complement government policy including the aims of the Action Plan for Education 2016-2019 and the National Skills Strategy 2025.

Nandhini Sabesan St. Aidans Comprehensive School CooteHill CavanThe Smart Futures initiative targets both junior and senior cycle students during a once off workshop. 500 STEM volunteers have spoken about their careers and equipped students with sources of additional information to further their interest in STEM related careers through Smart Futures, often as an accompaniment to the Futurewize programme.

Ann Butler, Director of Development at JAI, underlined the relevance of volunteers from industry: “A volunteer from the ‘real world’ has significant educational impact in helping students to see the relevance of their studies and their post-school choices. Entrepreneurship education programmes such as Futurewize and Smart Futures, which are delivered by role models from industry and business complement the work of our teachers by providing opportunities for skills development as well as introducing students to a range of career possibilities.”

DSCF8843Commenting on its support for the Futurewize programme, Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society in SFI, said: “Science Foundation Ireland is delighted to support Junior Achievement Ireland in running Futurewize, a fantastic initiative funded by the SFI Discover Programme. Joining forces with Smart Futures, Futurewize demonstrates the diverse STEM career opportunities available to students in Ireland by creating a space in which they can interact with superb role models. Encouraging these meaningful interactions empowers and inspires young people to start thinking about their future study and career paths, allowing them to learn of real life workplace experiences and to kickstart their journeys towards becoming the innovators of the future.”

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EPA Volunteers Inspiring Students to be Environmentally Aware

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More than 500 primary school students nationwide had the opportunity to learn about climate change during Science Week thanks to volunteers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

17 EPA volunteers guided students through interactive climate change workshops over the course of Science Week. These workshops were developed by JAI, with assistance from the EPA’s staff members.

Aisling Ryan in Scoil Naomh Colmcille in Westport 4In their work with the volunteers, students learned fun facts about the science of global warming and climate change and its implications in Ireland and across the world. The students went on to participate in hands-on activities which included creating a tornado in a jar and building a weather vane.

The students also heard findings from the latest climate change research which shows that Ireland’s climate is changing in line with global patterns. The clearest trend is evident in the temperature records which show a mean temperature increase of 0.7oC between 1890 and 2008. Another indicator is that six of the ten warmest years in Ireland have occurred since 1990.

Participating schools were Gaelscoil Uí Riordáin, Scoil Barra and Sunday's Well Boys National School in Cork; Harold’s Cross National School in Dublin 6; Scoil Naomh Colmcille, Louisburgh National School, Ballyheane National School and Ballyvary National School in Mayo; Rackwallace National School in Monaghan and Wexford Educate Together National School, Clongeen National School, and CBS Primary School in Wexford.

The EPA environmental workshop is just one of many opportunities afforded to students thanks to the EPA’s support of JAI since 2016. In that time 134 volunteers have reached more than 3,200 young people through JA programmes designed to encourage young people to remain in education and help them to develop the skills they need to succeed in a changing world.

EPA volunteer Stephen McCarthy in Sundays Well BNS Cork 1Óisín Mac Muiris, Teacher in Gaelscoil Uí Riordáin, Ballincollig, Co. Cork, commented on his students’ experience: “Our students thoroughly enjoyed the EPA environmental workshop as it really brought the topic of climate change to life in a fun and accessible way. Our EPA volunteers were also great role models from industry who spoke about the connection between the world of work and what the students are learning at school.”

Leo McKittrick, EPA said: “Developing an interest and understanding of environmental issues can start with changing behaviours and attitudes at primary school level, these workshops are an inventive way of engaging with this issue. The EPA is delighted to partner with Junior Achievement Ireland to integrate environmental awareness into fun and accessible workshops which complement the work our volunteers already do through JA programmes in schools around the country.”

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CBS Primary School Wexford during EPA workshop with Aoife Stafford

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New TESA accreditation awarded to leading schools committed to entrepreneurship education

JAI’s inaugural TESA Summit celebrates entrepreneurial schools

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94 primary and second level schools from around the country were celebrated at the inaugural The Entrepreneurial School Awards (TESA) Summit hosted by Microsoft.

The TESA Summit, ably led by Master of Ceremonies Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, was an ideal opportunity to celebrate the work of educators across Ireland in developing entrepreneurial skills in students and to share best practice in a unique and inspiring venue. Entrepreneurship education covers all activities that seek to give individuals the skills, knowledge and attitudes required to achieve the goals they set for themselves to live a fulfilled life.

SON2442 0091A range of specially-commissioned masterclasses were arranged for TESA-certified schools to attend. They included Microsoft’s Educational Transformation workshop, a Design Thinking Sprint led by Professor Jonathan Levie and his team from NUI Galway and a Microsoft workshop on Ed Tech for 21st Century Educators. 

Gort Community School in Co. Galway was announced as the overall winner, the Galway second level school being recognised for its outstanding commitment to entrepreneurship education at the TESA Summit hosted by Microsoft.

As winners of the ‘TESA School of the Year – Microsoft Award’, Gort Community School will receive a prize to the value of €5,000, to further support its work in entrepreneurship education. Nominees of the school will travel to Helsinki to represent Ireland at the Entrepreneurial Schools European conference. The other category award winners, based on enrolment size, were: primary schools Darley National School, Cavan; Our Lady of Consolation School, Dublin 5, and St. Ursula’s Primary School, Waterford. Mercy College Sligo was awarded the top prize for its size among second level schools.

SON2442 0114JAI chief executive Helen Raftery commented on this first awards ceremony saying, “TESA gives schools the opportunity to benchmark themselves against standards of excellence. For our part, it formally recognises the work being done by primary and second level schools across the country in nurturing entrepreneurial skills in students, helping them develop the essential skills, knowledge and attitudes those young people will need to achieve the goals they set for themselves. TESA is also a welcome opportunity to celebrate the incredible work of our partner schools.

Delivering the keynote at the TESA summit, Professor Cooney, Professor in Entrepreneurship at Technological University Dublin and convenor of the TESA evaluation panel said: “Entrepreneurship education affords many benefits to young people on an individual and team level. Students acquire life-skills such as identifying and evaluating opportunities, using available resources to develop an idea, joining or building a team of people with different abilities, staying positive when faced with challenges, applying creative thinking to solving problems and learning from failure as well as success.

SON2442 0157Gort Community College was selected as the overall winner due to the importance of entrepreneurship education within the school - most student and teachers participate, resources are provided for it and it is deeply rooted in the school’s plan. I congratulate all the schools here today and look forward to supporting their efforts to continue promoting the importance of entrepreneurship education.

TESA was launched by JAI in January of this year with a call for submission of applications from JAI partner schools across Ireland in February. The schools were self-assessed against TESA criteria and completed a submission with the aim to establish themselves as an entrepreneurial school.

Each school that matched the criteria has been publicly recognised for its work in entrepreneurship education and all TESA-certified schools participated in this annual summit enabling educators and innovators to exchange best practice.

Joanne Morrissey, HR Director at Microsoft Ireland, said: “We’re delighted to host the inaugural TESA Summit at One Microsoft Place. The summit provides an important opportunity to recognise the innovative approaches taken by many schools as they look to empower their students to succeed in our digital world. Our ambition at Microsoft Ireland is to empower tomorrow’s leaders to achieve more through the power of technology. Through our digital skills programme, DreamSpace, we have committed to providing 100,000 young people with bespoke digital experiences at our innovation and education hub at our new campus whilst our Education Suite offers a space for teachers to evolve their skillset for the future of education. All of these efforts will help ensure our students leave school ready for the jobs of tomorrow.”

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