In its first year, 1,900 students completed Futurewize, a programme developed by JAI with the support of Science Foundation Ireland and Fidelity Investments. The programme inspires Junior Cycle students to explore a new world of career possibilities that are opened up through the study of STEM and related subjects. Futurewize targets students during this crucial period with the aim of maintaining their interest in STEM with creative programme content delivered by relevant role models from industry.
Encouraging girls to explore the value of study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is a key focus of Futurewize so to that end, 65% of places available were filled by girls in 2016/17. Recent Irish research carried out analysing female attitudes towards STEM in Ireland points to girls being able to visualise themselves having a career in STEM at age 11, however they no longer see this as a possibility at 15 years.
Following its launch in October 2016 by Richard Bruton T.D., Minister for Education and Skills and Programme Ambassador Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, Assistant Professor in the UCD School of Mathematics & Statistics, 91 industry volunteers were recruited, vetted, equipped and trained to deliver Futurewize in 46 second level schools around the country. Volunteers from a huge range of roles and backgrounds were released by both Fidelity investments and a host of supporting organisations in STEM industries.
Working with the 12-14 year olds in their own classrooms while completing the five modules, these volunteers acted as role models from the world of work and served to highlight the importance and relevance of STEM subjects and their links to a huge range of potential career pathways. The modules map across four strands of the Junior Cycle science curriculum: Earth and Space, Chemical World, Physical World and Biological World and are each related to the world of work.
Some of the key findings of the post-programme evaluation are:
- 99% of student respondents say their knowledge of STEM increased as a result of their participation in the programme
- 81% of student respondents are now interested in studying STEM related subjects after they leave school
- 68% of student respondents now know where to find information about STEM careers and career stories
Futurewize Programme Ambassador Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin said: “I have seen first-hand how the Futurewize programme provides a wonderful opportunity for students to learn more about STEM subjects in an engaging, interactive way and also be inspired by positive role models from industry, who can provide them with insight into what it is like to pursue a career in STEM. It is hugely important we address diversity issues in STEM subjects, particularly related to gender and the socio-economic status of those choosing to study and work in these fields. With 65% female participation, and the significant participation of DEIS schools, Futurewize is addressing diversity in a constructive way.”
Michelle Lyne, a science teacher in Cabinteely Community School whose students participated in the programme, said: “My 1st year students thoroughly enjoyed the Futurewize programme as it really brought the STEM subjects to life in a fun accessible way. Our Fidelity Investments volunteer Kieran McEnery was a great role model from industry, who underlined the range of career opportunities flowing from STEM subjects.”
Commenting on their sponsorship of the Futurewize programme, Sandeep Suri, Country Manager for Fidelity Investments said: “We’re delighted with the response from students who participated in the first year of Futurewize. By bringing real-life examples of how STEM relates to everyday life into the classroom, in a fun and interactive way, we’re helping to inspire the next generation as they begin to make important decisions about their career path.”
Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Strategy and Communications for Science Foundation Ireland, said: “Science Foundation Ireland is proud to support Junior Achievement Ireland in delivering the Futurewize programme. In partnering with our Smart Futures STEM careers programme, Futurewize will help to inspire the next generation of scientists and technologists in Ireland. The programme connects young people with role models that can share valuable career insights, ultimately empowering them to make more informed decisions about their future study and career paths.”