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).
Designed 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.
A 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.
The 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.”
Commenting 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.”