Today the Minister for Education & Skills Ruairí Quinn launched a new €3.75 million programme for science teaching and learning. Dubbed SAILS, which stands for "Strategies for Assessment of Inquiry Learning in Science", the new programme aims to promote the sciences in second level by training teachers to impart critical thinking and analytical skills to their students. The programme will see thirteen partner organisations and higher education institutes from twelve EU countries cooperate to formulate new strategies in teacher training to develop these skills and ultimately improve the number and quality of students studying science, technology, engineering & maths (STEM) subjects at third level.
While I am always glad to see new thinking (and funding) in the realm of science education, and equally delighted to see companies like Intel take an active interest in second level education, I am struggling to see what exactly is new about this! I would also love to know how the €3.75 million will be spent, what way will the training be given, who will give the training and over what time scale? I don't necessarily agree with the sentiment that science teachers don't currently impart critical thinking or analytical skills to their students, but if this is true then the State Examinations Commission must take some of the credit. They have continually produced examinations that promote regurgitation of facts rather than the ability to think critically. Teachers must work within a system that is flawed. If Ruairi Quinn is serious by improving the levels of critical thinking amongst second level schools then significant changes to how science is assessed will yield tangible results.