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

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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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