Primary students given a world of opportunities by Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

Aoife KellyNational

Junior Achievement Ireland and industry volunteer programme help inspire the next generation of STEM professionals.

Over the next three years, more than 12,000 5th class students in Ireland will work with 680 trained science-industry volunteers to explore the career and education opportunities open to them in the STEM related subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). The ‘Our World’ programme is launched today by Junior Achievement Ireland, which is part of the JA worldwide organisation that has recently been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The ‘Our World’ programme is jointly sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and industry partner, Fidelity Investments, and developed by Junior Achievement Ireland for delivery by industry-based volunteers. Working with the 10-11 year olds in their own classrooms once a week for five weeks, ‘Our World’ volunteers will encourage students to appreciate the importance and relevance of STEM subjects and their links to a huge range of potential career pathways. All involved in this collaborative effort are keen to inspire students to be aware of the opportunities available to them should they decide to continue to study subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths. The programme provides students with opportunities to meet and engage with positive role models from industry who can share their own real-life experiences and provide them with insight in what it might be like to work in a wide variety of careers in science, technology, engineering or environment for example.

Our World programme at Brierhill National School, Galway

The industry volunteers will help students to make links between their studies and what their post-school futures might become. Students will also get take-home materials so other family members can be involved in exploring STEM. A key focus of Our World is bridging the existing gender gap in girls pursuing careers in STEM. ‘Our World’ will have no fewer than 60% female participation levels and students will participate in partner schools across the country in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and the Border Counties.

Lorna Martyn, SVP, Fidelity Investments Ireland, based in Galway, and industry partner behind the Our World programme said: “Fidelity Investments Ireland are thrilled to sponsor the new Our World program with JAI. Programmes such as Our World engage a diverse population of students, inspire interest and provide insights into a world of possibilities available through careers in STEM.   I am a firm believer in the adage “You can’t be what you can’t see”, so knowing that our Fidelity volunteers will deliver this programme to students while also leading by example through sharing their career stories and knowledge really brings this saying to life for me”.

Research has identified that ‘fitting in’ is the most significant factor influencing a student’s choice about what subjects to choose at second level and what to do after school.  ‘Our World’ will encourage students to look beyond stereotypes. By seeing the relevance of science, technology and maths in their everyday lives, and working with volunteers enjoying careers in those areas, students can start to see where they can fit in to these diverse and challenging fields.  As part of each programme module students develop key skills such as critical thinking, decision making, collaboration and computational thinking.  These skills are recognised as life skills which are of relevance through second level and beyond.

Speaking on behalf of JAI, Chief Executive Helen Raftery said: “We are very excited about this collaboration with Science Foundation Ireland and Fidelity Investments. ‘Our World’ is a great addition to the range of options we offer our partner schools and supporting organisations, while all see the potential educational benefits of industry-education engagement. We were delighted to have input from primary teachers and other educational specialists in the development of the programme which will inspire students to reach their full potential and consider the variety of careers available to them in STEM. JAI has been supported by industry and school leaders in delivering entrepreneurship education opportunities to young people for 25 years. Over 150 businesses release 3,000 business volunteers from across a range of industries to facilitate JA programmes each year to complement the work of families and teachers in inspiring and motivating young people to maximise their potential.”

Dr. Alison Boyle, Galway native, Programme Manager for Education and Public Engagement at SFI said: “Science Foundation Ireland is proud to support Junior Achievement Ireland to deliver this important STEM education programme, through the SFI Discover programme. This project will help to connect young people with role models working in the STEM Sectors, helping to remove barriers and break down stereotypes. This is a vital step in inspiring the next diverse generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians and entrepreneurs in Ireland.”