Monday 11 December 2017

Heavy workload and low chance of reward putting majority of Wexford schools off Young Scientist competition

Róisín Ó Muirí, Bridget Gainford and Ilsa Flynn from FCJ Secondary Bunclody with their project 'Study the Right Way!'.
Róisín Ó Muirí, Bridget Gainford and Ilsa Flynn from FCJ Secondary Bunclody with their project 'Study the Right Way!'.
Clare O'Grady, Sally Shortle and Caoimhe Twomey from Loreto Secondary School in Wexford with their project 'Investigating the Impact on Cognitive Functioning Before and After Low Intensity Physical Activity for Teenage Girls'.
The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS.
Dr Michelle Coyle, president elect of the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) presents the PSI Award to Sarah Shortle, Caoimhe Twomey and Clare O'Grady from Loreto Secondary School for the project 'Investigating the impact on cognitive functioning before and after the low intensity physical activity for teenage girls'.

Time commitment and low acceptance rates are the two main reasons Wexford principals and teachers gave for not taking part in this year's BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

This year only three Wexford projects were exhibited among 550 at the event in the RDS. Two of these entries came from FCJ in Bunclody, while the other was from Loreto in Wexford. However, this low participation level is an increase on last year, when Ramsgrange Community School were the sole representatives from the county.

Principal of Coláiste Bride in Enniscorthy Tom Sheridan said that both students and teachers must commit a huge amount of time in order to take part.

'Like anything, when you decide to take on things, you must try to balance how much goes into these activities and how much you can lose from class,' he said.

He also said that entering depends on student interest.

'If you haven't got students willing to give time out of school and during their holidays, you may as well not enter. We haven't made a policy not to enter. We have entered and received prizes in the past and no doubt we will in future.'

Principal of St Mary's Secondary School, New Ross, John Michael Porter echoed these sentiments, adding that they are involved in many other initiatives instead.

'There are quite a lot of different initiatives going on that demand energy and commitment. Our science commitment went with SciFest and CanSat this year,' he said. 'We do a lot of other good work at different times.'

Though they did not make the shortlist of exhibitors this year, Mr Porter mentioned that three groups in the school did submit entries.

'We sent groups to the RDS with worksheets to see the different types of projects that others have done and to bring back ideas so that hopefully, we can get in next year.'

Principal John Ryan from St Mary's CBS in Enniscorthy said that the school hasn't been involved in the contest for a number of years, adding that there was no particular reason as to why.

Similarly to St Mary's in New Ross, they take part in many other projects which means the BT Young Scientist Exhibition is not the priority.

'There was a time when the Young Scientist event was one of few competitions but now there are so many. If we entered every one, we would have students out of school every day of the week. Choices have to be made,' he explained.

He suggested that the low level of involvement in Wexford might be to do with the need for schools to travel to Dublin and also, the fact that three quarters of entrants don't get accepted. This year, over 2000 entries were whittled down to the 550 chosen to display at the event.

This low rate of acceptance is a factor for Linda Scallan, a science teacher in CBS Wexford. While they have made entries to the Young Scientist exhibition in previous years, Ms Scallan said that some of her students have been met with disappointment. For this reason, she didn't encourage students to take part this year, opting instead to get involved in the SciFest event.

'I entered one student into Young Scientist a number of years ago but he didn't get in,' she explained. 'He stayed in after school two or three days a week for weeks and put in a huge amount of work but he didn't get accepted. That's the reason why I didn't do it.'

'I like that all students are accepted into the SciFest one which I think is fair,' she said, adding that she wouldn't stop students from entering the BT event if they showed an interest in it.

Principal of Meanscoil Gharman, Brownswood Norah Harpur also said their attempts to take part in recent years have not been successful.

'It is very difficult to get a place. We have tried for a couple of years and they haven't been accepted,' she said. 'A massive amount of effort was put into them and they were well-researched. We really don't understand why they weren't accepted.

According to Ms Harpur, the school also focuses its efforts on the various other science initiatives available.

Principal of CBS New Ross Pat Rossiter echoed the views of many others, saying that the rate of acceptance into the exhibition is 'too low'.

'Anything like this should not be about a competition but about inclusion. Perhaps the 75 per cent that don't get in get the message that they aren't good enough.'

However, over in Gorey, Principal of Gorey Community College Michael Finn said that this shouldn't deter students from entering.

'It's very good for students to know that they can enter things and they are not always going to be successful. It's part of life.'

Although the school did not put forward an entry this year, he said it wasn't down to any decision, adding that they hope to take part in future.

'We have had successful entries in the past,' he said. 'Given the time frames, we would want to be working on projects well over a year in advance. We didn't allow ourselves enough time this year but we do intend on entering again next year.'

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