Bernard Kirk – Let’s get Listening and Talking

bernardBernard Kirk is the Director of Galway Education Centre. He is co Founder of Robotics Ireland, The All Ireland Primary Schools Debating Competition and Space Camps Ireland. In 2010 he was nominated to the Trinity Science Gallery Leonardo group. He is Committee member of National Education Committee, Science Gallery, Trinity College, Chairperson, The Galway Music Residency and a Committee Member NUIG Research Ethics Committee.

Let’s get Listening and Talking –

The urgent need for more dialogue between Enterprise and Schools

By Bernard Kirk

This country is home to 9 of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world. 12 of the world’s top selling medicines are made there and 9 of the top 10 IT companies in the world are based there. Many will be surprised to read that the country in question is Ireland.

But how did we as a country reach this enviable position from a country described ‘as a small poor country on the edge of the Atlantic’ in the early 1980’s. Three reasons are often offered – the major investment in education ,with a significant contribution from Atlantic Philantrophies, our corporate tax rate and the focus on capturing the research and development elements of the major companies. In addition a key ingredient to achieve this was the marketing of Ireland as a country with a ‘young, well-educated, skilled workforce’. However the delivery of this key ingredient is now becoming a significant challenge for enterprise as many of the skills students now display at the end of their education are not matching the requirements of the employers.

In the IT sector this has reached a near crisis proportion, resulting in page one headlines about €70,000 positions which cannot be filled. This mismatch of skills needs to be addressed urgently, but to address it we need to begin a dialogue between primary and second level schools and enterprise. Engagement needs to be early in our young people’s lives in order that our young people consider career paths in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects at third level. Currently, the CEO’s of the leading major employers in Ireland recognise that a twin track approach is required. In the short term, a focused re-training of graduates whose skill set is not aligned to the requirements of the employers while for the longer term, as a country, we need to support initiatives in primary and second level schools to promote STEM. As part of this longer term approach we, as educationalists, can make a major contribution to the continuing success of our country in partnership with our leading employers thus creating job prospects for our young people. As educationalists we are part of that fabric that builds an economy, that builds a community prepared for whatever happens in the present but especially to build a roadmap for the future. President McAleese speaking at the CREST Awards in 2011 described it as “a patchwork quilt of endeavour, the partners who are willing to work together with that common focus and the people who have the passion for Science, Technology and Engineering and the passion also, and the belief, in our young people and what they can bring to these worlds!”

Over the past 12 years in the Galway Education Centre, we have worked to provide a conduit between enterprise/industry and education. This has involved translating the needs of enterprise to match the syllabus of various curriculum. In return, we have been able to foster, within the enterprise organisations we partner with, an understanding of the limits, focus and curriculum requirements of the teachers and schools. It has been, and continues to be, a learning journey for all of us involved. However it is worthwhile when the benefits accrue to our young people. Galway Education Centre now works in Ireland, and globally on with The Medtronic Foundation, SAP, HP, LEGO Education, The National Flight Academy (USA), DELL, Intel, Trimble, MG Equity Partners to promote the STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Maths) subjects. We continue to strive through dialogue between education and enterprise to inspire young people to realise their talents and find their element in areas such as design, innovation, creativity, teamwork, and entrepreneurship

The development of an understanding by educationalists of the needs and visions of our leading enterprises is now an imperative. To quote Gerry Kilcommins, CEO and VP of Medtronic Galway, “It is no longer a should do but a must do’. As an economy dependent on future innovations in Science, Technology, Engineering and Agriculture, as educationalists we need to engage in a two-way dialogue with enterprise. We should remember that the leaders of our enterprises today are almost all past students of ours who have passionate views on education from their own experiences, but also due to current involvement if their children in our education system. The ‘silo-effect’ is no longer acceptable with education and enterprise each focusing on their own independent focus.

As a country we need to continue to develop young people who are innovative in thought, willing to try new ideas and will take their ingenuity and apply it to settings that cause ‘disruptive innovation’. We need students who will bring new ways to develop technologies and pathways so that those who are underserved, in particular, are able to access the services many of us take for granted. To achieve this requires partnership and dialogue. Let’s get listening and talking.

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