Innovative education practices improve students’ College-going ambitions

New research shows that innovative education practices have had a significant impact on the aspirations of young people from low socio-economic areas to attend University. Secondary school students who had direct engagement with a University and/or its students were more than twice as likely to say they plan to do a degree as those with no engagement. 

The TA21 initiative aims to affect change in the Irish education system by raising student aspirations and helping teachers to create technology-mediated collaborative classroom experiences. It also aims to increase the number of students from DEIS schools pursuing STEM-focused college courses and careers.

The research report on the Trinity Access 21 (TA21) programme, which was established with a €1.5 million grant from Google in 2014, was launched at an event on 21st Century Learning at Google’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin. 

The report assessed the impact of a suite of core educational practices – Mentoring, Pathways to College, Leadership through Service and 21st Century Teaching and Learning on 11 Dublin-area secondary schools. It involved 1,100 students and 400 teachers over the three-year period since the introduction of the TA21 initiative in 2014.

The key findings showed:

  • Those students who visited a college were 2.3 times more likely to say they plan to do a degree than those who did not
  • Those students who were visited by college students in their school were 2.4 times more likely to say they plan to do a degree than those who had no visits
  • Students who had a mentor were 3.2 times more likely to say they plan to complete a degree than those who had no mentor
  • A 14% increase from the first to the third year in the number of TA21 students who stated they intended to do a four-year degree when they finished school
  • Those students who talked to family about college were 2.1 times more likely to say they plan to do a degree than those who had not
  • 72% of students were confident that they will be able to graduate from college
  • Better attainment in English and Mathematics, as compared to students from a matched control group, who were students in DEIS schools not participating in the TA21 project
  • Increased confidence to achieve their goals and land their dream jobs

In 2015, the HEA reported that the participation rate for low socioeconomic status (SES) students in Ireland was 23%. Low participation is particularly acute in some urban centres ranging from 15% in Dublin 17, a low SES community, to 99% in Dublin 6, a high SES community. The figures show a persistent pattern of inequality of access by low socioeconomic status (SES) students.

Commenting on the Report, the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, TD said; “I would like to congratulate all those involved in the Trinity Access 21 (TA21) programme for the work they are doing, the impressive results speak for themselves. Breaking down barriers to education is a key priority of mine as Minister and it is great to see this kind of partnership approach to secondary and third level education making improvements in the accessibility of third level education for so many students."

"TA21’s innovative use of digital technologies in teaching and learning complements the measures that will be implemented through my own Department’s Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020, and is critical to ensure our children are properly equipped for the careers and challenges of the future. The report launched today shows that this kind of initiative really works.”

Cliona Hannon, Co-Director of Trinity Access 21, said: “An educational reform movement is underway in Ireland. This movement seeks to increase the number of people with the skills needed for employment in the 21st century and to address educational disadvantage."

"The TA21 project, an innovative university-led school outreach programme that empowers students, supports 21st Century learning environments and strengthens ‘college going’ cultures in communities where progression to higher education is low, is at the forefront of this transformation in education. The kind of activities, mentoring and learning promoted by TA21 are critical to building an education system that supports every young person to reach their full potential.”

Shane Nolan, Education Lead and Director EMEA New Business Sales at Google said; “Three years ago we provided funding to Trinity College Dublin to kick-start the TA21 programme. Our support for the programme was rooted in our desire to support efforts to give young people in Ireland the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century."

"Computer Science skills are not just required in big tech companies like Google but for all companies whose success in the digital age increasingly relies on technological innovation in every area. We recognised the pivotal role teachers played in this dynamic and wanted to help to provide them with the skills to adopt 21st Century teaching methods such as experiential, project-based learning, problem-solving and teamwork. TA21 has had a fantastic impact both for teachers and their students and we are delighted the programme is expanding with the support of a range of  companies and individuals in partnership with the Irish government."

The TA21 report also detailed the impact from the level 9 Postgraduate Certificate in 21st Century Teaching & Learning (PG Cert) accredited by Trinity. A total of 320 teachers from 23 counties across Ireland completed the PG Cert from 2014-2017. According to the research by TA21, on completion of the PG Cert teachers reported:

  • An increased feeling of autonomy in their teaching practice
  • Increased levels of confidence to use technology in the classroom
  • Better relationships with their students
  • Increased frequency of: creativity with technology, student-directed learning, and project based student work and student collaboration, within the classroom

Speaking about the PG cert and 21st Century learning, Brendan Tangney, Professor in Computer Science & Statistics, Trinity College Dublin, and Co-Director of TA21 said: “The implementation of innovative teaching and learning practices is a central feature of updating the Irish education system to adapt to a changing world and preparing young people to tackle the complex global challenges which will face them over their lives.” 

Speaking about the importance of mentoring, Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, who coordinated the Trinity Access 21 research said: “Raising the academic aspirations of students from communities where progression to higher education is historically low is at the heart of the TA21 project. We see at the end of phase one significant growth in the number of students who plan to complete a 4-year degree, alongside gains in their confidence to navigate the Higher Education system. We also see teachers being empowered to use technology meaningfully in their classroom, and positive changes to the student-teacher relationship.”

The TA21 team at Trinity plans to expand the initiative over the next three years both within Dublin and around the country. They aim to reach 20,000 students, 1,500 teachers and around 70 schools and to partner with other Higher Education Institutions, Further Educations Institutions, Institutes of Technology and Education Training Boards. This phase has been supported by a range of companies and individuals in partnership with the Irish Government.

The full report is available here.

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Yolanda Kennedy, Former Press Officer for the Faculty of Health Sciences | | +353 1 896 4168