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LC Physics in Graphs: Not exactly a Bell Curve!

I'm reposting most of this from something I put up a few months ago. At the time, it was of only passing interest, but I suspect the first graph at least may have just become a little more relevant to our daily lives!


Most of the figures involved come from https://www.examinations.ie/statistics/, which is a site that I imagine will see a sudden increase in traffic over the weekend.


I was perusing the figures for LC Physics one day last year, looking initially at the spread of grades: how many get H1s, H2s etc - and how that varied between genders. It is striking just how many hit the top grades in LC Physics - and how the modal grade is actually a H2 - not exactly a bell curve...


But while I was doing that, I noticed that the total number taking the subject had dipped slightly between 2017 and 2018. I was a little worried: our figures are low enough. If we start losing even more students, the subject will hardly be viable in most schools. But my worries weren't (quite) justified. The total number of physics students had dipped, but so had the total doing the Leaving Cert that year. The proportion taking physics had actually risen slightly - from 13.9% to 14.1%.


But that sent me off another data-chase. I hadn't known the LC numbers had dipped in the mind-2010s. I though the population was surging and that numbers would be rising year on year. So I tracked down some data on the CSO website (and Wikipedia). There had been a relatively low number of births in 1999 and a correspondingly low number of LC students in 2018. It was striking the extent to which the birth cohort matched the exam cohort over several years, in fact - migration notwithstanding. And that got me looking at the future. Because the rise in 2018 was not part of a gradual up-and-down pattern. It was the beginning of a huge surge that will see close to a 40% increase in LC numbers over the next decade. If its hard to get a physics (or any) teacher now, what will it be like in 2027, when over 75,500 students are likely to taking the Leaving Cert - compared to just over 53,000 in 2017.


Also fascinating is the dip in numbers that will follow. Which is presumably what led to stories like this before Christmas.


So anyway, I've just spent an hour avoiding the correction of mocks exams by putting together a few graphs based on these figures. And also revisiting this fascinating paper that is full of exquisite graphs (some shown below) that was written by Beatriz Geitner and published in 2018. Her topic was the effect of the 2008 crisis on STEM numbers - but her paper, and her graphs, reveal a treasure trove of interesting data. It will be interesting to see if the coronavirus crisis has any effect on student uptake of individual subjects.


One fact jumped out at me: in 1993, almost a quarter of LC students took the physics exam. It's still under 15% now. Maybe I should go back to my original worries...








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