Applications for the Irish Young Philosopher Award - and inaugural International Award - are now open!

March 4th, 2021


Do you have bored school children at home or are you one yourself? Looking for something to do after homeschool and already exhausted every ounce of TikTok’s entertainment value? This pandemic hiatus might just be the perfect opportunity to ponder some of life’s most pressing questions. 

Applications are already flying in for the 2021 Irish Young Philosophers Award (IYPA), which is open to primary and secondary school students in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The deadline is Friday, 16th of April. 

If you are outside of Ireland and want to enter, there’s good news. 

“This year we have introduced an International Award too,” says organiser Danielle Petherbridge, Assistant Professor in Philosophy at University College Dublin, who co-founded the Awards in 2017.

“In previous years we got a lot of inquiries mostly from Europe but also from the US and Australia because people saw it out on social media and wondered if their school children could apply. The International component of the Awards is themed around the topic of ‘Solidarity’ this year. I'm hoping that under the circumstances that might be a good theme for school children to think about.”

This will be the second consecutive year the IYPA will have to move online instead of taking place in UCD’s O’Reilly Hall with unofficial patron President Michael D. Higgins in attendance.  

“Last year, because of the context, we made it into an ethics prize, asking students to think ethically about Covid. And the projects students came up with, even primary school students, were amazing.” 

One sixth class student looked at the ethical approach in hospitals to who should get a ventilator, which was incredible in terms of the thinking through the issues related to the topic. 

“Another sixth class primary student did something on thinking about low-skilled workers in the health sector. Other students made films about whether or not we should be shopping online during Covid; does that endanger the workers who have to produce or deliver the items or does it keep the economy going? It was just astonishing to see what they were able to do, even at home.”

These were all students who had “only very basic exposure to philosophical ideas or ethical ideas. So it has just been really inspiring to see what they have come up with and how they have engaged with these important issues”. 

In 2020 we knew a lot less about this deadly virus than we do now. 

“In the first wave of Covid I think it was difficult for them to grasp the problems involved. But now we're moving to a phase where we need to think about how we come out of this era of pandemic. I guess being a bit more hopeful and thinking about how we can work together to not only get through this difficult time but to go beyond it. Thinking about the ethical issues of doing the right thing by one another in the process. Getting back to some sort of normalcy requires that we work together, not only nationally but also internationally. We think it is a really good chance for school students, while they are at home, to think about all of these sorts of questions.” 

Danielle was inspired to found the IYPA having seen the opportunities afforded to secondary school children by the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

“I remember actually walking past the RDS and thinking, ‘I'd really like to do this for philosophy’. I felt it would be great to give kids the chance to really reflect on their knowledge, to think creatively about the world around them and to not just take things for granted. Then I talked to a friend in UCD, Aine Mahon, who is Assistant Professor in the School of Education, and we said, ‘Yeah, let’s try it!’”

Unlike in other countries like France and Germany, philosophy is not on the school curriculum in Ireland. 

“I absolutely think it should be,” says Danielle. “I do think it makes a difference in terms of getting that different set of skills, a different way of being able to reflect upon things. It fosters quite a lateral way of thinking about knowledge. It is also complementary to other disciplines such as the sciences and social sciences. So when we first started it, we thought, ‘Well, gosh, we don't know how they'll respond.’ But it was incredible. The standard is absolutely incredible every year.” 

Danielle and her team are developing an online platform to allow students to present their work to the judges.

“Projects have to be philosophical but they can use film, podcast, a traditional essay, PowerPoint - a variety of mediums. But they also have them explain their philosophical thinking using what we call a mind map. So they have to map out how they have thought about the question and what are the possible answers to the question. And that all gets displayed. But then a big part of it is that they can speak to the judges on the day. The judges speak to them and get them to demonstrate their line of thought and their problem-solving skills, reflexivity and their creativity.”

The prizes are trophies, medals and a perpetual shield engraved with the winner’s name - along with the prestige of scooping a high profile, national prize. What are you waiting for? Get thinking, young philosophers - and good luck!


This article was brought to you by UCD Institute for Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary collaborations. 

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