Benefits of Project Maths questioned

Wed, Aug 8, 2012, 01:00

Over half of maths teachers believe Project Maths will not improve exam results, a new study suggests.

Commissioned by Engineers Ireland, the survey found over 57 per cent of teachers doubted the ability of the Government’s new programme to boost maths grades.

The survey comes eight days before this year's Leaving Certificate results and prompted Engineers Ireland to call for action to be taken to address the issue.

Project Maths, which was brought onto the curriculum in 2010, is intended to better prepare pupils for careers in the engineering and science sectors.

Of the 253 members of the Irish Maths Teachers Association (IMTA) questioned, 84 per cent suggested that maths education should be afforded a greater priority in Ireland’s teaching curriculum.

Over three quarters felt students would benefit if maths teaching in schools was combined with a real-life application, through the means of industrial site visits.

John Devilly, Principal of CBS James’ Street, Dublin said he believed the country needed to look towards the Finnish educational model, as a benchmark.

“We need to do something about maths in Ireland, and we need to be open to change: change that works,” he said.

“The methodologies used in the new programme are good and varied, and involved a mixture of accounting, estimation and IT. We have to move with the times.”

Mr Devilly said the new intiative required pupils to adopt a problem solving approach, which is to be favoured over learning by rote.

However, he said those children with weaker literacy skills may struggle to understand long-worded questions associated with the new system.

Gerry Duffy, Principal of O’Connells CBS, Dublin, said the effectiveness of Project Maths may not come to light for another few years.

“It didn’t put any of our kids off and, in fact, a lot of kids in the repeat year have embraced the changes,” he said.

“The feedback I’ve had from teachers is that Project Maths is to be welcomed, as a lot of the old parts of the old course were dated. It’s still early days so we’ll have to give it a few years to let it settle down,” he said.

Dr Michael Creed, Head of University College Cork’s School of Engineering, said the move away from "pure maths" in Leaving Certificate papers was not in the best interest of students.

“My view is that the former syllabus for the higher maths is actually quite a good syllabus – it’s sound,” he said.

“Teachers shouldn’t be expected to come up with the practical application of the maths as that leaves too much to chance. There should be more supporting materials devised by an expert group.”

Dr Creed also said the notion of higher maths being much more difficult in comparison with other subjects was a myth that ought to be dispelled.

“I would think that the most important thing to be done is to encourage a greater proportion of students to do higher maths. If you’re good at maths, [the higher paper] is not harder,” he said.

By the start of next academic year in September, the fifth and final strand of the Project Maths programme will start to be rolled out across the country.