Hope of 'world-class system' some way off

Wed, Dec 12, 2012, 00:00

AnalysisThe time allocated to maths and science in primary schools may have to increase

In absolute terms, Ireland has performed well in the new international rankings. Irish children in fourth class are performing at above average levels in literacy, maths and science.

The Irish primary education system is performing reasonably well in reading and Irish students are performing at a high level. But when set against the lofty ambitions set for it by government, the performance is less impressive.

The Irish education system is good but still something less than the “world-class system” regularly trumpeted by successive ministers for education. To coin a term: we are good, but not great.

One awkward fact emerges from the reports – Ireland is not ranked among the top performers in reading, maths or science. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn – who has criticised the complacency about overall standards in the education system – said yesterday that “pupils in a number of other countries are performing significantly above the performance of Irish students’’ .

Overall plan

What’ s the problem on maths and science? When in opposition Quinn was in no doubt. Taken together, the teaching of religion and Irish absorbed more than 20 per cent of teaching time at primary level. Essentially, he made the case for recasting the day in primary schools with a focus on maths and science .

As Minister , Quinn is actively pursuing the issue. As part of his overall plan to boost literacy and numeracy, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has been asked to examine the time dedicated to each subject in the primary school curriculum.

At present only 4 per cent of all curriculum time is allocated to science in primary schools, the second lowest in the developed world.

Time allocated to maths (12 per cent) and science is also well below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average (16 per cent and 8 per cent respectively).

Time allocated

Unsurprisingly, the report shows a direct correlation between the time allocated to a subject and student performance in that subject.

Ireland allocates a high proportion of teaching time to reading ( in both English and Irish) and the results are encouraging. But results are less impressive in maths and science, where less time is allocated.

Yesterday, Quinn hinted he was still impatient for change. “The official time allocation for religion and Irish is high relative to other subjects.

“Am I personally concerned by that? Yes I am. But this is a choice that parents and teachers and the patrons of schools have to make.”