Ireland in maths crisis as students lag behind
THE NUMBER of high-achieving maths students in Ireland lags well behind that in other developed nations, raising serious concerns about our future competitiveness.
A major new report also questions whether planned changes to the maths curriculum will be enough to resolve chronic underachievement in the subject.
The forthcoming discussion paper for the National Competitiveness Council blames “uninspiring teaching, lack of application, the points system, school policy and guidance, and student choice” for the maths crisis. It concludes: “Curriculum change may not solve underachievement not caused by the curriculum.”
The paper also hints that transition year may be hindering the progress of high-achieving maths students. It questions “whether the discontinuity in mathematics development and effort caused by the transition year is advisable for some talented young people”.
It also points out that only 35 per cent of those in teacher training have higher-level Leaving Cert maths, whereas 95 per cent have higher-level English.
It also says that primary teacher training – which requires higher-level Leaving Cert Irish – downgrades the importance of maths. At present, students need only a C3 at ordinary level to meet entry requirements for primary teaching.
Overall, the paper presents a bleak picture of maths achievement in the State.
The main features include:
* Only 7 per cent of Irish teenagers are high achievers, compared with an OECD average of 13 per cent and an average of more than 20 per cent in Finland;
* Ireland is ranked only 32nd of 65 OECD countries. Its rate of decline since 2003 is the second highest among the countries surveyed;
* Only 6,656 students gained an honours grade (A, B or C) in Leaving Cert higher-level maths last year, by far the smallest number for any main subject;
* Higher-level maths is only the eighth most popular subject choice among Irish males. In the UK, maths is the number one choice for male A-level students;
* Among females, higher-level maths ranks as the ninth most popular choice; it ranks second in Scotland.
The paper, by two experts – Seán McDonagh and Tony Quinlan – challenges the “widespread, false and dangerous view’’ that maths is just another subject.
The subject, it says, develops vital intellectual capabilities and is critical for Ireland’s economic development.
The Government is addressing the maths crisis by rolling out the new “user friendly’’ Project Maths course at Leaving Cert level.
It also hopes the new system of 25 bonus CAO points for higher-level maths will boost student interest.
Numbers taking higher-level maths increased dramatically this year because of the bonus points system.
But the uptake of higher-level maths still lags behind other subjects. Less than 20 per cent of Leaving Cert students took higher-level maths this year; more than 70 per cent take higher-level in English and most other subjects.
The report says a national target of an additional 4,000 successfully completing higher-level maths should be set for the Leaving Cert of 2014.
It also hints at the need for more bonus CAO points for maths, a “double examination subject’’ requiring additional student application.