Irish mathematics students are falling well behind their counterparts in high-performing countries, according to a review carried out by the Department of Education.
The performance of students at maths has improved, but there is still a significant gap between our best students and those in countries such as China, Hong Kong and Korea. In particular, assessments indicate there is a pressing need to focus on improving students' ability to reason and to solve problems. The low achievement in numeracy among Irish adults is also described as a cause for concern.
Review of National and International Reports on Literacy and Numeracy is based on a series of reports carried out between 2011 and 2014.
There is better news in the areas of reading. Standards achieved by pupils in the primary and junior cycle have been maintained, according to the review. “Overall, the achievement of pupils in reading within the education system is very good and substantial progress has been made in reducing the proportion of lower-performing students,” the report says.
Increased investment in disadvantaged schools has not helped to narrow the gap between students in poorer and more affluent areas however.
Deis (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) schools in rural areas show progress in reading and maths, but those in urban areas are significantly below the national norm.
A number of reports point towards the need for teachers, parents and children in the most disadvantaged schools to receive more intensive support.
Research indicates that those with an immigrant background or whose parents are in low-skilled occupations require additional support.
The performance of Irish adults is significantly below the international average. Irish adults were in the six lowest-performing countries that participated in a 2012 assessment.
The report makes a series of recommendations, including strengthening the achievement of boys in reading and of girls in mathematics. The need for measures to strengthen literacy and numeracy in Deis schools is also highlighted.
The report says transition year gives schools and teachers flexibility to use innovative teaching approaches and enriched learning experiences to students. It also suggests teaching approaches associated with transition year and Project Maths may merit extension.
These include class and group discussions, skills development, problem-solving in real-life situations and ongoing assessment.
As reported in a Department report for 2010-2012, inspectors at primary level noted satisfactory or better learning outcomes for most maths lessons inspected. However, at post-primary level, significantly lower rates of satisfactory lesson and student learning were noted.
The Department’s report broadly reflects the findings of an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report last month. This found that 17 per cent of students here struggled with basic maths, 10 per cent were below par in reading and 11 per cent were low performers in science.
Overall, Ireland emerged relatively well out of the 64 countries and jurisdictions surveyed, based on data gathered in 2012. It was 17th overall when measured on the number of low performers in all three subject categories.
China topped the rankings with the lowest proportion of low performers, followed by Estonia, Hong Kong and Korea. Ireland ranked ahead of most European countries such as Germany, France and the UK.