The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) today outlined a set of proposals aimed at ensuring Ireland becomes one of the top OECD countries in terms of mathematical proficiency. The Expert Group highlighted the critical importance of mathematics for our economy and the need for a focused and long term approach to improve the quality and numbers of our national mathematical achievement.
Anne Heraty, Chairperson, EGFSN commented, "Employers have indicated that the current level of our mathematical achievement is of serious concern. Boosting our maths skill levels is essential to realising opportunities for employment. Maths is a fundamental requirement for Ireland’s development as a modern economy - important both for service and manufacturing jobs and for sectors of the economy with growth potential such as ICT, life sciences, business and finance and professional services."
"We must build and complement the significant developments underway with Project Maths1. The proposals made by the Expert Group should be seen as part of a broad set of measures that need be implemented in a coordinated way to improve national maths achievement. This will require the support of a wide range of partners," she concluded.
Several complementary policy proposals are made by the Expert Group with the aim of increasing the level of our national mathematical achievement. In summary:
Provide professional development and recognition to Maths teachers at Primary and Secondary Level Adequate time should be allocated to the development of maths competence in teacher training courses. Primary and Secondary Level maths teachers should be provided with additional professional development. Professional Masters degrees and higher diplomas in maths education should be developed. A part time teacher degree aimed at those working in jobs with a high maths content should be considered. This may be particularly attractive to those seeking a career change and who are interested in maths teaching.
Develop a more interactive, imaginative approach to teaching mathematics There is a need to help students understand the fundamental importance of mathematics in subjects such as science, engineering and technology; business and finance; and social sciences. A more interactive teaching approach would help students understand maths concepts and see their relevance and application in the world around them. This approach should start at primary level and be continued and reinforced at second level.
Develop a more coherent progression of mathematics learning Students who struggle with maths should be given greater help at primary level to reduce the significant numbers failing maths at Leaving Certificate level. There should be coordination to ensure a smooth transition between maths learning at primary and second level. There should be a structured maths studies programme for Transition Year students to ensure continued development in maths competency between the Junior and Leaving Cert cycles.
Support for parents role in their children’s maths education Provide web-based material aimed at enhancing the parent’s role in supporting their child’s maths learning. Schools could also provide parents with short instruction sessions on maths concepts and learning.
Incentivise students to take maths at Higher Level The Department of Education and Science could work with the education institutions to address the disincentives to studying Leaving Cert Higher Level Maths.
- Promote the development and introduction of a system of bonus college entry points for Higher Level Leaving Certificate maths to compensate for the greater effort widely considered to be required for success in this subject.
- Students could be allowed to take Ordinary Level Leaving Cert Maths in their fifth year and then have the choice of taking Higher Level later in their sixth year. This would mean that ordinary syllabus be a subset of the Higher Level syllabus.
Address the maths knowledge needs of adults in the workplace Establish workplace initiatives for the learning of mathematics and numeracy in line with programmes already available on literacy. Such learning should be practical and relevant to people in their jobs. Employers should communicate the practical way in which maths is important for careers paths.
Benchmarking and evaluation of national maths education performance Results of benchmarking and evaluating our maths performance in an international context could be compared annually against agreed national targets for maths achievement. Findings could inform policy and practice and help frame a promotional campaign aimed at increasing interest of maths among students, teachers and parents.
IBEC Head of Social and Education Policy Tony Donohoe said:"The crisis in our public finances must not be a used as a excuse to defer reform of an area that is critical to Ireland’s future social and economic development.
"The Expert Group highlights the achievement of Finland, which consistently tops OECD PISA tests for mathematics proficiency. Yet Finland spends less per student on secondary education than Ireland. This challenge can be addressed through a change in mindset and flexibility within the education system."
ICT Ireland (the IBEC group that represents the high-tech sector) Director Kathryn D'Arcy said: "For the past number of years the high failure rate in maths and the small numbers choosing to take higher level has made the headlines. It is time to stop posturing and tackle the problem head on.
"The key stakeholders should immediately embrace and support the recommendations of today's report. In particular, there is a need for more professional development of teachers at both primary and secondary level, and for greater incentives for students to take higher level maths.
"A strong grounding in maths is an essential life skill and is particularly important if we want to support and grow our knowledge economy. Our knowledge, and our ability to apply it, is now the most important asset in the Irish economy. A high proficiency in maths is vital for students’ future success in whatever course of life they choose.
"Maths opens doors to many exciting opportunities, particularly in the technology sector, which has bucked the trend in recent months by announcing a number of significant job announcements,” D'Arcy said.
Also today, the Government published a report on its goal for Ireland to become a "world-class knowledge economy" in 4 years. There is a reference to Maths but the report is primarily a public relations document.
1 Project Maths is a strategy for the development of curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment in mathematics for post-primary schools with emphasis on problem-solving skills, context and application. The project is led by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in collaboration with the Department of Education and Science and the State Examination Commission.