Republic’s schools struggling with higher maths?

Leaving Cert yesterday, A Levels today. And the Irish Times has its usual ‘lovely girls’ picture on the front page. Yesterday’s results brought mixed news. Maths and Science performances were noticiably down on previous years: “Only 6,710 of the 50,000 taking the Leaving achieved an honours mark (Grade C or higher ) in maths. Four times this figure (24,136) gained an honour in English.”

Yesterday, Olwyn Enright attacked Education Minister, Mary Hanafin:

“Once again, the Leaving Certificate results have exposed the soft underbelly of Ireland’s supposed move towards a ‘knowledge economy’. The figures speak for themselves, and show that the Government remains blind to the need for reform in how key subjects are taught and examined.”

Today Mary Hanafin’s answer is to ask the Republic’s Universities to award bonus points to those seeking entry to third level. Sean Flynn in the Irish Times:

Ms Hanafin acknowledged higher level maths was seen as “too difficult” when compared to other subjects. She hoped that new syllabus proposals in maths would change the perception of higher level maths as being unduly difficult. The new maths course, which places a stronger emphasis on problem solving, will be rolled out on a pilot basis in schools next year. But it could be at least September 2009 before it is fully implemented.

Ms Hanafin acknowledged that the problems in maths were deep-seated in Irish education, although it is an international phenomenon. The chief examiner in maths has commented on the poor grasp of basic maths concepts among many students and the inability of students to answer less predictable questions.

In the international league tables prepared by the OECD, Irish 15 year olds are ranked in mid-table in maths. By comparison, Irish teenagers rank in the top three states when it comes to literacy skills.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty