Applied Maths proposal to add key areas of maths welcomed

Key areas of maths that have been dropped from the Leaving Certificate syllabus could become part of a revised applied maths course being developed.

Applied Maths proposal to add key areas of maths welcomed

The proposal comes following strong criticisms about the removal of topics like matrices, vectors and calculus from the senior cycle syllabus in the Project Maths programme being taught on a phased basis in second-level schools since 2008.

But their inclusion in the draft for a new applied maths syllabus, which could be renamed as extended higher mathematics or applications of higher mathematics, has been welcomed by one of the third-level academics in a group that led those concerns two years ago.

In August 2012, the Irish Examiner highlighted the issues raised about Project Maths by Cora Stack and others.

Their academic paper argued that it risked leaving students unprepared to study engineering, science or maths at third level, and would damage Ireland’s international competitiveness.

But Ms Stack said the plan to include broader topics in a new applied maths programme would address many of the issues.

“It looks like it will be a very attractive syllabus and that people with strong aptitudes for maths, or those wishing to pursue courses at third-level with a significant maths component, will now have the option of taking this syllabus at upper secondary level,” said the maths lecturer at Institute of Technology, Tallaght.

“I have serious reservations about proposed teaching strategies and over-emphasis on problem solving, but I believe these matters will and can be addressed. If this is implemented, we should have as good a maths curriculum as those on offer anywhere else,” she said.

The draft curriculum was open for public consultation by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) up to last week, with feedback to be considered before a final new syllabus is published next autumn.

It is proposed that matrices, vectors, linear programming, further calculus, and differential equations, would form the core of a revised syllabus.

They would make up either 70% or 40% of course content, with students choosing to also study either one or two from other topics like mechanics, computer programming, networks and graph theory, business mathematics, or game theory.

“Providing different ‘curriculum pathways’ which allow students to choose mathematics courses that more closely match their future mathematical needs is a challenge for applied mathematics and for the system as a whole,” the NCCA said.

Only around 2.5% of Leaving Certificate students each year sit applied maths — 1,490 did so in 2014— but 90% of them take the higher level exam. High numbers also take physics, because of a strong overlap between material in both subjects.

Decisions would also have to be made on whether bonus points for college entry should be given to students who pass in the new course, although the NCCA paper says it would not be necessary. Since 2012, 25 extra points have been awarded for passing higher level maths to encourage more Leaving Certificate students to take honours papers, but the new applied maths curriculum is proposed to be assessed at higher-level only.

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