Soundbites won’t do the sums

IT says a lot about those entrusted to run our education system that they so readily identify very specific – yet clearly unproven – factors as cause and remedy for the demise of maths in our schools.

Anyone with experience at the ground level knows that one does not need to possess a maths degree to teach ordinary level mathematics.

It is alarming to hear a representative from the ASTI dismiss engineering and science graduates as inadequate in this regard. The ability to inspire, motivate and clarify are far more relevant skills than academic excellence when dealing with a weak young student.

Any student with an engineering or science degree is clearly going to be competent at ordinary level maths. The big question which the ASTI has frequently ignored regarding its members – technically qualified or not – is this: can they teach?

While project maths for the Leaving Cert is a very promising concept, surely it is too little, too late? Years earlier – at the age of 13 or 14 – most students make a decision to opt for ordinary instead of honours-level maths; there is little hope of such students suddenly discovering a love of maths as they enter the frequently wasted fourth year in school.

It would be better to nip the problem in the bud and acknowledge the elephant in the room: primary school. Any teacher of first-year maths in secondary school can tell you much damage has already been done by the age of 12 or 13. That is why so many students never entertain the thought of taking honours maths.

Whether the reasons are Facebook, calculators, TV, earlier social life or poor maths teaching at primary level, it’s time for some proper research to be done on the matter before offering lame soundbites on Leaving Cert results day.

Seamus Lynch

Poulnabanny

Athenry

Co Galway

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