AS a response to our economic difficulties the innovative projects unveiled by the Mallow Development Partnership yesterday are inspiring in a way that has not been seen recently.
The proposals are ambitious, very achievable and ring with authenticity. They involve the community, third level colleges, all primary and secondary schools in the area and considerable funding from the local business community. But most of all the innovations represent an ambitious community energised by the most powerful force: focussed self-help and a determination not to wait for things to happen but to make them happen. The community and their partners have decided to try to shape their future rather than have it shape them.
The objective is simple enough, the creation of good jobs by “making it easy for entrepreneurs to succeed”.
To do that Mallow will become the lead school district nationally in a project designed to try to make maths and science more popular than they are in our schools. This is just part of a response to a feeling that maths, especially at the higher levels, and the sciences are not as popular as they need to be if we are to take full advantage of all of the opportunities offered today, and especially tomorrow, by the knowledge economy.
Last month’s Leaving Certificate results confirmed that there are issues to be resolved here. More than 4,300 students failed maths and the failure rate at ordinary level declined marginally from 10.4% to 9.8%. But only 16% of students – fewer than 8,500 – took the higher-level paper. This is about a quarter of the figure taking higher level English.
After the results were published American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland spoke for anyone who depends on a stronger economy – all of us – when they called for dramatic reform of the education system. Joanne Richardson, of ACCI, said persistent failure rates in subjects such as maths, chemistry and physics was disappointing “considering the focus on developing a smart economy”. The Mallow project is a positive response to that valid criticism.
It is impossible to discuss the less than satisfactory situation surrounding maths teaching in Ireland without referring to the simple but alarming statistic that tells us that half of those teaching maths at second level do not have a primary qualification in the area. This might have been acceptable on a temporary basis but the time for some honesty has arrived. These teachers, no matter how committed or well intentioned, must be given a fixed period to upgrade their qualifications. This must be done in their own time and at their own expense if they are not to be replaced by teachers with more appropriate qualifications.
Speaking at yesterday’s launch in Mallow Damien Callaghan, investor director, Intel Capital and chair of the Advisory Board of Innovation Fund Ireland said that the Mallow Development Partnership is a great example of the smart economy in action.
“The smart economy is about using innovation to create new or improved products and services to earn the income to keep us in the style we have become accustomed and aspire to. It applies equally to the multinational sector, public services, the education sector, existing businesses and new business being started.”
Let us all hope it succeeds and that its success can be replicated right across the country.
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