Irish teens don’t add up to global maths standard

4 Dec 2007

Industry leaders reacted with concern at the news that the maths and reading abilities of Irish 15-year-olds are only average. Ireland ranked 16th out of 30 OECD countries in terms of maths, science and literacy.

Over 400,000 15-year-old students, in 57 countries, were assessed for their mathematical, reading and science abilities.

The report by the Programme for International Student Assessment found that Irish students had not improved since the last survey in 2003.

The report ranked Ireland above average in science, but only near the OECD average for maths.

“Ireland has slipped from 9th to 10th place [for science] which is disappointing, particularly when we look at the skills needed by high-tech companies based in Ireland,” said ICT Ireland director, Kathryn Raleigh.

ICT Ireland represents the interests of some of Ireland’s largest employers in the technology sector, including Microsoft, HP, Dell and Intel.

Ireland only achieved an average score for maths and had proportionately fewer students at the high-achiever levels than the OECD average.

“The report questions whether our achievements in maths could be improved by a greater take-up of higher-level maths,” Raleigh said.

“ICT Ireland has called for the re-introduction of bonus points for the subject, as a means of boosting its attractiveness to students. This would have a dramatic and positive impact on the numbers of students choosing to do higher-level maths and on their achievements in the subject.

“Irish society is changing and our greatest assets are now our minds. Technology, science and maths will become ever more important in terms of our ability to compete for jobs. A strong grounding in higher maths and science is therefore a student’s passport to the future,” Raleigh concluded.

Siobhan Masterson of IBEC’s Education and Training Policy Executive called on the Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin TD to sign off on the proposed new Junior and Leaving Cert maths curricula.

She also called for innovative ways of teaching maths to be developed and supported through investment in the professional development of maths teachers.

“One of the key issues highlighted in the report is that high-achieving maths students in Ireland need to be doing better,” Masterson warned.

“If we are to achieve our stated national objectives of fostering a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy, then we must not just maintain the current number of students performing well in higher-level maths, but increase it dramatically. This will not be achieved by tinkering at the edges, but through radical measures to reverse the current trend,” said Masterson.

By John Kennedy