Tech industry ‘troubled’ by fall in maths and science grades

19 Aug 2010

One of Ireland’s most successful digital media firms Havok has said it is troubled by the declining participation as well as drop in students attaining A and B grades in maths and science subjects in this year’s Leaving Cert and has called for reform.

“At Havok, we see higher level maths as a key subject which is a very good indicator of a candidate’s problem-solving ability,” said David Coghlan, managing director of Havok. “It’s an important metric that we always take into account when hiring, as it is relevant to our business.”

Havok is the Irish company whose physics software powers many of the world’s top console games and features in the special effects of blockbuster Hollywood movies.

Havok has won numerous awards, including an Emmy and the prestigious peer-voted Game Developer Frontline Award in consecutive years.

The company counts the biggest names in gaming, such as Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Pandemic Studios as customers. Started in 1998 at Trinity College Dublin, Havok enables the realistic effects that millions of gamers across the world enjoy in such titles as Assassin’s Creed 2, Uncharted 2, Halo 3, Heavy Rain and Bioshock 2. A further 120 games are in development.

The company’s technology also powers Hollywood blockbuster movies like Watchmen, Bond blockbuster Quantum of Solace, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 10000 BC, X-Men: The Last Stand, Poseidon, The Matrix, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Today Havok employs 102 people in offices in Dublin, San Francisco, San Antonio, Calcutta, Munich and Tokyo.

Coghlan moved into the role of CEO of Havok after David O’Meara stepped down in recent months. O’Meara was CEO of Havok for the past seven years and two and a half years ago oversaw the company’s acquisition by Intel for US$110m.

Coghlan said: “In our view, an incentive, such as bonus points, needs to be offered to students to pursue higher level maths in particular. Because the maths syllabus is extremely broad, we believe that to attain a solid grade in maths, it easily takes twice the level of work of other subjects. The points system means that a grade in maths is weighted equally to other subjects and that puts it at a distinct disadvantage. As a result, the incentive just isn’t there for students to put the additional time into it.

“Since Havok began operating 10 years ago, we have seen a tangible decline in the number of students participating in third level courses relevant to us and other technology-focussed employers, such as maths, computer science and physics. This is a trend that needs to be reversed and this starts with subject selection at second level.”

Coghlan warned that if the situation continues it could have serious consequences for Havok’s ability to employ Irish graduates.

“While we are very pleased with the calibre of candidates from Ireland we have been able to attract to Havok, the volume simply isn’t there for us. We have had to supplement that by bringing in people from abroad to work in our Dublin office or creating jobs in our other offices worldwide.

“One of the key elements underpinning the smart economy strategy for Ireland is a focus on R&D and the raw capabilities of maths and science are essential to achieve this,” Coghlan warned.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years