Maths Week, a seven-day festival of maths and numeracy, returns next month as the world’s biggest event of its size.
Celebrating its 10-year anniversary – having seen more than 1m people attend its event since 2006 – it starts on October 10 with a public exhibition on Grafton Street.
Stretching from Cork to Belfast, mathematicians will present talks, games and challenges to students across the island of Ireland, with organiser Eoin Gill confident it can kick on from last year, when 250,000 took part.
“To become a digital island and to create what everyone seems to call a knowledge society, we need to improve on maths,” Gill said of a country that is always making claims about its well-educated workforce.
Considering the plethora of IT and science businesses operating here, an enthusiastic approach to maths would be a good thing. But as kids we just hate it.
Gill started up Calmast, a group promoting STEM, back in the late 1990s, quickly realising that the main obstacle towards creating a truly educated workforce was the sheer fear of maths.
“We quickly saw that maths was the weak link,” he said. “It underpins everything else in STEM and a fear of maths was stopping people from entering physics or chemistry.”
Students entering computer science courses were poor at maths, which is pretty weird to think of, so something had to change.
Setting up a pilot Maths Day back in 2006, Gill was surprised that 13 organisations were quick to get involved.
Maths Week spawned from that, with 50 organisations now supporting it, including sponsorship from the departments of education north and south, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the ESB, CRH and Xilinx.
“I knew we needed it but didn’t think it would take off so quickly,” he said. “We want to change attitudes to maths. If we can inspire and motivate, that’s great.
“Maths education is a three-legged stool. The curriculum is one bit, teaching qualities is another, and attitudes towards maths the last.”
Professor Mark Ferguson, the director general of SFI, agrees that maths is a core area we need to focus on, with its support of Maths Week a focused approach from the organisation.
“Maths is essential to Ireland achieving its potential as a global leader in science and engineering,” he said.
“By encouraging more young people to study and understand the relevance of maths we are making Ireland more internationally competitive and creating jobs.”