Ireland needs to do the math for ICT sector

21 Aug 2008

Ireland’s ICT sector risks being seriously undermined by continuing maths failure rates at second level, says Shane Dempsey (pictured), director of the Irish Software Association.

It emerged last week that one tenth of Leaving Cert students failed maths and that out of 8,500 candidates some 4.5pc failed the honours paper, compared to 3.8pc last year. Why is this happening?

No one will say it out loud, but the lack of uptake in honours maths in Ireland is due to teacher performance.

The teaching of maths is the single most important factor in a child’s education and the fact of the matter is the education system cannot surpass beyond the quality of its teachers.

We are calling on the Government to come up with a more creative way to boost the quality of maths teaching in the nation’s schools

It has been suggested that Ireland’s Leaving Cert maths performance is the symptom of a much wider international problem. Do you agree?

Talk of the maths failure rate being an international problem is a cop-out. We have the potential to improve the interest in maths, science and engineering but we’re not creative enough to take the right steps.

Bonus points for honours maths students pursuing fields like engineering were abolished in recent years and this is starting to tell.

How big a problem could this be for the ICT sector in Ireland and the wider economy?

This is a real economic issue for Ireland in terms of companies that rely on students coming out of engineering and computer courses.

We are asleep when it comes to maths and we are just hitting the snooze button when maths points are brought up. We’re just not getting out of bed on the issue and this could be disastrous for the economy.

Maths is the language of the knowledge economy. We have to address teacher performance. A whole series of steps are required but it requires bravery at the Department of Education and Science.

Are the right resources being put in place to ensure we have the right maths teachers?

Only two out of every 10 teachers teaching honours maths are actually qualified to do so.

Some of these people only have to do a module as part of one year at teacher training college to be qualified to teach honours maths.

We have to acknowledge the fact that honours maths requires special treatment.

Would you agree this is as big an issue for multinationals in Ireland as it is for local, home-grown companies?

All technology companies are finding it hard to get Irish talent. SMEs are finding it hard and they are competing against organisations like Google, Intel and IBM.

If an organisation has 20 Polish IT engineers in a high-cost location like Dublin, surely someone in head office is going to be asking why don’t they have an office in a lower-cost location like Poland.

This is potentially a very serious issue for the economy and no one seems brave enough to take the steps that need taking.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Shane Dempsey, director of the Irish Software Association

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