64pc of Leaving Cert maths students want smaller class sizes

16 Aug 2011

A new survey by Engineers Ireland of 180 maths students who sat the Leaving Cert this year has revealed that 64pc believe maths class sizes should be halved.

The findings were revealed ahead of the official Leaving Certificate results tomorrow, Wednesday, 17 August.

Maths and science performance are vital to the continued success of Ireland’s technology and biopharma sectors and policy makers have failed so far to reverse declining performance and uptake.

Just 10,435 students registered to undertake the higher-level maths Leaving Cert exam this year, the lowest figure ever recorded by the State Exams Commission. The figures may drop below the record low of 8,388 in 2007, as one in five students drop down from higher-level to ordinary-level maths on the day of the exam, this Friday. The State Exams Commission recorded 10,457 higher-level maths students in 2007 prior to the exam.

In the Engineers Ireland survey, 81pc of respondents said their maths teachers need to give them more practical, everyday applications for maths to aid learning.

Some 55pc said they felt their maths teachers needed extra training to teach the subject and more than 46pc of maths students said they needed grinds outside the classroom.

John Power, Engineers Ireland director general, said the findings show the unique teaching requirements associated with maths and the importance of teaching the subject in a practical manner that allows students to fully understand its relevance.

“It is now clear that Ireland, rather than experiencing a labour shortage, is suffering from a skills shortage. There are 1,200 jobs in maths-related areas, such as pharmaceutical and biomedical engineering, that companies cannot fill. We need to bridge the gap.” 

“We should listen to our students’ feedback regarding the teaching of maths,” continued Power, “so that we can ensure they have access to a wide range of career opportunities that will also help meet Ireland’s future skills needs.“   

Power added that while the latest CAO data indicating a 1.7 pc increase in demand for engineering and technology courses shows our students are starting to move to where the job opportunities lie, this figure needs to be much larger to safeguard Ireland’s future economic well-being.

More maths graduates needed to feed tech-sector demand

“The numbers moving into the tech sectors needs to be larger,” Power continued. “Engineers Ireland has been providing free maths grinds for some years now and the roll out of Project Maths is bound to help with increased numeracy facilitating more opportunities for students with strong maths.

“Our link-up with UCD’s College of Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences to encourage more engineering students to participate in the Undergraduate Ambassador Scheme and assist secondary school maths teachers with the delivery of the curriculum is also the type of initiative we need to see more widely adopted.”

He also said it was up to Government and industry to make maths more accessible to students to produce the next generation of much-needed engineers and entrepreneurs.

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