Engineer leader lashes ‘total systemic failure’ of maths education

15 Sep 2011

There has been a total systemic failure in the teaching of maths in Ireland, the new president of Engineers Ireland PJ Rudden said last night, and warned it may take a decade or more to embed new learning processes as part of the much-needed education reform.

In his presidential address last night, Rudden said: “It will take perhaps a decade or more to embed the new learning processes associated with the department’s reform agenda so industry must do as much as it can to support students in their attempts to grasp maths. 

“In addition to our existing Leaving Certificate maths grinds, we will be extending grinds on Saturdays during the school year to Junior Certificate students also.”

Where are the TK Whitakers of 21st-century Ireland?

Rudden also said now is the time for longer-term economic planning, despite the fiscal restraints imposed by the EU and the IMF.

“While the National Recovery Plan is a necessary response to the unfortunate fiscal and banking crises, it does not help us with the required strategic longer-term planning of the nation’s infrastructure.

“Now is the time for long-term economic planning like we had in the early 1960s. This will lay the platform for future job creation.

“We seem to forget that the economists and engineers responsible for that era of planning, such as Dr TK Whitaker, et al, are now the ‘sung heroes’ of today.”

Rudden also told engineers in Dublin the announcement from Minister of State for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock, TD, was extremely positive, but while there were some bright spots with Project Maths, the recent Junior Certificate maths results once again indicated it would be a significant period before the department’s reform agenda would improve results enough to meet Ireland’s skill needs.

“Minister Sherlock’s intention to provide unqualified maths teachers with the opportunity to upskill their knowledge of mathematics is very welcome, as is the ongoing rollout of Project Maths across the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate cycle.

“But we see again today the numbers taking Junior Certificate higher-level maths remain too low relative to what is needed.

“We clearly require more students taking higher-level maths both at Junior and Leaving Certificate level so that it converts into enough engineering and science graduates with the requisite competencies to meet the needs of the ICT, energy, pharma and biomedical sectors,” Rudden said.

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