My take on the Maths Crisis

As with the Leaving Certificate results, the Junior Certificate’s showed that there is a worrying trend in maths results in this country.  Most of the focus is being centred on the estimation from the Teaching Council that over 30% of maths teachers hold no 3rd level qualifications in mathematics.
However, just because a teacher has a lot of knowledge about maths, does it make them a good teacher of the subject?  Isn’t a qualification in mathematics less important than a qualification in teaching mathematics?  Perhaps this is where the focus should be.
At primary level, the aims of the maths curriculum include fostering a love of mathematics, problem solving and making maths all about real life situations.  None of these skills (as far as I remember from my degree) are learned in a 3rd level mathematics degree.

Gone are the days in primary schools where children used “borrow and payback” and other random unconnected rules for solving problems.  Gone are the days of Maths books with pages of meaningless sums.  Gone are the days where a teacher gives an example of how to “do” a problem and children simply “do” more of the same problems with different numbers without really understanding why.
How primary school teachers help children learn these concepts has completely changed.  We encourage children to use concrete materials as much as possible before moving towards the more abstract areas of maths.  We build upon their previous knowledge so they don’t have to learn loads of rules off by heart.  We give children strategies and make them real to them. Do we see this at second level enough?
It’s often been said that teachers who struggled with Maths in their own school days make much better Maths teachers than those who got the abstract concepts easily.  There may be some truth in that.  Perhaps, these teachers can bring their students along the mathematical journey more effectively,  from figuring out that 1+1=2 towards differential equations and giving them the stepping stones along the way.

Engineers Ireland claimed the “crisis in maths” at second level reflects a “total systemic failure in national education structures” and it’s difficult to argue against this.  The worrying thing, as usual, is that the blame is being centred at the wrong place.   While having a base level of knowledge and understanding of maths is important, the way it is taught is much more important. It’s good to see that Project Maths is being rolled out because it does focus on good methodologies and making maths more real to students.
Perhaps if Project Maths is given a chance, we may see increases in our mathematical scores.


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