Missing the Point about Maths

I don’t usually comment on second level education on Anseo.net.  However, I’m fairly open about the fact that I think the Leaving Cert is a dreadful idea.  Like many others, I feel that the Leaving Cert is simply a memory exercise, where one has to – in the words of Daithí Ó’Mhurchú – regurgitate the last 6 years of knowledge.  I did my Leaving Cert in 1997 and it hasn’t changed that much.  My main memory of the Leaving Certificate was choosing the bits of the curriculum that my teachers thought were going to come up in the exams.  Therefore, in English, we didn’t bother studying any of Shakespeare’s sonnets or Paradise Lost by Milton.  In Maths, I think I skipped learning a few theorems off by heart, which brings me to my point.
The Sunday Times reported today that there is a bit of a scandal about Paper One of the Maths Leaving Cert.  I read the first words of the argument:

Paper 1 was the most difficult yet, featuring questions that…

I expected the end of the sentence to be something like “were not on the curriculum” or “a higher standard than previous years” but no.  The problem was that these were questions “that pupils could not have anticipated”.
In other words, they were questions that pupils guessed would not be on the paper so didn’t learn them.  There’s one of two things wrong here.  The first is that perhaps the curriculum for second level subjects is too broad and thus there’s too much to learn.  The second possibility is that students are not learning the full curriculum relying on predictions and rote learning based on previous years.
However, the biggest thing that is wrong is the general acceptance that not being able to anticipate questions is an issue.  The Maths paper, I believe, should test Maths ability not rote learning.  However, unfortunately, I anticipate that nothing will change.

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