Schools agree it all adds up as new syllabus put to the test
THE first exams in the new-style second-level maths met with mixed reaction from students and teachers.
The so-called 'Project Maths' is a central plank of government policy to raise Ireland's performance in maths above its "average" ranking internationally.
Project Maths focuses on developing understanding through real-life application rather than rote learning, with the aim of building problem-solving skills. Boosting standards in the subject is regarded as a cornerstone to future national growth and equipping Ireland to compete in a globalised economy.
Students in the first 24 schools to do the course took a paper in the new syllabus yesterday, as an alternative to the traditional Leaving Certificate paper 2.
Oliver Murphy, principal of Castleknock College, Dublin, one of the 24 schools, said both the higher and ordinary level Project Maths papers were "absolutely brilliant".
Mr Murphy, a former maths teacher and an author of maths textbooks, said some of the questions were "simply outstanding; they did what they set out to do, they tested that you knew what you were talking about".
While enthusiastic about the papers, Mr Murphy said it did not mean that they were easy, but one of his students commented that he drew great satisfaction from the questions.
At ordinary level, Mr Murphy complimented the use, in one question, of real-life statistics on male and female drivers and their respective insurance claims. Candidates were asked whether males should be paying higher premiums.
"It was a superb question, rather than talking about the mean and standard deviation from the mean, it was a real-life problem."
Higher level students were faced with similar real-life applications, such as heart-beat rates.
Mr Murphy said people may say that Project Maths is easier but "anybody who says that is missing the point and it is like asking which is nicer -- red wine or gorgonzola cheese. They are not the same thing."
At Ratoath College, Co Meath, another of the 24 Project Maths schools, principal Marie Ni Bhreoithe said that overall her students "seemed to be happy, although some individual students were unhappy".
Mary Daly of Ratoath College described some of the questions on the higher level paper as tough and left students "upset" or "a bit rattled". But she thinks that Project Maths will be a "huge success down the line". Her colleague, Donna Marie Brennan, said at ordinary level there was a mix of "really good" questions and some that were "really tough".
Project Maths will be rolled out in all schools in September but it will be some years before students who have studied it from the first year or junior cycle will finish their Leaving Certificate examination.
The main causes of concern with the traditional maths programme is the 10pc failure rate at ordinary level and the fact that only 16pc of Leaving Certificate candidates take higher level. Teaching quality has been identified as the single biggest factor in improving performance.