Friday 21 October 2016

Maths policy paying off – now let's expand it

Published 03/03/2014 | 02:30

You may not enjoy mathematics but it's an essential part of life for all of us
You may not enjoy mathematics but it's an essential part of life for all of us

WISE teachers have always known that 'an ounce of interest is worth a ton of slog'. The old schoolroom maxim certainly holds good today as we learn that the number of students taking 'honours' Leaving Certificate mathematics is at an all-time high.

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You don't have to be an honours student to realise that this is linked to the bonus point scheme for third-level college applications. The scheme, which offers 25 bonus points for people who score a 'D3' grade or higher, has ensured that 70pc more students are signed up for the higher level mathematics paper next June when compared with June 2011.

It is very good news, which augurs well for the future of the economy and for educational standards generally.

It is often hard to convince teenage students that mathematics is a central subject which carries vital skills and basic knowledge, informing a range of subjects, not just across the sciences, but also into the bulk of disciplines broadly grouped as the humanities.

In other words, mathematics is unavoidable in academic life – and indeed in life generally.

Experience tells us that the actual record figure of over 17,000 students signed up for the higher paper could fall back by as many as 2,000 come that fateful day in June. But even that 2,000 fall-off figure is now in doubt and it could be markedly lower.

Students will be mindful that one does not actually have to get the 'honour' on the higher paper – in fact, a basic 'pass' will do the trick. Teachers know this has tipped doubtful candidates in the direction of taking the more ambitious examination option.

The news has been welcomed by the employers' organisation, IBEC, which says a better standard of mathematics is vital for Ireland to continue being a mecca for high technology companies in the information sector. Clearly, this must be seen merely as a start and efforts to enhance teaching in science and technology must continue apace.

The educational policy experiment in mathematics has worked and must be continued. It must also be studied to see what can be done to frame incentives in other disciplines and in addressing workplace skill deficits.


MICHAEL Noonan's call for other banks to follow Permanent TSB by letting borrowers move home without losing their tracker mortgage is a welcome intervention.

Permanent TSB's deal allows people in negative equity to move home – by trading up, down or even sideways – without losing the entire benefit of having a so-called tracker loan.

Trackers have interest charges tied to the official European Central Bank (ECB) rate. They are no longer available to new borrowers but are a financial lifeline for hundreds of thousands of families. In many cases the low interest is the only reason boom-era mortgages can be serviced at all.

But with ECB rates at an all-time low the banks lose money on the loans.

It has created a socially damaging stalemate.

Borrowers refuse to give up their trackers; but at the cost of remaining in unsuitable homes that were bought, often in panic, during the boom.

Many people who bought in their 20s and 30s during the boom are in homes too small for growing families. Others are living in areas where jobs are no longer available – forced to commute long distances or even miss out on work altogether.

Permanent TSB's deal is a compromise. In exchange for a higher but still low interest rate customers can transfer their old mortgage on to a more suitable home for the life of the deal.

Borrowers still have to service their boom-era borrowings and the bank mostly has to live with the consequences of its lending policies.

As owner of AIB and part-owner of Bank of Ireland, the minister has the power to encourage the big banks to see sense on trackers, too. Let's hope his intervention means he's prepared to use it.

Irish Independent

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