Primary students aren't taught key maths skills
THE poor performance of Irish teenagers in maths can be traced back to the primary school classroom, a major report has found.
The new study suggests that what primary pupils are taught may be at the root of the problem of Ireland's below-average standing in maths internationally when they move on to second level.
The most wide-ranging review of its type ever conducted compares the life and learning experiences of Irish 10-year-olds with what happens in up to 70 countries.
In maths, it found that not enough time was spent on teaching problem-solving, the curriculum was outdated and that Irish pupils were not learning key skills being taught in other countries.
The findings are particularly relevant in light of the continuing challenge to ensure that Irish school-leavers have the necessary skills for work and life in a new technology world.
The study provides a wealth of information on issues ranging from the problem of pupils arriving in school tired, and bullying, to what happens in classrooms and how schools rate in dealing with parents.
The National Schools, International Contexts report was carried out by the Educational Research Centre (ERC), St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, among over 4,000 fourthclass pupils, their parents, teachers and principals.
Internationally, over 300,000 pupils are covered.
On academic achievement, it looks beyond the results of international tests in maths, science and reading known as PIRLS and TIMSS and seeks to explain Irish pupils' performance.
Among its concerns are that the reading, mathematics and science curricula are older than those in many other countries and, secondly, Irish pupils spend considerably less time than the international average in science lessons.
The PIRLS and TIMSS studies showed that while Irish 10-year-olds were reasonably competent in maths, they were well behind their counterparts in the top-performing countries, including Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, OECD PISA reports show that Irish 15-yearolds are below average in international rankings.
At second level, efforts to address maths performance include the controversial new Project Maths syllabus and CAO bonus points to encourage Leaving Cert candidates to study at higher level.
But yesterday's report provides worrying evidence that the issue needs to be tackled much earlier.
One finding was that Irish 10-year-olds were not covering some items included on the TIMSS tests because they were considered too complex, although pupils elsewhere were able to master them.
The Drumcondra experts also found that there was too much time spent on learning facts and methods of calculation rather than developing more complex reasoning and problem-solving skills.
Sean Close, part-time research associate at the ERC, who wrote the chapter on maths, said the Irish curriculum needed to focus on problemsolving skills at an earlier stage.
The report also highlights areas of concern around science, with Ireland the secondlowest of all countries in the amount of time officially allocated to the subject at primary level.
However, while Irish teachers actually allowed more time for science, their confidence in teaching the subject was below the international average.
Despite their low levels of confidence, it was also the subject in which teachers were least likely to participate in Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Aidan Clerkin, co-author of the report, suggested that this was an area where targeted CPD was needed to help support teachers' confidence and competence in teaching science.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said that the report acknowledged the many positive elements of our education system while identifying issues relating to curriculum, pupils' experience of bullying, reporting to parents and the professional development of teachers.
He said a range of measures were already being put in place that would help address many of the issues raised.
Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) general secretary Sheila Nunan said the INTO was on record as demanding more time for maths teaching, ongoing teacher training and development and improvements in the quality of maths textbooks.