Friday 23 August 2019

Syllabus for maths does not add up for teachers

Pupils should get 240 hours of maths over three years. Stock Image
Pupils should get 240 hours of maths over three years. Stock Image
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Maths teachers say they don't get enough time to deliver the Junior Cycle syllabus to pupils, according a new report.

It has emerged as a key issue in a review of the affect of Project Maths on the performance of students in the subject at Junior Cycle.

Project Maths has had a "small positive impact on student performance in mathematics" as measured by international studies, stated the Educational Research Centre (ERC), Drumcondra, report.

"It is also clear that there has been a significant impact on approaches to teaching maths in schools and on students' attitudes towards maths," it added.

But, there was a "consensus among teachers on the view it is not possible to implement the curriculum as intended within the instructional time currently available".

The ERC carried out the review for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), as part of preparations for the introduction of a new maths programme linked to the Junior Cycle reforms.

All subjects are undergoing an overhaul and a draft new maths syllabus is out for consultation before the final specification - due for implementation in September - is agreed.

The introduction of Project Maths, in 2010, came against a backdrop of concern about the "average" performance of Irish 15 year olds in international assessments.

Raising maths standards is regarded as critical if Ireland is to equip its school-leavers and graduates with the skills necessary for the modern economy.

The ERC found that teachers were "broadly satisfied" with the content of Project Maths - their concern is about the time needed for changed approaches to teaching it.

The current syllabus specifies the course is 240 hours over three years and under the proposed new syllabus the minimum required will also be 240 hours.

Project Maths brought a shift away from "chalk and talk" teaching to more active learning so that pupils can apply their knowledge in a practical way.

The report stated that "teachers emphasise that the embedding of mathematical concepts requires time, and that both time and conceptual knowledge are needed to develop a deep understanding of mathematics".

It noted that, in comparison with other countries in OECD, which covers the developed world, Ireland allocates "considerably less time for maths to junior cycle than the international average".

The report added that "although there is no clear relationship between instructional time and performance" teachers felt that having more time would create the conditions for improvements in performance.

A recent study found wide variations in existing practice, with some schools allocating up to 439 hours over three years, compared with the lowest, 228.

Irish Independent

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