Wednesday 11 December 2019

Katherine Donnelly: System is to blame, not the struggling students

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

IRISH 15-year-olds carry a big weight on their shoulders. Every three years they are subject to international comparisons, known as PISA, with their peers in up to 64 other countries.

While near top of the class in reading and now significantly above average in science, the Irish performance in the important subject of maths tends to be only average.

In maths, they fall down on problem-solving, showing particular weaknesses in area of "space and shape", which covers algebra, geometry and spatial reasoning.

Disappointing performances have been attributed to patchy teaching quality and a system focused on too much breadth and not enough depth, where rote learning is the norm.

More teacher training and the new Project Maths syllabus have been rolled out and the verdict is awaited on those initiatives.

Digital literacy is the newest kid on the block, a vital skill in a technologically driven world and a foundation of which is familiarity with computers for educational use.

So, the last round of PISA included a limited assessment of computer-based problem-solving, measuring general skills, including ones that share similarities with those required for "space and shape" in maths.

Sadly, for Ireland, that familiar word "average" has come up again.

It is not fair on students because they can only reflect what the education system equips them to do.

It has taught them that memory rather than an ability to think and solve problems will get them through exams and it has not provided the necessary technology, either in terms of broadband and computers, to support learning for the modern world.

It is not Irish students who have scored an "average" in the latest PISA report, but the education system.

Irish Independent

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