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Prioritise maths in primary school, says NCC report


Don Thornhill: chairman of government agency NCC

Don Thornhill: chairman of government agency NCC

Don Thornhill: chairman of government agency NCC

THE education system should be overhauled with a much greater emphasis on maths in primary schools while the points systems should be abolished, a top government agency said yesterday.

The National Competitiveness Council's (NCC) annual report calls for sweeping changes across the education system, as well as further reform of the public sector, more reductions in the cost of doing business and increased productivity in the private sector.

Other changes recommended in education include:

• Higher third-level fees.

• Reform of the Leaving Certificate.

• Further training for teachers throughout their careers.

"Primary school children in Ireland spend the second-highest amount of time in the classroom of all children in the OECD but receive the least amount of tuition in mathematics," the report states.

At second level, the NCC claims the points system "distorts performance by encouraging students away from vital subjects such as maths and sciences in favour of subjects (perceived) as easier".

"A new method of entry into third level, which is meritocratic and promotes problem solving and innovation. . . is required to replace the current system," the report states.

Teachers should also undergo regular training, with "professional and in-service development" that is "frequent, continuing and progressive during a teacher's career".

Meanwhile, at third level, institutions "remain underfunded relative to institutions internationally".

In response, the report recommends undergraduates "contribute a greater portion of the cost of their education".

NCC chairman Don Thornhill -- a former secretary general of the Department of Education -- welcomed the changes currently being implemented but added that more needs to be done, especially with regard to the teaching of Irish.

"The elephant in the room is Irish. Giving a huge amount of time to teaching Irish doesn't seem to have worked, and we have been doing that since 1922.

"Despite the economic importance of education, there has been a strong bias in the department to the social and cultural roles of education but you won't have a vibrant social or cultural society if there is no work," he added.

The report, which was co-authored by government thinktank Forfas, also recommends measures to reduce the cost of doing business in Ireland including the phasing out of subsidies for peat-generated electricity, a faster planning process, an accelerated re-evaluation process for commercial rates and further investment in broadband infrastructure.

This could be the last such report, as the two bodies involved may disappear. Forfas has been earmarked for integration with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, while the future of the NCC will be reviewed later this year.

Last night an education department spokesman defended its record. "The Department of Education gives the teaching and learning of maths high priority (and) has prioritised the rollout of a new maths curriculum -- Project Maths -- in second-level schools," he said.

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