Saturday 7 December 2019

Editorial: Quinn puts foot in it with ill-judged remarks

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn

PERHAPS the kindest explanation for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's honours maths gaffe is that he went weak in the mouth in front of a predominantly female audience of teachers.

But his pointed remarks that equated the failure to sit honours maths at school with a "highly feminised audience and profession" have angered many. Mr Quinn sought to quickly retrace his steps after telling delegates at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) that he wants to see higher level mathematics in the Leaving Certificate becoming part of the minimum entry requirements for initial teacher education. His rationale for the proposed mandatory higher maths requirement was 'evidence' that, he says, has shown that women who did well in maths at the junior cycle dropped higher level maths because it was not a requirement for initial teacher training.

This may have been an unfortunate historic throwback for the 68-year-old minister as 'the maths' is at odds with his thinking.

Last year, 47pc of students who took higher level maths were female; at Junior Cert level, boys and girls are now neck and neck in terms of uptake of higher level maths.

Mr Quinn later issued a statement to RTE's 'Liveline with Joe Duffy' show stating that he did not say such a proposal would address the feminisation of the profession, nor was he referring to trying to get more men into the teaching profession.

But the damage had been done by the time angry callers took to the airwaves and social media.

Mr Quinn's remarks are ill-judged because they strike a blow at the concerted efforts by the State and industry to encourage all students, regardless of gender, to engage with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. Last year, the Government announced a major mapping system and review of STEM education, including teacher training and development, identifying these core competencies as vital to economic recovery.

The remarks also offend because Mr Quinn has, inadvertently or not, pointed the finger of blame at women for a chronic, complicated lack of diversity in our entire education system.

Like many professions, women dominate rank-and-file wings of teaching, but are less well represented at managerial levels.

This is not the fault of maths alone, if at all.

Complaints about gender imbalance also mask serious diversity issues in Irish education, not least the virtual monopoly still enjoyed by the Catholic Church over our state-funded school system.

Irish Independent

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