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Claire Byrne: Unqualified maths teachers? It just doesn't add up

I hated maths. I didn't get it; wasn't interested in it and never cared what 'x' equalled, never mind 'x + 3y'. From my first year in secondary school, maths class was like the double Dutch hour. As far as I was concerned, the teacher was speaking in an alien tongue and I did just about enough to get me through the exams.

There was a programme on television the other night where children and their teachers were being put through their paces with maths problems. One question had them stumped -- what is a half divided by a quarter? Brows were furrowed, pencils chewed and wrong answer followed wrong answer. The simple maths equation had me in a quandary too.

A new report said that 48pc of Irish secondary school teachers are not qualified to teach the subject. This has been the case for years and there are generations of us who have been sent out into the world at a disadvantage as a result.

By the time I had done my Inter Cert, my confidence in my ability in maths was dented. In order to get through the mandatory subject, I learned by rote how to pass an exam. There was no love or understanding of maths instilled in my studies and no explanation that maths really is the foundation for how everything works all around us.

When I began to study for my Leaving Certificate, my class was assigned a new teacher. She was passionate about maths and refused to accept my protestations that I just didn't get it. Miss Cusack -- as she was then -- wisely decided that any decent brain could understand and manage the Leaving Cert maths course. When I realised that she wouldn't relent, I began to buy in and miraculous changes happened.

Having sat bewildered, perplexed and then bored and disinterested in class for three years, suddenly everything started to make sense. My new mantra became, 'to every problem, there is a solution', and through excellent instruction, I saw that I could do it; I could solve those problems and the right answer would emerge once I understood exactly what was required of me.

I was one of the lucky ones. There must be countless others who have gone through their entire second level education who have been taught maths by unqualified or poor maths teachers. Not only does this affect their results, but it has a huge impact on self-confidence and the career path that the student decided upon.

My poor performance in maths meant that I ruled out a whole raft of career options that I might have considered, had I not truly believed I was rubbish at maths.

An important plank of government policy to reinvigorate employment and growth is the promotion of the 'knowledge economy'. It is incredible that we are all expected to buy into the concept when half of our teens are being taught maths by untrained teachers. As a maths lecturer said, it's like someone being allowed to teach French simply because they have been to France a few times.

I earned an A1 in my Leaving Cert. It was the ordinary level paper that I took, but I am still inordinately proud of it.

And, by the way, a half divided by a quarter is two.


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