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Conor Lenihan: Time for academics to come down from their ivory towers and embrace bonus points for higher maths

AS the countdown to college life continues, the time is long overdue for an extra incentive for those students who do higher level maths in the leaving certificate.

Increasingly the kind of jobs that investors are bringing to Ireland are high tech.

Some 50pc of the IDA investment wins in both 2008 and 2009 were related to research and development (R&D).

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Many of these are science-technology related jobs or jobs that require a basic proficiency in maths.

Even if they are not the modern office of the near "future" knowledge economy will have numeracy and computational skills at a premium.

Yet this year only 16pc of students took higher level maths in the leaving cert.

That is not below the European average but is simply not enough to power our economy and ambitions for a "smart economy".

There are many other countries out there who are ahead of us in the technology innovation front.

They are ahead on investment, infrastructure and the volume of people they produce with strong technology-related skills.

Already employers and business representatives want bonus points in fast.

The Tanaiste Mary Coughlan has thrown it up to the heads of the universities that she wants the extra points in for the leaving cert in 2012.

As Minister for Education and a mother Mary Coughlan knows the sheer effort and time that those who study maths put in.

The heads of the universities need to get off the fence and endorse her initiative.

Fence

Some such as the head of NUI Galway are actively against the move while UCC in Cork are sounding negative.

UCD in Dublin, the country's biggest university, seems to be sitting on the fence. The head of UCD actually sat on a Government task force that strongly endorsed bonus points for maths.

The universities see themselves at the forefront of the knowledge and research led economic recovery effort.

Nobody suggests that bonus points are a magic bullet to solve all our maths problems.

However, it is an essential step along with added teacher training so that maths can be taught better in the classroom.

Time is not on our side. Other countries are ahead of us and we need to punch way above our current weight in maths if we want to continue to compete for global trade and investment.

Some academics need to climb down from their ivory towers and get with the smart economy programme.


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