Bonus points do not address the issue

Trinity News welcomes the fact that, at long last, steps are being put in place to combat the crisis in mathematics eduction at primary and secondary level in this country. However, the bonus Leaving Certificate points which Trinity has agreed to dole out do not address the crux of the problem.

The problems in mathematics education in this country are no secret. The main issues facing the subject are the perceived difficulty of the course, its abstract nature, and the lack of suitably qualified or competent teachers, which leads to students with large gaps in their basic mathematical knowledge. Bonus points have no positive impact on any of these problems. In fact, they seem to confirm the perception of mathematics as extremely hard.

Mathematics is not instrinsically more or less difficult than other disciplines, but the problem is that it requires a “pyramid of knowledge”. Students must have a full grasp of the basics before trying to tackle more abstract problems.

Project Maths makes a ham-fisted attempt to address the abstract nature of the course by introducing project-based learning. However, it is the emphasis which is placed on abstraction that is at fault, not the abstract nature in and of itself. Project Maths, with its over-reliance on calculator work, will go no way to promoting an understanding of basic mathematical principles.

Two steps must be taken if we are to increase numbers of students sitting Higher Level papers. Firstly, teachers must be trained and competent in the course. The current situation, where teachers without any mathematical training are left to fudge their way through, is not good enough. The second is that the course must place equal emphasis on both the basic skills of numeracy and algebra, and the more abstract applications. Bonus points are a mere band-aid solution.