Mathematics and science education : a modest proposal….

Its generally agreed that for a whole variety of reasons there is a crisis in terms of Irish scientific and mathematical edication, resulting in students going into universities who struggle with the move from a more rote learning to a more scientific reasoning based learning approach. Indeed, there is a crisis in upskiling mathematics teachers who have (and this to me is shocking) no tertiary qualifications in mathematics. Engineers Ireland (with whom I have zero involvement btw) have talked about how engineers, applied mathematicians, can support mathematics education

Its also agreed that there is an unemployment crisis. We have 35,000 professional/technical on the live register. A goodly proportion of these must have tertiary education in areas such as engineering or other areas where mathematics in an applied sense are the bread and butter of the task. Without in any way denigrating higherlevel professional  education qualifications, it cannot take more than three or four months to impart a set of focused mathematical pedagogic skills. Other countries do this.  Clearly, on the job monitoring and evaluation will be needed, but can we not think outside the box and offer incentives to those with tertiary mathematical education to convert to teaching? We might indeed consider looking for people to teach physics, mechanics and other applied mathematics course, or even other science disciplines.

Lets take a couple of thousand engineers or mathematically intensive scientists on the dole, and offer them a 10% premium on the existing teacher salaries, plus free intensive pedagogic training, and deploy them into the second level school system, focused on bringing their experience to bear on the mathematics and science curricula. Of course, ASTI/TUI would explode…. But this would be an opportunity to see whether the system can think outside the box and in a joined up manner. Lets also up the incentive to students, giving  bonus points for math, and extra vonus points for taking more than one math subject (say 10% on each subject cumulative, so someone who take say physics, mechanics and math gets a 30% bonus on each ). There is a need and a resource that with some imagination can be brought together. Can we as a polity do this?  I doubt it can.


11 thoughts on “Mathematics and science education : a modest proposal….

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Mathematics and science education: a modest proposal …

  2. Vince

    And which Alexander have you chosen to cleave the Gordian knot that is the teaching unions.
    The only way I can see anything like this in rapid operation would be in the out of hours empty schools. Of course, then it would run amok like FAS.

  3. Patrick

    Bear in mind that the job of teaching unions is to protect the teachers not the teaching. So a teachers’ union, with the best will in the world, is prevented from introducing an activity that offers benefits to teaching itself or to the economy, but nothing tangible in terms of benefits to teachers. The problem isn’t “thinking outside the box” but “what are the tangible benefits for the teachers terms/hours/pay?”.

    I’ve seen voluntary work doing great things for education with the likes of Coderdojo, which can work precisely because they touch no one’s pay packets/terms/contracts

    If I point out however that as a private sector worker in the tech sector I normally work beyond hours I’m paid to get work I value done, it’ll be denounced as an attack on the public sector…

    There is no shortage of enthusiasm though, if the dead hand of established vested interests is lifted.

  4. pdadalt

    Brian: Similar problems here in the US. My sister is an actuary. After her second child, she wanted to teach High School math. She didn’t because she had no desire to take the 1-2 years of education classes it would have required.

  5. Lisa

    Such proposals make a lot of common sense and utilise resources with maximum effectiveness. However, the big problem, as with a lot of them, goes back to the school curriculum structures. Due to lack of resources and might I say forethought, schools offer a choice of subjects in categories. Such as say physics, biology and business organisation in one group. Students can only pick one subject from a group. The points navvy student will more often select the *soft touch* subject to increase their probability of achieving those necessary points. Also, as noted in my example above, it is also quite common for two sciences to be grouped in the same category. This is a major issue that I consider should be addressed. I also think primary schools should have science as a core subject. Maybe resources outlined above could be implented and introduced in the primary curriculum. But be braced for the union onslaught!!

  6. sf ca writer

    As a career change, I was Math teacher in the San Francisco area for a few short years. I noticed two things.
    1. Math is by far the most popular subject among all kids. Blue collar, rich, tough guys, geeks, they all love Math.
    2. The California Math curriculum is ten miles wide and an inch deep. I taught matrices to kids who barely new factors.
    These are the exact opposite of my Irish experience, where most kids seem to hate math, and the curriculum I remember was certainly deep but also meaningless with little or no application.
    Kids loving Math is a great outcome, the best outcome, but then Ireland is not given to adopting American education standards is it?
    I am not sure teaching is something a person should try without a whole lot of training.

  7. sf ca writer

    About my previous comment: I suppose California education could answer its many critics with the old Irish saying “never mind the quality, feel the width”, or maybe that’s just a Dublin saying.

    1. brianmlucey Post author

      no, it doesnt really. It says the opposite : it says three months intensive pedagogic theory and practice training plus ongoing class support….but dont let what I said get in the way of what you think I said 🙂

  8. me

    Three months is virtually nothing, despite any supports that might be put in place. I’m at it more than 20 years and I’m still learning.

    The challenges facing the modern teacher are absolutely immense and I wish the critics in the world of business and industry (not including you in this obviously – this is just a by-the-way rant) who are very fond of simplistic solutions, mostly focusing on controlling teachers in some way, would really start being intellectually honest about this. There seems to be a point of view that the business world is the ‘real’ world and teachers and the like are living in a cocoon. Without wishing to sound like Kevin Keegan, I’d really love it if someone like Marc Coleman was told to teach Leaving Cert ‘Anything’ for even three months. He’d go off his rocker!

    I’m not a teacher by the way.


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