I recently had the pleasure of attending a talk by Labour Party leader, Mr. Eamon Gilmore TD, at the DCU Ryan Academy Mid-Summer Networking Event on the topic of ‘Fostering Entrepreneurship’. I normally don’t attend such talks but I decided to head out to City West and hear what Eamon had to say on this important topic. This event took place on Thursday June 11th, less than one week after the Local and European elections, where Labour had their best ever performance in the local council elections.
Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed as he delivered a well researched and thought provoking speech. In closing he identified five priority areas that Labour had identified in order to foster entrepreneurship, one of which was Scientific Education. He spoke about the low numbers taking Honours Maths and he singled out the teaching of Maths as a major issue. He commended the introduction of Project Maths but lamented the slow rate of progress by the government in addressing how we teach Maths. As he pointed out this has not occured overnight. He had the following to say on how Labour believes Maths should be taught:
“In line with modern thinking in other countries, we have argued for an approach to teaching maths that is far more applied – illustrating mathematical concepts with concrete examples. That is not code for making it easier, but for teaching maths in a different way.”
This was reassurring and conjured up ideas of authentic tasks, student-centred learning and above all “excitement” about the subject. I have heard similar sentiments in other settings over recent months. I heard Noel Cunningham, a Physics teacher, at the CESI Meet conference wonder out loud why so many students love Science on entering second-level and hate it by the time they leave. Noel was being provactive but he was hinting at the way we teach Science – whatever happens we manage to turn kids off. I have also heard people in Forfás speak about the need to get more “excitement” back into the teaching of Science and Maths . In the world of industry people like Chris Horn commented on how we might use Web 2.0 tools to get Maths teachers to share resources and ideas to improve the teaching of their subject. Similar discussions are occuring around the globe and we are not alone in trying to crack this issue. However, I think our discussion is still at the very early stages and we need to ramp it up or it will be too late.
Later on Thursday evening, June 11th, I tuned into the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Cyber Summit , and it put Eamon Gilmore’s comments in perspective for me. In listening to a very interesting talk by the incoming Partnership President, Kathy Hurley, on 21st century skills she reference a recent Time magazine feature on The Future of Work. Much of this article resonated with the theme of the earlier talk. There is now growing debate around the skills our children will need to live and work in the 21st century, well at the least first 20-25 years of the century! It is probably a bit too early to define all the skills we will need, considering the first decade is not yet over. However, it is obvious that students will need a good grounding in Maths and Science to compete effectively in this global economy. Ireland, as a small nation, is very fortunate to have a highly qualified teaching profession but we need to continue to upskill them so that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to apply modern methodologies and approaches in their classrooms. We should start discussing what Maths and Science teaching should look like and what impacts this might have on assessment? This discussion should involve society as a whole, not just educators.
It is good to see the leader of the Labour Party addressing the issue of entrepreneurship and outlining how his party would foster it, if in government. Labour will more than likely play some part in the next government and it is good to see their leader stating clearly that modern teaching methods, particularly in the Sciences, will be on their agenda. Investing in change costs money and funding will have to be provided to upskill teachers and to provide them with modern tools, but it also requires political leadership and vision.
PS I am not a member of the Labour Party, not yet anyway!
For a full copy of Eamon Gilmore’s speech click here