Project maths adds up for pupils despite its critics, says Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain
Former Rose of Tralee Dr Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain has defended the new Leaving Cert project maths curriculum while welcoming reports on the education initiative.
Ni Shuilleabhain, who lectures in mathematics in UCD was reacting to reports about research from the University of Limerick that linked the syllabus to a decline in third level performance.
"First of all I want to say it's brilliant to see significant research coming out on project maths, it's something we've had to wait a couple of years for," she said.
However, she questioned how the research had been presented in the media.
"The report is not actually saying project maths causes a decline, because this study looks at students from 2003 to 2013, and if you think about it 2013 was the first year that students were examined on the full project maths curriculum," she told RTE Radio.
"To take one year of the full curriculum and to develop a theory that it has caused a huge decline in our standards of mathematical knowledge in our students, I don't think you're able to say that and I don't think the research is saying that," she explained.
Ni Shuilleabhain, who recently received a PhD in mathematics from Trinity College, explained how she would like to see maths taught in second level schools.
She said it should be thought in a way that builds a student's understanding of maths, rather than a "rote-learning" system.
"When we are teaching maths now in a secondary school and even primary school, what we should be doing is building a student's understanding.
"What they should be doing is approach a problem and say 'okay, what are the maths tools I have', so that we can move away from a rote-learning system and build a deeper understanding of maths," Ni Shuilleabhain explained.
"It's important because maths in real life isn't about rote-learning. You don't get problems that are uniform in a text book in any business, so it's about asking students 'can you handle this problem?'"
Ni Shuilleabhain, who used to date Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy, has forged a career as an academic as well as in broadcasting. She has appeared on BBC travel show Getaways and on RTE's Science Squad.