It often comes as a big surprise to parents to discover how the education system works and the manner in which it is structured. While the Department pays teachers' salaries, the latter are not employees of the Department and while the curriculum is decided at national level, responsibility for hiring people competent to deliver it resides with boards of management. Another issue which arises from the structure of the education system is the absence of common enrolment policies. The issue I raise is serious because competence in mathematics and science is at question. Those who have a degree or strong foundation in mathematics or science are most qualified to teach these subjects. They are, however, the very people who are most likely to find work in industry. This explains the reason such a high number of such individuals have been enticed from teaching these subjects. There is not an easy solution to the problem. We should not learn the lessons that can be learned from countries such as Finland where teachers are held in high respect and recruitment is not a problem across the curriculum.
The introduction of project maths could attract a significant number of teachers and students to return to the subject of mathematics. While the project has shown early promise, teachers have expressed concerns that it is being rolled out in a piecemeal manner and that large parts of the syllabus do not fit easily in the curriculum.
It is highly unsatisfactory that we cannot establish with any degree of certainty the level of competence among science and mathematics teachers. A survey of only one third of second level schools found that three in every ten teachers did not appear to have attained the standard required to teach mathematics, especially at higher level. I recall my son telling me about his first day on his engineering course when his lecturer asked half of the students present in the lecture theatre to stand up. The group was then told that this was the number who would move into second year of the course. If students do not have a proper foundation in mathematics and science when they start university courses such as engineering, the country loses the potential to bring them through education and into industry. This loss has serious ramifications for the country.