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'Knowledge is now recognised as the driver of productivity and economic growth, leading to a new focus on the role of information, technology and learning in economic performance. The term "knowledge-based economy" stems from this fuller recognition of the place of knowledge and technology in modern OECD economies'. OECD (1996), p7
'The term "knowledge-based economy" results from a fuller recognition of the role of knowledge and technology in economic growth. Knowledge, as embodied in human beings (as "human capital") and in technology, has always been central to economic development.
There has been much parley in recent years of the future of Ireland as a knowledge economy. This term knowledge economy is no new phenomena, it was first written about in 1969 by Peter Drucker in a book called "The age of discontinuity". In 1993 Drucker once again talked about the knowledge economy in a book called "Post Capitalist Society". He identifies knowledge as a new basis of competition and says "knowledge is not just another resource like production, labour, equipment and land but the most important resource today and the knowledge worker is the single greatest asset.
This concept has grown and expanded beyond the definition developed by Drucker. For any country to begin matters of knowledge economy there is need for conceptual operationalisation for different sectors. There is a need for countrywide participation and involvement, massive creation of awareness of the concept and how it applies to different sectors. ( SANCIKMKE)
On June 29th 2009 Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced the appointment of an innovation taskforce to advise the government on its strategy for positioning Ireland as an international innovation hub and to assist in making the "smart economy" a reality. (Irish Times)
This taskforce recognised six principles as fundamental to transforming Ireland into an International Innovation Hub.
1. The entrepreneur and enterprise must be at the centre of our efforts.
2. Establishing, attracting and growing and transforming enterprises must be the focus of a coherent national effort.
3. Availability of smart capital is crucial for starting, growing and transforming enterprises.
4. An education system which fosters independent thinking, creativity and innovation is vital to achieving the Smart Economy.
5. The State should actively accelerate success by encouraging flagship projects and by prioritising the provision of excellent infrastructure.
6. We must sharpen the focus of our national research system to target areas of potential strategic and economic advantage for Ireland.
Knowledge is the currency of the innovation economy and the education system is pivotal in making innovation happen. (Innovation Ireland 2010)
Higher level maths and certain science subjects (i.e. physics and chemistry) are seen by many as being particularly difficult subjects and requiring a level of work that is not conducive to the objective of maximising CAO points. A key challenge lies in making these subjects more relevant to students, perhaps through more practical or relevant teaching methods, or developing interest from an earlier age, as per the objective of the Primary Science initiative. Bonus CAO points for these subjects is also a consideration, however this suggestion is likely to be particularly unpopular amongst certain audiences, most notably guidance counsellors. The limited exposure to technology in schools means that children find it difficult to find a role for technology within the educational environment. As many have more developed computing skills based on activities at home, technology subjects in school are often not taken particularly seriously, particularly as it is not an exam-based subject. For many secondary students, their fist exposure to career guidance comes in fifth year after having made their Leaving Certificate subject choices. This presents a further challenge for communication as it can mean that many may have already closed-off particular third level possibilities (for example, by switching to ordinary level maths or not selecting particular science-based subjects). Encouraging career guidance at an earlier age would be advantageous in overcoming these challenges; however facilitating this is logistically difficult in itself. (Career Opportunities in Computing & Technology in Ireland, 2009)
A study conducted by Ipsos MORI in the UK on behalf the National Audit Office (2008) found that amongst 11-13 year olds, the perception of maths was very positive, with the majority believing that it is important to study maths and almost two-thirds (64%) finding it to be enjoyable.
However, a lower level of enjoyment of maths is found amongst older students in this group, suggesting that many students begin to be alienated by the difficulty of maths and science at post-primary level, despite positive attitudes at primary level.
The higher level maths curriculum as it stands demands a disproportionate amount of study time for most students in comparison to other higher level subjects, resulting in a high drop-off rate. This means many capable students are dropping it due to competing demands on their time rather than a particular lack of ability.
Engineers Ireland are concerned with the approach to the education of Mathematics and
Science subjects at Second Level. This concern arises from the importance of these subjects and especially Mathematics to the engineering profession.
Mathematics is seen as an essential everyday life skill and is also an essential component of the national drive towards a high value business and sustainable knowledge economy in Ireland required for national development and also to export our goods and services to international markets.
The teaching of Mathematics at Second Level has been evolving over the past few decades in Ireland though the evolution to Project Maths is probably the most radical change since the 1970s. There were many good teachers who used these techniques before they were labelled for the modern age but structurally it looked like Mathematics was losing the battle for the hearts and minds of current day pupils.
The NCCA have correctly identified the principal current drawbacks with mathematical education in Ireland. These are the teaching of 'rote learning' rather than 'learning by understanding' and the anodyne teaching of the subject with little contextual links with the needs of the everyday world.
In Project Maths there is an emphasis on understanding and interpretation of mathematical problems rather than rote learning. Problem solving and teamwork are promoted. Indeed the key skills which Project Maths is designed to promote (communication, information processing, working with others, being personally effective, critical and creative thinking) are all skills that need to be developed in the professional engineer. The difficulty with Project Maths however is likely to be the quantum leap required in the transitioning of teaching methods. Only about 20 to 25% of Second Level Mathematics teachers have a degree in the subject and the level of mathematical education is generally low in Ireland although it is understood that many more teachers have studied Mathematics to degree level but this degree may not be in 'Mathematics'.
Currently Ireland is ranked mid-table in terms of mathematical and science proficiency in the OECD league. The latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2006, of fifteen year old students ranked the mathematical and science proficiency of Irish students at 16th and 14th respectively amongst 30 OECD countries4. Our proficiency levels in these subjects are crucial to the development of a knowledge economy as well as our research and development base. It is imperative that Ireland strives to match the standards set by countries leading the OECD PISA table for mathematical performance to develop a world class educational system. In doing so Ireland will be in prime position to compete for high level Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) investment, thus assisting the regeneration of our struggling economy.
Figure 6 - % Uptake of LC Mathematics by Level
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Higher Ordinary Foundation
The current aim of the Irish Government is to produce a world class knowledge economy which can compete at the highest international levels. High end engineering and science graduates are a fundamental requirement of this ideology. In order to produce these high end graduates we must attract greater numbers of high end Leaving Certificate students to SET courses. Figure 16 below illustrates the number of Level 8 first preference applications made by Leaving Certificate students to various educational disciplines in previous years.
To help make 'The Innovation Island' a reality, we need to enhance the entrepreneurial culture in Ireland and enhance skills in mathematics and science. In particular, we need to increase the flow of high quality graduates in key areas of Science, Engineering and Technology, while also nurturing an interest in innovation and setting up their own businesses.
One essential building block is to improve the number of students taking higher level mathematics at second level and ensuring they are attracted to further study in priority areas for economic development.
The Smart Economy combines the successful elements of the enterprise economy and the innovation or 'ideas' economy while promoting a high-quality environment, improving energy security and promoting social cohesion. A key feature of this approach is building the innovation or 'ideas' component of the economy through the utilisation of human capital - the knowledge, skills and creativity of people - and its ability and effectiveness in translating ideas into valuable processes, products and services.
What is a Smart Economy?
A Smart Economy combines the successful elements of the enterprise economy and the innovation or 'ideas' economy while promoting a high-quality environment, improving energy security and promoting social cohesion. The most successful economies of the future will be those that can achieve this combination of attributes. Smart Economic Growth recognises the interdependence between four forms of capital accumulation that drive the economic and social progress of the nation. These are:
ô€‚¾ human or knowledge capital - the skills, knowledge, ingenuity and creativity of people;
ô€‚¾ physical capital - the stock of infrastructure that is used to produce goods and services e.g.
machinery, buildings, transport and communications networks;
ô€‚¾ natural or environmental capital - naturally-provided assets and the quality of the
surrounding environment within which people live and work;
ô€‚¾ social capital - the networks, connections, mutual trust and shared values and behaviours
of the population.
These four forms of capital can be mutually reinforcing. For example, a strong physical
capital stock provides the necessary infrastructure to support economic activity of all forms. A
quality environment is a key driver in attracting foreign direct investment and promoting
tourism as well as boosting the contentment of the population generally. A sense of community and shared values contributes to the cohesiveness of society and is highly significant in promoting the well-being of the population which, in turn, drives economic and social progress. Investments in human and physical capital raise the productivity of the workforce.
While Ireland's PISA ranking of 20th out of 40 countries for mathematical literacy95 of 15 year-olds (again based on average score) is particularly unsatisfactory, the variation in performance is even more disquieting. For example, in terms of overall mathematical ability, 40 percent of Irish 15 year-olds were classed as being unable to 'select and apply simple problem-solving procedures' or even to 'execute clearly described procedures'. For the mathematical sub-category of spatial and geometric relationships this proportion rises to 52 percent. In the top ranked country, Finland, the corresponding proportions are 22 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
A further cause for concern in relation to the future stock of mathematical capability is the sharp decline in the proportion of candidates taking higher-level mathematics in the Leaving Certificate examination in recent years: this has dropped from 25 percent of the overall cohort in 2001 to 18 percent in 2005. In summary, Ireland's current performance for scientific and mathematical literacy is inconsistent with our stated national objective of transitioning to a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy.
Forecasts suggest that the largest outputs from the tertiary education system over the period to 2020 will be in the areas of 'social science, business and law' (25.8 percent), followed by 'humanities and arts' (21.7 percent) and 'engineering and construction' (14.5 percent). The strategically important subjects of science and IT are forecast to account for 9.1 percent and 6.2 percent of tertiary graduates respectively139. The development of a knowledge economy is dependant on a strong supply of scientists, engineers and technologists. Ireland also needs a strong cadre of researchers if it is to meet its strategic objectives for Science, Technology and Innovation and fulfil its EU commitments under the Lisbon agenda140. While it is possible to import such skills through immigration channels, in order to develop a sustainable science/ technology base in Ireland, it is necessary to ensure that there is an adequate and certain domestic supply of these skills. The Government should, therefore, continue to promote Science, Engineering, ICT and R&D skills as an integral part of a knowledge-based economy.
For students to pursue these disciplines, they must have a strong foundation in mathematics. The results
from Leaving Certificate 2006 give cause for concern; out of a cohort of 54,110 students141, just 14 percent secured an honours grade (grade C3 or higher) in higher level mathematics - this contrasts with 43 percent of students achieving a similar grade in English. Looking at the science subjects, there were also low levels of achievement; 7 percent, 8 percent and 23 percent of the full Leaving Certificate cohort secured an honours grade in higher level physics, chemistry and biology respectively
Since a C+ grade in higher level mathematics is a prerequisite for most engineering and some hi-tech courses, it is clear that the Leaving Certificate results automatically exclude the vast majority of students from pursuing these careers. Furthermore, a pass in mathematics is required for students wishing to progress to many other third level courses. Thus, 26 percent of the Leaving Certificate cohort in 2006142 had limited opportunities to participate in tertiary education, solely on the basis of their mathematics results.
Poor performance in mathematics, however, is not just an educational concern. It also has potentially severe economic consequences, given Ireland's desire to develop a knowledge economy. In this respect, the current NCCA review of the post-primary mathematics curricula is to be welcomed.
Mathematics is fundamentally important to the educational and economic well-being of the country. For this reason the review process at second level needs to expedited and prioritised, and once completed should be accorded immediate consideration by all relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, the success of the revised primary mathematics curriculum needs to be evaluated and any positive lessons built upon at second level ensuring continuity for the learner. Given the importance of mathematics a strategic approach to its development needs to be adopted.
RAISING MATHS ACH
Mathematical and numeracy skills are essential for people living and working in a knowledge society and for accessing good quality employment opportunities. It imparts analytical and problem-solving skills which along with team-working, communication skills and creative thinking are core skills increasingly required across all jobs. Mathematical competence is an essential life skill required by all school leavers and adults for participating in a modern society.
Raising National Mathematical Achievement 5 December 2008 It is the ability to develop and apply mathematical thinking in order to solve a range of problems in everyday situations10. These include household budgeting, payment for goods and services, salary payments, credit terms, saving and loan interest rates, tax payments, pensions options, sizing home improvements, calculating travel distances, recipe instructions etc. Students who do not take Leaving Cert Higher-Level Mathematics limit their opportunity to pursue rewarding professional career opportunities in science, engineering, ICT and business as well as access to many third-level courses. The high numbers of young people who fail maths at Leaving Cert (some 5,000 in 2008) are at a particular disadvantage. This will limit their participation in further education, access to quality employment opportunities and future career progression.
Mathematics is important because it underpins many other disciplines such as science, technology, business and finance. It is a fundamental requirement for the growth of the knowledge economy and the development of a world-class research and innovation system in Ireland1
In particular, there is a shortage of:
experienced computer systems managers
IT professionals with business knowledge and managerial skills
programmers in specific software applications with substantial experience (e.g. Oracle, Java, web animation)
experienced professionals with advanced software architecture skills
networking experts (SharePoint, VMware, etc.)
telecommunications experts (e.g. mobile phones technology)
IT security experts
research and design professionals, especially in electronics/ ICT design and electronics hardware and semiconductor research.
Online sales, marketing, entertainment and social networking are also expected to continue to grow strongly in the coming years and drive the demand for creative and highly skilled web developers.
An increase in the demand for hybrid technologists is likely in the future as interdisciplinary activities expand in importance; ICT skills feature in most interdisciplinary convergence processes (e.g. business and IT; finance and IT; biotechnology, nanotechnology and IT).
Despite the overall decline in employment, some sciencerelated areas (e.g. pharmaceuticals, medical devices and
diagnostics, and biotechnology) have been performing comparatively well and shortages still exist for highly qualified
and experienced individuals with specific skills, both at professional level (fourth level research and development
scientists, clinical trials managers, regulation compliance staff) and technician level (e.g. lab technicians, junior chemists,
A strategy launched by Science Foundation Ireland in March 2009, entitled 'Powering the Smart Economy', highlights the
Government's commitment to the establishment of a critical mass of internationally competitive research teams in science and engineering. Such investment, aimed at advancing enterprise in biotechnology, ICT and energy, is expected to build on reland's reputation as a location of excellent research, thereby further expanding demand for people with advanced skills in these areas. Energy, particularly renewable energy, is set to become one of the key growth sectors of the economy, and the demand for skills, at both technician and professional level, combining new technologies, interdisciplinary backgrounds (e.g. engineering/ science/business) and innovation, is likely to expand in the future. As the importance of ecology and environmental protection increases, along with EU regulation for this sector, new career opportunities will emerge for those with expertise in the natural sciences (e.g. impact assessment on flora and fauna in the context of major infrastructural projects). The field of bio-convergence is growing, which is likely to result in a demand for hybrid technologists with backgrounds in science, IT and nanotechnology.
Despite the current economic pressures, design engineers, particularly in research and development in the medical devices sector, are in short supply; the demand pertains to individuals with experience and/or industry specific knowledge (e.g.
process automation design). In a number of manufacturing sub-sectors (e.g. food processing, medical devices, etc.), there is a shortage of process diagnostic and control engineers and technicians who can implement lean manufacturing/Six Sigma principles to production processes
Despite the global and domestic financial crisis and the associated decline in employment, the demand for highly skilled financial professionals persists (e.g. chartered and certified accountants with expertise in project and system accounting, compliance experts, risk experts). Changes in the regulatory environment are expected to create demand for high level, up-to-date accounting skills (compliance, financial reporting, financial management) and risk management expertise. In addition, strong demand is expected to continue for experts in actuarial science and quantitative finance. These skills are expected to be critical in driving employment growth in the financial services industry in the recovery.
Higher level participation rates actually declined by three percentage points for physics (down from 72% to 69%) and chemistry (down from 86% to 83%) and mathematics declined from 18% to 17%. Initial results for the 2009 Leaving Certificate examination show no improvement in higher level participation for these three subjects: physics fell to 68%, chemistry to 82% and mathematics to 16%. The 16% higher level participation rate means that despite a 3% increase in overall Leaving Certificate sits between 2008 and 2009, higher level sits in mathematics actually declined to 8,420.
Ireland's transition to the knowledge economy will depend on how well our education system transmits mathematical skills to our young people. Mathematics provides the language and analytical tools that underpin much of our scientific and industrial research and development. Mathematical concepts, models and techniques are central to working in technology, finance, pharmaceutical and medical devices - sectors that underpin the knowledge economy in which the Government has so heavily invested. Currently, our education system is not adequately preparing young people to compete for such jobs. There is a system failure in developing mathematical competence in students. At a macro-level, fewer numbers of skilled mathematics graduates will threaten to reduce our innovative capacity and hence our ability to compete against other knowledge economies for jobs and foreign direct investment. The education system must reorganise itself fundamentally. This will require visionary policy, political bravery and a willingness to let go of the long-held positions on education from all stakeholders interested in Ireland's continued success. Teachers, their unions, Government, parents and business will need to cooperate urgently to address the deficiencies in the current education system.
Immediate steps must be taken to address both the falling level of students choosing honours mathematics in school and the ability of students to apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world. The first step is the introduction of bonus points for honours mathematics to
incentivise students to take the subject at higher level. It is a necessary and short-term solution as many of our knowledge intensive sectors could not survive a further ten-year drought of graduates with higher level mathematics. Almost 85% of Leaving Cert students choose not to take the higher paper and automatically exclude themselves from pursuing highly rewarding science, engineering, hi-tech careers. If this trend continues, sectors such as ICT where Ireland traditionally leads globally, will continue to fall further behind other knowledge economies. Already, students in such economies are outperforming Ireland's in many maths-related areas, most worryingly in the key area of problem-solving. International studies, such as Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) show our 15 year olds to be just about average in mathematics overall, and below average when it comes to applying theory to real life situations. So, of the reduced numbers of pupils taking mathematics, their achievement levels are too low to sustain a transition to a knowledge economy. The two intertwined factors that impact on educational achievement in mathematics are teachers and syllabus. Recently, a McKinsey survey of the top-performing education systems highlighted teachers as the key factor in student performance. Ensuring teachers are motivated, equipped with the necessary skills; highly qualified and supported correctly is the solution. The Department of Education & Science must take responsibility for driving fundamental changes in the syllabus and the teaching methods around mathematics in classrooms. This will require innovative professional development supports and incentives, including extra remuneration where mathematics teachers attain specific qualifications (higher diploma, masters etc).
All technology companies are finding it hard to get Irish talent. SMEs are finding it hard and they are competing against organisations like Google, Intel and IBM.
If an organisation has 20 Polish IT engineers in a high-cost location like Dublin, surely someone in head office is going to be asking why don't they have an office in a lower-cost location like Poland.
This is potentially a very serious issue for the economy and no one seems brave enough to take the steps that need taking.
SCIENCE & MATH EDU
Reflecting on the study of maths in schools, Childs (2006) argues that some of the teachers in Ireland are not adequately qualified. In support of this view, the EGFSN (2008) estimate that only around 20% of teachers of second-level mathematics studied maths as a major subject beyond the first year of their primary degree. The EGFSN (2008) also cites research, conducted by Department of Education and Science (DES) Inspectorate, which shows that a similar problem exists at primary school level. This 2005 report found that 28% of new primary teachers felt themselves to be 'poorly prepared' to teach mathematics.
In addition, the Royal Irish Academy (2008) highlights difficulties in regard to the skills of some science teachers. They state that one of the problems at Junior Certificate level is the lack of professional support for teachers with biology degrees who are also responsible for teaching other physical science subjects.
In terms of teaching methods, some concerns have been raised by commentators such as Oldham (2004) and Conway and Sloane (2005) that students are taught to compete well in maths and science exams rather than being taught to understand the subjects. Oldham argues that throughout the Leaving Certificate cycle, students are being prepared to pass exams in maths but are not given an understanding of maths or of how to apply mathematical concepts. As a result, many of these students can end up struggling to keep abreast of the workload at third level or apply their knowledge within the workplace environment. Indeed, this issue has also been highlighted in the Chief Examiner's report on Mathematics in 2005 which stated that weaknesses in teaching practices relate to:
'inadequate understanding of mathematical concepts and a consequent inability to apply familiar techniques in anything but the most familiar of contexts and presentations'.
The issue was highlighted again in a report conducted by the Educational Research Centre and the DES in 2006 which identified that 70% of school inspectors described teacher's knowledge of methods for teaching maths as 'somewhat limited' (cited by EGFSN, 2008).
The decline in uptake of science and mathematics at secondary (and tertiary) level has a potentially severe economic and social impact.
A well-educated work force is a strong catalyst for the success of the Irish economy. Ireland could lose that advantage if we are complacent and fail to improve our education system to stay ahead of other countries and meet the needs of our industry.
The Irish Government has set down, in its document entitled "Building Ireland's
Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal" a bold vision that "Ireland by 2013 will be internationally renowned for the excellence of its research, be at the forefront in generating and using new knowledge for economic and social progress, within an innovation-driven culture."
No one will say it out loud, but the lack of uptake in honours maths in Ireland is due to teacher performance," said Shane Dempsey, director of the Irish Software Association, which represents the country's indigenous technology sector.
"The teaching of maths is the single most important factor in a child's education and the fact of the matter is the education system cannot surpass beyond the quality of its teachers.
"Talk of the maths failure rate being an international problem is a cop-out," Dempsey continued. "We have the potential to improve the interest in maths, science and engineering but we're not creative enough to take the right steps."
No need to panic about maths results, says Irish Computer Society
Although thousands of students didn't get the grades they wanted in maths in this year's Leaving Certificate, this mustn't be seen as an end to an ICT career for them, the Irish Computer Society (ICS) said today.
The fact is there is a wide variety of computing courses available in Ireland, most of which don't require a higher-level maths result. A C3 in ordinary-level maths is enough to gain entry into many degree courses, with the appropriate points
PLACE OF MATH
In relation to Ireland's current 'average' rating on the PISA Maths table it was strongly felt that in order to become a knowledge economy, a key objective should be to increase our position on this table.
SMART = SMART
Access to the use of technology in all schools will also help to address the digital divide which exists in Ireland, so that all young people can enjoy the same opportunities afforded by technology, regardless of regional location or socio-economic grouping. Data from the OECD report, Are Students Ready for a Technology Rich World? What PISA tells us? (2005)10, shows that economic background is a strong predictor of whether a student has access to a computer at home. Students from the least privileged backgrounds are significantly less likely to have a computer available at home than those from the most privileged backgrounds.
Therefore, school access to computers is especially important for disadvantaged students. While the NCTE 2005 Census showed that the pupil-computer ratio was marginally better in disadvantaged schools (7.4:1 and 6.1:1 in primary and post-primary respectively) than in non-disadvantaged schools (9.4:1 and 7.4:1 in primary and post-primary respectively), the computers in disadvantaged schools were considerably older than in non-disadvantaged schools. Furthermore, the ability of schools generally to access financial support from their parents and local communities is weakened during economic downturns. This pressure will be felt more acutely by disadvantaged schools. The report of the Minister for Education and Science's Strategy Group, Investing Effectively in ICT in Schools11, put it best when stating, "expansive and strategic investment in ICT in education is an investment in all our futures and must now become a reality for Ireland".