Mathematics Background of Engineering Students in Northern Ireland and Finland

Mathematics Background of Engineering Students in Northern Ireland and Finland

J. Cole, C. McCartan, R. Tuohi, P. Steinby (2014).  Mathematics Background of Engineering Students in Northern Ireland and Finland. 13.

The OECD report for 2013, which investigated numeracy proficiency among adults of working age (16 – 65 years-old) in 23 countries across the world, made unpleasant reading for those in Northern Ireland where the mean score for numeracy proficiency fell below the mean score over all the countries and was ranked 17th. When the data for 16 – 24 year-olds was examined, a similarly poor position for Northern Ireland was evident. Finland had the highest mean numeracy proficiency for 16 – 24 year-olds.

The report defines numeracy as “the ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life”. It describes six levels of proficiency from “below level 1”, which involves simple counting or basic arithmetic operations, to “level 5”, which requires understanding of more complex and formal mathematical and statistical ideas. The percentage of adults in Northern Ireland performing at levels 4 and 5 was 8.5% while the mean value across all 23 countries was 12.2%. Finland had the highest percentage of adults (19.4%) performing at these levels of numeracy.

The sampling frames for the survey included population registers and address databases and therefore it is expected that people having a wide range of mathematics backgrounds were included. However, for those working in higher education or the engineering industry, it is a matter of concern whether the numeracy proficiency of engineering students and graduates in Northern Ireland similarly lags behind that of other populations.

To explore this question, a collaborative study across two engineering schools in Northern Ireland and Finland is being performed. This will investigate the mathematical competency of students beginning their engineering degrees and particular issues associated with transition into university. The paper will compare the designs of the mathematics curricula within the engineering degree programmes and consider the mathematical achievements of the engineering students in the two countries.

OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing.

Proceedings of the 10th International CDIO Conference, Barcelona, Spain, June 15-19 2014

Authors (New): 
Jonathan Cole
Charles McCartan
Raija Tuohi
Paula Steinby
Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Turku University of Applied Sciences, Turku, Finland
secondary school curriculum
CDIO Standard 3
CDIO Standard 7
CDIO Standard 8
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