Mathematics background of engineering students in Northern Ireland and Finland

Jonathan S. Cole, Charles D. McCartan, Raija Tuohi, Paula Steinby

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development investigated numeracy proficiency among adults of working age in 23 countries across the world. Finland had the highest mean numeracy proficiency for people in the 16 – 24 age group while Northern Ireland’s score was below the mean for all the countries. An international collaboration has been undertaken to investigate the prevalence of mathematics within the secondary education systems in Northern Ireland and Finland, to highlight particular issues associated with transition into university and consider whether aspects of the Finnish experience are applicable elsewhere. In both Northern Ireland and Finland, at age 16, about half of school students continue into upper secondary level following their compulsory education. The upper secondary curriculum in Northern Ireland involves a focus on three subjects while Finnish students study a very wide range of subjects with about two-thirds of the courses being compulsory. The number of compulsory courses in maths is proportionally large; this means that all upper secondary pupils in Finland (about 55% of the population) follow a curriculum which has a formal maths content of 8%, at the very minimum. In contrast, recent data have indicated that only about 13% of Northern Ireland school leavers studied mathematics in upper secondary school. The compulsory courses of the advanced maths syllabus in Finland are largely composed of pure maths with a small amount of statistics but no mechanics. They lack some topics (for example, in advanced calculus and numerical methods for integration) which are core in Northern Ireland. This is not surprising given the much broader curriculum within upper secondary education in Finland. In both countries, there is a wide variation in the mathematical skills of school leavers. However, given the prevalence of maths within upper secondary education in Finland, it is to be expected that young adults in that country demonstrate high numeracy proficiency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 10th International CDIO Conference, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona
Place of PublicationBarcelona, Spain
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • mathematics
  • secondary school curriculum
  • numeracy

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