Donie’s news Ireland daily BLOG

Tuesday 22nd April 2014

Honours maths will be mandatory for primary Irish teachers training


Quinn’s comments about ‘highly feminised profession’ prompt widespread disapproval

Comments by the Minister for Education about the ‘highly feminised’ primary teaching profession caused disapproval among delegates at the INTO’s annual conference.

Honours leaving certificate maths will become a minimum requirement for entry into teacher training, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said today.

In a comment which caused widespread disapproval among the 750 delegates at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Mr Quinn referred to his “highly feminised audience and profession”.

“I also want to see Higher Level Mathematics in the Leaving Certificate becoming part of the minimum entry requirements for Initial Teacher Education and I’ll tell you why – to a highly feminised audience and profession – our research shows that young women who do the Junior Certificate and take Higher Level Mathematics comfortably in the Junior Certificate exam, drop Higher Level Mathematics when they do their Leaving Certificate because it is not a requirement. This is evidence-based research, and that’s why we want to see it happen.”

However general secretary of INTO Sheila Nunan provoked roars and cheers by opening her response to Mr Quinn’s speech with the words: “Sisters – hell hath no fury”.

While Ms Nunan said she was “quite agnostic about honours maths”, the “sisterhood” knew well the “simple sums of the primary school are: 30 into 1 teacher doesn’t go very easily”.

As delegates got to their feet in approval she continued “46 per cent cuts in assistant principal posts do not make for a good running of schools and 20, 40 and 86 pupils in a 2,3,4 teacher-school … are not easily divided, so whatever way you multiply it, add it, subtract it, do the Pythagoras theorem, I have one message, Minister, the sum we’re looking for is an increase in the money that goes into education”.

Ms Nunan added: “It wasn’t the honours maths that made the Irish women the way they are today, let me tell you. It was the boys who did the honours maths led the country to ruination”.

Mr Quinn made his remarks as part of his speech which addressed the “need to continue to ensure that most entrants to initial teacher education come from the top 15% of all leaving certificate students.

He later told reporters he had been paying tribute to women members of the audience who had been able to spot the lack of a requirement for higher maths and amend their study schedule accordingly.

He said his remarks were “a compliment” to the young women who make up 85% of the primary teaching profession.

“They realise that they don’t need Higher Level maths for entry into the Initial Teacher Education and that requires more work than Ordinary Level so they drop it. I think that we need, in fact, to have our primary school teachers at the same level in mathematics that we require of them in the Irish language,” he said.

Electric Ireland warns residents over disconnecting Sligo housing estate 


an Outstanding bill and who should pay it at the centre of dispute

There has been concern among residents of a Sligo housing estate after Electric Ireland warned the electricity supply to public lighting would be disconnected today.

There was concern among the residents of a housing estate in Sligo after a warning from Electric Ireland that the electricity supply to public lighting would be disconnected today.

An outstanding bill and who should pay it is at the centre of the dispute. Following the collapse of the developer, the estate became part of the liquidation process administered by KPMG.

The residents of over 200 houses were forced to take an active part in the running of the estate and had to settle the last electricity bill over 18 months ago. However the residents’ association committee says it does not have the financial resources to pay the €5,051 demanded by Electric Ireland.

Sligo Borough Council has yet to instigate a “taking in charge” process and says it is still awaiting an application from the liquidators, KPMG.

The council is to be abolished next month and Sligo County Council will now assume the administration of an application when received.

Cllr Matt Lyons (FG) said it was unacceptable that the residents were faced with the threat of having their streetlights turned off and he would be pursuing the matter with Electric Ireland and the council.

Obesity crisis as 1in 4 of Ireland’s tots are overweight


Seven out of ten Irish children are eating sweet or savoury treats at least once a day, according to a leading obesity expert,

At present, a quarter of Irish children at the age of three are already classed as overweight or obese while obesity rates among women have doubled and quadrupled among men in the past 20 years.

Director of food safety board Safefood Cliodhna Foley-Nolan said one of the biggest culprits contributing to childhood obesity is the treats which make up one fifth of the calorie intake of an average Irish child every day.

She said: “Over 70pc of children have snacks and stuff from the top shelf at least once a day. The contribution of sweet and savoury snacks is contributing to a fifth of calories intake of children a day. We’re not just talking about one little Marietta.

“We put diesel or premium petrol in a car but what we are giving our children, their bodies weren’t meant to run on that.

“It’s the preponderance of nutritionally poor but calorie rich food. There is very little nourishment in them.

She said many Irish parents are also piling too much food on their children’s plates.

She said: “We’ve shown that children of five years of age need roughly half the amount of food that an adult needs but the evidence is they are getting bigger and bigger portions.


“It is almost seen as a sign of intelligence or progress if they want more.

“Children in particular have difficulty in regulating their appetites. If they are presented with more, and particularly more of highly palatable food like chips or like chicken nuggets, they will eat more than they need.”

She said the fruit and vegetable consumption for many Irish children is still well below recommended guidelines despite all health campaigns.

“There are more pre-made meals, and snacks, treats and sugary drinks are a big issue,” she said.

“Only about one in four children actually get the amount of fruit and vegetables they require.”

Studies have shown that almost half the children under three in the lower social classes in Ireland are watching more than two hours of TV a day.

Foley-Nolan said weight gain in the first three years needs to be monitored by parents.

She said: “It is a time when children put on weight and it is more difficult having put it on to lose it.

“Things like early weaning, the introduction of solid food, and breast feeding are other factors which impact on weight gain and the amount of time that under three years olds watch TV.

“Those early years are critically important. Weight at three years of age does predict overweight and obesity in later childhood and into adulthood.”

Deer’s head seized as poachers hit by Operation Bambi 


This is the deer’s head that Gardai seized as part of an investigation into poaching code-named Operation Bambi.

The discovery was made by Tallaght Gardai when five officers entered a house last Friday week after they obtained a warrant under the Wildlife Act.

It is understood that the head belonged to a deer that was poached using two lurchers and a spotlight in the Dublin Mountains.

Sources have revealed that gardai were alerted to the situation after an image of the deer’s head was placed on Facebook.


Operation Bambi, being conducted by gardai and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, is co-ordinated by Insp Martin Walker who is based at Carlow garda station.

It is understood that the Facebook image of the deer’s head was sent to Insp Walker who passed on the information to colleagues in Tallaght who then conducted a search of the house.

Commenting on the seizure, Damien Hogan, the secretary of the Wild Deer Association of Ireland, said: “The Wild Deer Association of Ireland welcomes this development and would like to thank all involved.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions and detections in recent months, and we would encourage our members and supporters to continue to report suspected incidents of deer poaching.”

The Herald revealed last December that a gang that gardai targeted was responsible for poaching up to 200 deer after boasts about their exploits were posted on Facebook.

The deer hunters had been operating without licences in counties Wicklow, Carlow and Kilkenny and were under investigation by gardai since the start of the season last September.

Senior sources said that one suspect used Facebook to boast that he had killed 15 deer in one night, and that gardai would not catch him.

The poachers operated with the help of a high-powered lamp and an electronic device imitating the call of a stag during the rut, or mating season, in October.

This attracted stags to come out of their cover in heavily forested areas and become easy targets for the poachers.

Co Wicklow is reckoned to have the highest concentration of Sika deer in Europe after it was introduced from its native Japan by Lord Powerscourt in 1859, at his estate near Glencree.

Sika and red deer are closely related, and as a result of interbreeding all of the deer now in Wicklow are hybrids.


It is estimated that about 12,000 of the 32,000 deer shot under licence last year were killed in Wicklow, while hundreds more fell victim to poachers.

It is understood that venison from poached Irish deer is being exported.

Intelligence available to the Operation Bambi team indicates that some of those involved are supplying poached deer directly to British dealers who collect carcasses at prearranged locations using refrigerated lorries.

And now it turns out that Monkeys are pretty good at doing Maths as well


A recently concluded experiment shows that rhesus monkeys are capable of doing simple addition using numbers 1 through 25. But more interesting than that is the observation that they also make the same mistakes as us.

To test whether monkeys can represent and manipulate numbers in their head, neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone of Harvard Medical School and her colleagues set up a rather interesting experiment.

Prior to this, however, the monkeys learned to associate the Arabic numbers 0 through 9 and 15 select letters with the values zero through 25. This was done by having the monkeys choose larger numbers as a means to acquire greater quantities of a food reward.

But for the new experiment, the monkeys had to work a bit harder for it. They had to perform addition in order to correctly choose the larger reward. Specifically, they were given a choice between performing a sum calculation and a single symbol rather than just two single symbols. Eventually, they learned how add the two symbols and compare the sum to a third, single symbol.

To rule out the possibility that they were simply memorizing combinations of symbols, the researchers taught the monkeys an entirely new set of symbols. They were still successful, calculating previously unseen sets of combinations.

The monkeys weren’t perfect, however. And in fact, they committed an error often exhibited by humans. Aviva Rutkin from New Scientist explains:

The monkeys made more mistakes on problems involving numbers that were close in value – a fact which might ultimately prove more interesting than their success at small numbers.

Neuroscientists already know that the human brain is better at distinguishing between two low numbers than two high ones. For example, you could easily tell the difference between two and four birds sitting in a tree, but you’d be less likely to spot the difference between a flock of 22 and a flock of 24.

What we don’t know is why. Some think it is because the brain encodes numbers logarithmically, so that we perceive the distance between two small numbers as greater than that between two large ones. Others argue that the brain encodes numbers linearly, as on a number line, but that our concept of a number becomes less distinct as the value increases.

As Rutkin points out, the monkeys were biased towards a linear scale. More insight is likely to emerge if and when monkeys are asked to perform tasks involving multiplication.

Study shows dangerous asteroid impacts hit Earth every six months


A study using data from monitoring stations designed to enforce a nuclear test ban treaty shows that the Earth is enduring far more dangerous asteroid impacts than previously thought.

Between 2000 and 2013, the Earth was hit by 26 asteroids that exploded with a force of between one and 600 kilotons – an average of one every six months. Even more concerning is that in all cases the asteroids themselves weren’t detected in space and only came to light when they detonated in Earth’s atmosphere.

The study was carried out by the B612 Foundation, a group set up by three former astronauts who are worried about the threat of asteroids to life on Earth. The foundation’s CEO (and former shuttle pilot) Dr. Ed Lu presented the report’s findings at a press conference in Seattle’s Museum of Flight on Tuesday.

“While most large asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire country or continent have been detected, less than 10,000 of the more than a million dangerous asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire major metropolitan area have been found by all existing space or terrestrially operated observatories,” said Lu.

“Because we don’t know where or when the next major impact will occur, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid has been blind luck,” he concluded.

The study notes that four of this century’s collisions have been larger than the atomic bombs that took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 2013, over a thousand people were injured when an asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, and 20 kiloton impacts were recorded over Indonesia, the Southern Ocean, and the Mediterranean.

All of these are dwarfed by the 1908 Tunguska impact, when the earth wandered into the path of a comet or large asteroid that exploded with a force of around 10 megatons – an explosion that leveled the surrounding forests and blasted down trees for 2,150 square kilometers (830 sq miles.)

NASA’s Spaceguard project, named after the fictional asteroid-watching body described by Arthur C. Clarke, has done a good job at finding larger clumps of space junk that could seriously threaten human life on Earth, but it is missing a lot of the smaller debris that could just wipe out a city or cause a tsunami.

To spot this material, the B612 Foundation wants to build and launch a privately funded orbital asteroid detector, dubbed the Sentinel Space Telescope Mission. The designs have already been completed and the team estimates it could find 200,000 smaller asteroids a year after its planned 2018 launch.

The study shows that most of the kiloton-range explosions recorded this century resulted in very little debris striking the planet’s surface. Asteroids are ablated by the earth’s thick atmosphere and heat up to the point of explosion – most of the time – but sooner or later, probability suggests, one will hit and cause major damage. ®


The curious name of the B612 Foundation stems from the popular French book The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

In the fable, the author meets a small man after crash-landing his plane in the desert, who explained he lived on an asteroid named B612. The foundation used this name because, it says, the moral of the prince’s tale was that what is essential in life is often invisible to the human eye.


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