A N international project led by North-East academics will take lessons from around the world to help improve mathematics and science skills in Europe and South Africa.

Working with partners across eight countries, researchers at Newcastle University will look at how technology can be used by teachers to help raise attainment levels among the lowest achieving students.

The 1.9m Euro project will focus on nine to 13-year-olds, as this is when progress in mathematics and science tends to tail off.

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“How we go about changing attitudes will be key to the success of this project,” explained Jill Clark, project co-ordinator. “We want to challenge the belief that there is such a thing as ‘fixed ability’ where children are given subtle but potentially damaging messages that there is a limit on what they can achieve.”

Researchers will focus on two areas which intersect both: understanding of graphs and data handling. They will also look at basic numeracy.

In the UK, around 17m adults only have the numeracy skills of a primary school pupil. Therefore, early intervention is crucial if teachers are to have any chance of turning around the sobering figures released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which placed the UK 21 out of 24 industrialised countries for numeracy levels among 16-24-year-olds.

“It’s not just about better ways of teaching mathematics and science, but also addressing attitudes and anxieties among students, teachers and parents and finding ways to counter these obstacles to learning,” added David Wright, deputy project co-ordinator.

“It’s quite clear there are several factors at play which influence attainment, including gender and economic inequality, but what is interesting is that in some schools and some countries they manage to mitigate these factors. This project will work out what works, and why, and share this knowledge across the board.”

The project is being funded through an EU grant for the next three years.

A conference to mark the start of the project and bring together all the partners for the first time was held at Newcastle University last week.

One of the outcomes of the project will be a toolkit for teachers of activities, resources and teaching tips.

This international project stems from Newcastle University’s iLab:Learn, which facilitated research into new ways of learning by taking pedagogic methods and applying them through the use of digital technology.

Other partners include Nottingham University in the UK and universities in Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Holland and South Africa.