The IAMTA Gold Medals & Bursaries
When the IAMTA was founded in November 2006, we decided to initiate an annual award for the top three students in the Leaving Cert Applied Mathematics exam. We thought that if each student received a gold medal, this would be a wonderful lifelong gift for them and their families, in recognition of their achievement. When looking for a sponsor, I immediately thought of Raymond Kearns who had been a Maths teacher for much of his life, before he founded the Institute of Education.
When I asked Ray Kearns if he would be the sponsor of the three Gold Medals annually, he was delighted. He loved the idea that we would encourage excellence in a challenging subject. He insisted that not only would each winner get a Gold Medal, but also a bursary of €500 towards their studies. We in the Irish Applied Mathematics Teachers Association were thrilled with this, as we were determined to use every means to encourage and enhance the standing of Applied Maths as a Leaving Cert subject. The three Gold Medals and three bursaries of €500 each would be one of the pillars on which we would build the future of the subject which we all loved and cherished.
I am extremely lucky to have been taught by Ray Kearns in Gonzaga for six years. He was a wonderful teacher: his classes were focused, fun, competitive, interesting and engaging. We all worked very hard. Ray was ahead of his time: he never got cross, he encouraged us all, he never invoked the official punishments of the day, he taught through his personality. He was amusing and extremely well organised. He never made the mistake of teaching or talking for too long. He was clear and succinct; we spent most of each class beavering away at the problems which he had carefully selected before he came to class. If we finished the allotted problems, we brought our copy up to him. He would glance through our work and announce, “Winner all right! Winner all right!” I am deeply indebted to Ray for his brilliant teaching – as are his many devoted former students at Gonzaga. We loved his classes and some of us went on to study Maths in college. When I became a teacher, I had an outstanding model in Ray Kearns.
Ray Kearns is from Ballaghadereen in Co Roscommon. After leaving school, he worked for CIE as a railway clerk. When he was warned by his colleagues not to work too hard, as he would show the rest of them up, Ray realised that there was more to life than this – and he embarked on a night degree in Mathematics.
Ray has often said that he got his big break when Laika the dog went into space in 1957. The Americans were shocked that the Russians had beaten them in the race to put a living creature into space. They decided that the education system in the USA had to improve and they set about the task straight away.
They American educationalists put a huge emphasis on Maths – or Math (as they call it). They invited new graduates in mathematics from around the world to be part of this movement which they called ‘The New Math’. Ray was sent by the Department of Education as part of a small team of Maths teachers to the USA to learn about the New Maths. He won a scholarship to do a Masters Degree in Mathematics at Pittsburgh University. When he returned, he gave talks to other teachers about this new wave in Mathematics. In Gonzaga we had these bulky American text books in which the money was in dollars and the names were Amos and Abigail instead Seán and Mary. I still have my copy: it’s a great book – and I continue to use it as a reference text.
Ray has long since retired, but he still sponsors the Gold Medals and bursaries – through the good offices of the Institute of Education. We in the IAMTA owe Ray and the Institute of Education a great debt of gratitude for their continuing support and sponsorship. When the IAMTA was founded, our subject was in danger and numbers studying Applied Maths were low. For many reasons, including the Gold medals and bursaries, Applied Maths has a greater standing in our country now.
This year, for the first time, the numbers sitting Applied Maths in the Leaving Cert went over 2000. I hope that this trend continues into the future – long after the exciting new course comes into use in 2021. And I also hope that the Institute of Education and the Raymond Kearns Benevolent Fund will continue to sponsor the three Gold Medals and the bursaries for many years to come. They have been wonderful partners with the IAMTA in the quest for excellence in our schools.