Conference 2022 ESAI Lifetime Achievement Award News & Events

ESAI Lifetime Achievement Award 2022: Elizabeth Oldham

Elizabeth Oldham

ESAI is delighted to present the Lifetime Achievement Award 2022 to Elizabeth Oldham for her contribution to the Association and the wider field of research in education.

Elizabeth Oldham was brought up in England by Irish parents. After completing her A-Levels in Nottingham High School for Girls, she attended Trinity College Dublin and in 1965 completed her BA in Mathematics. Her next move was to the University of London, where she gained an MSc in mathematics in 1967. She remained in London for two more years, working as a research student on mathematical logic and the foundations of mathematics, topics that enhanced her interest in mathematics curriculum and mathematics education. After returning to Trinity in 1969, she took her Higher Diploma in Education while teaching at Alexandra College Dublin. Her association with Trinity was continued; she completed an M.Ed. in 1974, by which time she had joined the staff of the School of Education. Her career was based there until her “retirement” – which she claims to have failed – in 2010. Since then, she has taught (and still teaches) on a part-time basis in the School of Mathematics, providing a module on Mathematics Education for mathematics undergraduates. Elizabeth also retains strong links with Alexandra College; she served on the school’s Council for over thirty years.

Elizabeth’s main work is in the field of mathematics education, and she has a long association with cross-national studies of curriculum and attainment. She was a member of the international Curriculum Analysis Group for the Second International Mathematics Study in the 1980s; she worked with the Educational Research Centre in Dublin with regard to curriculum aspects of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study in the 1990s; she was a member of the National Advisory Committee for the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and remains on the National TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) PostPrimary Advisory Group. She served as an Education Officer (Mathematics) for the Irish National Council for Curriculum and Assessment while the school mathematics courses were being revised in the 1990s. Much of her current research still focuses on curriculum. She also engages with aspects of teaching and learning mathematics, particularly with regard to teachers’ and prospective teachers’ philosophies of mathematics and mathematical identities and with prospective teachers’ understanding of concepts.

Her other main field of interest is the use of ICTs in education. She served on the ICT Steering Committee of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, and benefits from working with colleagues in the Trinity College Centre for Research in IT in Education. With the revival of interest in computer programming in schools, she is again contributing to research in this area. Elizabeth has been a member of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland since 1977 and was President of the Association from 2000 to 2002. Until recently she was co-chair of a Research and Development Community (“Science and Mathematics Education”) of the Association for Teacher Education in Europe. She is currently Treasurer of the Dublin Branch of the Irish Mathematics Teachers’ Association and has chaired the Dublin Branch of the Computers in Education Society of Ireland; she serves on the national executives of both bodies. On a lighter note, Elizabeth’s collegiality and good humour are legendary, and she is especially happy when Irish Rugby teams are winning Triple Crowns, Championships, and even the occasional Grand Slam! Elizabeth’s commitment to education and to her discipline over the last six decades is both impressive and inspiring. Elizabeth has always set the highest standards for herself and has generously mentored and supported colleagues and postgraduate students alike, enriching the lives of many generations of scholars. Elizabeth’s continued engagement with ESAI and other associations is testament to her enduring passion for all aspects of education. The ESAI is delighted to recognise and to honour Elizabeth’s outstanding contribution to Irish education.

Prof Teresa O’Doherty, ESAI President 2020-2022

A number of colleagues have shared their memories of Elizabeth:

It is a privilege to write about Elizabeth Oldham and an even greater privilege to have known her as a dear colleague, friend and educator. It would be hard to measure Elizabeth’s contribution to Irish (and international) education over many years. However, a number of areas stand out. She is and always has been an expert and advocate for mathematics education, computers in education and teacher education. She continues to publish and present papers in these three essential areas. Her involvement with the ESAI goes back to 1977. In the period 1998-2000 when I was President of ESAI she was a fantastic colleague as Vice-President and incoming President 2000-2002. She was wonderful and refreshing to work with and was indefatigable in her efforts to develop the ESAI. During her own time as President of the ESAI she continued to work in a collegial and dedicated manner. One of the most difficult times during that tenure was the outbreak of Foot and Mouth (FMD) in the U.K. As most of our colleagues will remember, the country practically closed down in order to protect agriculture. The result for the ESAI was that the Annual Conference had to be postponed from Spring to September, entailing significant logistical issues. However, as Elizabeth herself put it, she and the ESAI became FMD (Focused, Motivated and Determined) and a very successful conference was held in the Autumn. Elizabeth remains dedicated to the ESAI – and to her other great love: Irish rugby.

Prof Sheelagh Drudy, ESAI President 1998-2000


Hearty congratulations Liz on being presented the lifetime achievement award. Your support for ESAI and its work has been ceaseless since its foundation, as has your encouragement of successive generations of graduate students in Maths education and in educational research more widely. Your admirable research record has done the country proud, both at home and abroad, and your continuing generosity in serving on consultative bodies offers a shining example of faithfulness to the best ideals of higher education.

Dr Pádraig Hogan ESAI President 1994-1996


I am absolutely delighted to hear that ESAI has decided to honour Elizabeth Oldham with their prestigious ‘lifetime achievement award’. Elizabeth embodies the best of ESAI. Scholarly, supportive, rigorous and committed she played a pivotal role in developing ESAI into the welcoming community of researchers that it now is. Above all Elizabeth helped create the culture of welcome that I think sets ESAI apart from many of its contemporaries. Recognising that a paper at ESAI can be the first experience many of us had of engaging with the wider academic community Elizabeth has always gone out her way to mentor, advise and support those taking their first, hesitant steps along this at times scary road. She also ensured that the structures and ways of thinking within ESAI were focused on creating community as well as ensuring academic excellence.

In addition to her work in the development ESAI as a community of researchers, Elizabeth also modelled what it means to be an excellent scholar. Her own research work is widely recognised for its innovation and rigour and through her sharing of this at conferences and through the Journal, Elizabeth demonstrated to those of us lucky enough to engage with her work what it meant to be a proper educational researcher.

Of course, it is impossible to pay tribute to Elizabeth without acknowledging what extraordinarily good company she is. The antithesis of the stuffy, pompous academic she is inclusive, funny, and a wonderful conversationalist. I have to admit that have learned nearly as much about the vagaries and intricacies of modern Irish rugby as I have about the educational research from these conversations and I know I am not the only one.

I am genuinely thrilled that ESAI has decided to recognise the work of Elizabeth Oldham. The award is a timely recognition of a life of service and excellence in the field of educational research and I join with all my past Presidential colleagues in congratulating her on this wonderful achievement.

Prof Joe O’Hara, ESAI President 2010-2012


I have often said that you can tell a great deal about a person’s character by the way they treat those who may not appear to matter in the great scheme of things, those who may be seen as being of lesser value or status in a particular institution. It is easy (and politically sensible) to be pleasant to those we may see as significant. It is equally easy, especially when we are busy, to make less of an effort with those who may not appear to matter. In fairness to ESAI, it has always had an admirable culture of valuing all its members, but that culture only exists because the members themselves make the effort to include, to value and to get to know people.

Elizabeth Oldham embodies the inclusivity that ESAI espouses. I remember the first conference where I got to know her. I am taking you quite a long way back to the annual ESAI conference which was held in Stranmillis in Belfast in 1998, in the week prior to a very historic event on this island – the signing of the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement. Many of us delegates travelled to and from the conference by train, though this did include being bussed from Belfast Central via the Mourne Mountains across the border to meet the train in Dundalk on the way home. Not brilliant when some of us might have had minor hangovers!

On that rather convoluted journey, Elizabeth sat with a bunch of us young researchers and postgraduate students. She was interested in everyone, personally and professionally. She listened to us all, she shared jokes. She offered advice and was genuinely interested in the work we were doing. She did not stand on ceremony as a highly respected academic of long-standing. She was simply herself with us, as she is with everyone. Anytime she met me and the rest of the young research contingent, she always had time for us and was consistently friendly and kind. She rejoiced with us as we got jobs in academia over the years. She supported us in our engagement with ESAI and was always keen to encourage new members on to the ESAI executive and other education committees.

It was my very particular pleasure to serve on the ESAI Executive when she served her two-year term as President. She brought with her a genuine friendliness and decency to that role. She continued to treat all equally and with great respect. But there is also a steely side to her – Elizabeth is no push-over but has that wonderful capacity to be determined and persuasive in the most gentle of ways. I suspect that is a skill long honed in the committees of her Church of Ireland parish and Alexandra College. This is one of the many, many gifts she has brought to ESAI, an organisation to which she remained loyal and committed long after she stepped off the Executive. We continue to be lucky to have her with us at ESAI each year, sharing expertise and friendliness in equal measure and long may she continue to do so.

Rev. Prof. Anne Lodge, ESAI President 2006-2008


Congratulations to Elizabeth on being nominated for the ESAI lifetime achievement award. Elizabeth is assiduous, painstaking and capable in her work yet always retains her good humour. Her knowledge and scholarship are immense and she is very generous in sharing her learning with others.

Dr Kevin Williams, ESAI President 1996-1998

Reflections from Elizabeth on being nominated for the ESAI Lifetime Achievement Award

I joined ESAI over forty years ago, in its early days, and have been involved fairly continuously ever since. Membership and participation have brought great benefits, and great enjoyment, as I met and worked with remarkable people: people from whom I learnt so much. As a result, I have rarely been as startled as I was on being offered a lifetime achievement award; surely it is I who should be giving an award to the Association for all that it has offered!

So – what has ESAI been for me over the years? A community of educators; a powerhouse of research; a channel for initiating new members into the community and enabling them to contribute to that research; and of course, especially at the Annual Conferences, a gathering of friends. In what follows, I aim to offer some thoughts and vignettes about each of these characteristics.

As regards the community of educators, the visionaries who founded ESAI in 1976 had identified a gap. There was no structure that brought together people working in different educational disciplines, at different levels (primary, post-primary, tertiary, and so forth), and in both parts of the island of Ireland. I could expand on each aspect, but here I focus just on the cross-disciplinary one. Outside ESAI, I often met colleagues in my specialist academic fields of mathematics education and what we then called computers in education, and at Annual Conferences of course I attended – and I hope will continue to attend – papers in these areas. However, as I think of conference papers over the years, the first pictures in my mind’s eye are of myself enjoying contributions from other disciplines: for example, history and religious education. ESAI offers a most enjoyable antidote to overmuch specialisation!

The powerhouse of research – a phrase that I always associate with Professor Val Rice, who was instrumental in starting many of us on our academic careers back in the day – is encapsulated especially in Irish Educational Studies. During the Covid lockdown, when reorganising old files, I found correspondence about the first papers that I submitted to IES. Oh, the thrill when the contributions were accepted! Those were the days in which IES provided selected conference proceedings; it was during my presidency that the decision was made to move to the current model of a more traditional journal. I can still “see” the Executive Committee members sitting round a table in Trinity’s Arts Building and discussing the pros and cons of the change. Perhaps there were some initial losses with regard to rewarding work done at the conferences, but these have been more than compensated for by the journal’s increasing success.

One can argue that any organisation should nurture its members, but, for a body dealing with education, the need is particularly compelling. I believe that ESAI has done well in this respect, especially in initiating new members into the community; I like to think that we have shown special concern for young (or even not-so-young) researchers giving their very first papers. The mental pictures here are of more experienced members encouraging the first-timers – making coffee, chairing protectively (no, in general not necessary) – and then sharing celebrations of the excellent papers that the newcomers had given. If ESAI were to stop being a caring community, then I would no longer want to be part of it; but that will not happen.

And then there are gatherings of friends. I recall us being together in the evenings (and indeed into the wee small hours) after busy conference days; presentations over, people could relax, discuss informally, reminisce, and enjoy the general conversation. Sometimes in days gone by, there would be singing: ceol as well as craic. Times and traditions change, but who knows: maybe that tradition can be reinstated! In accepting the lifetime achievement award with gratitude, I offer my very best wishes to the Association for all its work in the future.

Elizabeth Oldham, Recipient of the ESAI Lifetime Achievement Award 2022

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