Sunday 24 September 2017

Bonus for maths plan backed by sixth university

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

THE introduction of bonus points for higher-level maths in the 2012 Leaving Certificate now seems certain -- after a sixth university backed the move.

It means that the current crop of fifth-year students, and those coming after them, will get an additional reward for achievement in the higher-level paper.

Employers, particularly the American multi-nationals, have been pushing for bonus points as a way of incentivising students to stick with higher-level maths.

Only 16pc of Leaving Certificate candidates sit the higher- level paper, many students having abandoned it in sixth year to concentrate on achieving easier points in other subjects.

But the Government and employers agree that the country needs more students with higher-level maths skills for the so-called 'smart economy'.

The latest support for the controversial proposal comes from the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM).

But it comes with a warning that the real issue to be tackled is the quality of maths teaching at second level.

The NUIM decision means that six out of seven of the universities have indicated their support -- some very reluctantly -- for the move being pushed by Education Minister Mary Coughlan.

However, University College Cork, has yet to make a commitment and a spokesperson said the "matter has yet to be fully explored by the university".

The National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), which has also to make a formal announcement, is likely to support the proposal, notwithstanding some internal opposition from some academics.

Professor Tom Collins, newly-appointed interim president at NUIM, said they would introduce a bonus points scheme for Leaving Certificate higher-level maths, commencing in 2012 for a trial period of four years.

The precise scheme for the awarding of additional points would be agreed in consultation with other universities, he said.

But Prof Collins also said that there were "fundamental" issues with mathematics at second level, particularly the high failure rate in ordinary-level maths -- about 10pc -- and the low uptake at honours level, that the introduction of bonus points would not, in itself, resolve.

NUIM, which already has a number of initiatives in place to support mathematics education at second level, is now also offering a new professional development course for teachers.

Maths is a core strength at NUIM and the new course is focused on giving teachers the skills necessary for the new 'Project Maths' syllabus, another wing of the Government's campaign to improve national maths performance through a more hands-on approach to teaching.

Controversy

The universities are expected to agree a final and common position at a meeting of the Irish Universities Association next Monday.

The bonus-points plan is steeped in controversy. Many academics feel that it will not provide the solution to the national problem with maths, which sees Irish teenagers rating only average internationally in the subject.

There are also arguments that bonus points will create distortions in the college-entry process, giving higher-level maths students an advantage in getting on to courses where maths is not a key requirement.

Increasingly, the finger of blame for poor maths standards among Irish teenagers is put on the patchy quality of teaching at second level.

About half of second-level maths teachers do not have maths as a major subject in their degree, while about 10pc of the country's 735 second-level schools don't even offer higher- level maths.

Irish Independent

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