Leaving Cert pupils drop maths to get 'soft' points
LEAVING Certificate students are picking 'soft' subjects at the expense of higher-level maths as a way of winning points for college entry.
They are dropping higher-level maths because of the workload and because they get more points by concentrating on other subjects, such as Home Economics and Business.
New ways to raise the popularity of maths and improve exam performances in the subject -- which is regarded as critically important for the economy -- were explored at a symposium yesterday.
It was organised by the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, Trinity College Dublin (TCD).
Maths languishes eighth on the list of subjects at higher level here. This compares with Britain, where it is the second most-popular subject.
A number of speakers called for extra points for higher-level maths to reward the effort involved.
TCD academic secretary Patricia Callaghan, speaking in a personal capacity, said the third-level selection system cultivated a culture of maximising points, rather than subjects that are relevant for third-level.
She said that while maths was of national strategic importance, there had been a 1pc decline in higher-level Leaving Certificate entries last year, when the overall number of candidate rose.
Students were dropping it for subjects such as Home Economics and Business, purely to gain points.
Graduate numeracy was important, said Ms Callaghan, not only for science, maths and technology, but also for analysing evidence in disciplines such as psychology, economics and geography.
A recent survey of TCD science students showed that 25pc had taken ordinary-level maths, almost all of them dropping higher level because it was too time-consuming and because they got more points by concentrating on other subjects.
She suggested that universities should reward maths for effort and workload and bonus points, which have been ruled out by the minister, should be considered.
Dr Maria Meehan of the UCD School of Mathematical Sciences said she was now in favour of bonus points after a recent UCD survey.
Among the first-year intake to BSc in Economics and Finance this year, half had spent at least 25pc of their Leaving Certificate study time on higher-level maths. Most students said if bonus points had been awarded, more would have taken the course.
The lack of jobs, coupled with the demand for higher qualifications in the modern workplace, caused CAO applications soar by 5pc to more than 71,000 to date.
It means fiercer competition for each college place and Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe said yesterday that the number of approved places was set.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen also insisted that extra money would not be made available.
Resources already available to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) would have to be maximised, said Mr Cowen.
"I welcome that demand for higher-education places but we have to work within the budgetary parameters," he said.
"The budgets are substantial and there is room to accommodate this increased demand by means of better co-operation between institutions."
HEA chief executive Tom Boland said that entry to third level could hit 50,000 this year -- up from 45,000 in 2009 and 40,000 a couple of years ago.
The HEA believes there is capacity to meet some additional demand through, for instance, changes in timetabling and the drop in apprenticeship numbers in the institutes of technology.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said the unemployed who wanted to get back to education would be forced to languish on the dole unless action was taken to expand places at universities and colleges.
Fine Gael's education spokesman, Brian Hayes, said the record number of students applying highlighted the need for the Government cap on Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course places to be lifted.