Bonus points attract record entry for higher-level maths
A RECORD number of Leaving Certificate students are planning to sit higher- level maths in the June exams.
Entries for the "honours" paper have risen for the third year in a row, following the introduction of 25 CAO bonus points for achieving a minimum D3 grade.
A massive 17,181 students have indicated an intention to take higher level this year, up 70pc on this time in 2011.
The lure of the extra 25 points has focused the minds of many students who would see themselves as borderline higher-level candidates.
The dramatic change in attitude to higher level maths means that almost one in three of all Leaving Cert candidates are considering doing "honours" this year.
Writing in today's Irish Independent, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the target participation rate in higher level maths of 30pc, as set out in the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, was now clearly achievable.
"We need young people who are not only competent but excel in maths for careers in engineering, research, digital technologies, and other growth areas.
"Without excellence in maths, we will not be able to attract and retain foreign direct investment into Ireland – the Googles, Apples and Facebooks. Nor will we be able to foster the development and growth of new Irish companies immersed in the digital age," Mr Quinn said.
Some fall-off is expected, but the 17,181 figure represents more than twice the number who traditionally sat higher level before the bonus points were introduced.
The figures, supplied by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), are provisional and subject to change right up to the point a student starts the exam.
Every year, about 2,000 students who indicated that they intended to sit the paper don't actually do so but, even if not all of the 17,181 students go on to do the "honours" paper, any drop will be from a higher base.
The bonus points initiative is part of a drive to boost national performance in maths and equip school-leavers with a foundation for study in engineering, technology and maths-based subjects at third level.
Apart from ensuring a supply of graduates for "smart economy" jobs, the study of higher level maths is seen as being of general benefit to students, with a strong link between prior achievement in maths and successful progression to the second year of a course at third level.
The rise in potential candidates for higher level maths coincides with an overall increase in Leaving Certificate candidates, in line with population trends.
According to the SEC, 54,813 candidates have applied for the Leaving Cert this year, a rise from 52,767 in 2013.
Since the bonus points were introduced, most students who sat the higher level paper have achieved the minimum D grade needed to get the extra points.
It has led to an increase in CAO points for some courses, but the effect has been limited, and concentrated on courses strongly associate with maths.
A mid-term review of the four-year bonus points initiative by the Irish Universities Association is under way.
Tony Donohoe, head of education policy with the employers' organisation Ibec, said maths had by far the smallest higher level participation rate and the figures supported the case for a retention of the bonus points scheme.
"Combining bonus points with the implementation of the Project Maths curriculum, we are making significant progress on an issue which is critical to our future economic success," he said.
Mr Donohoe added that achieving the 30pc target for higher level maths would significantly increase the pool of candidates qualified to take science and technology subjects at third level.