Monday 22 January 2018

College revolt over bonus points plan

Minister snubbed in maths dispute

John Walshe and Katherine Donnelly

TWO universities have rejected Education Minister Mary Coughlan's attempt to introduce bonus points for higher maths students, the Irish Independent has learned.

University College Cork (UCC) and the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) came out firmly against the plan, which has the backing of Irish and multinational employers. The snub to the minister emerged as almost 58,000 students got their Leaving Certificate results with concerns mounting over the continued poor performance in maths in the exam.

It was disclosed just hours after Ms Coughlan said the new system could be introduced in two years amid intense criticism from business leaders over maths and science education.

"I would be hopeful that by 2012 we will see bonus points for mathematics," the minister said yesterday.

However, the Tanaiste's plans suffered a severe setback after UCC and NUIG refused to give their backing.

Decisions about entry requirements are taken by the universities, and not by the minister.

The Irish Independent has learned the academic council at UCC has voted by a substantial majority to oppose bonus points for higher level maths.

Sources in NUIG said that at a recent meeting attended by senior academics in Galway there was huge opposition to the plan.

In both colleges, the majority of academics felt the awarding of bonus points would not achieve the aims of improving either the take-up or performance in higher-level maths. They felt other measures were necessary such as greater investment in maths education, particularly for Project Maths, and upskilling teachers.

Two other universities -- UCD and NUI Maynooth -- have yet to make up their minds on the proposal.

It is understood academics in both institutions are split on the issue, which will be discussed at separate academic council meetings next month.

Trinity College and DCU have already backed the proposal, but want a consensus among all seven universities before bonus points can be introduced for students taking the Leaving Cert in 2012.

The University of Limerick has always had bonus points for maths.

It is understood the academic councils in Cork and Galway did allow for a "get-out clause" and agreed that if all the other universities backed the plans they would accept bonus points "reluctantly" and under certain conditions.

UCC Registrar Professor Paul Giller said about half of second-level maths teachers did not have maths as a major subject in their degree.

In addition, official reports had indicated a number of schools were not offering higher level maths.

The Project Maths Implementation Group failed to reach a consensus on the issue. It pointed out that about 10pc of the country's 735 second-level schools were not offering higher level maths.

Investment

The American Chamber of Commerce, which represents top US businesses in Ireland, said there were major questions over the level of investment in education, the hours spent on maths and science and how the subjects were taught.

This year's Leaving Certificate students saw a worrying 10pc failure rate in ordinary level maths. In total, more than 4,000 students failed at different levels of the exam.

In science subjects -- an area the Government has been keen to promote to kickstart the economy -- chemistry students struggled with an overall failure rate of 8pc. More than 2,000 pupils failed ordinary and higher biology, while top results in physics dipped for the second year in a row.

Engineers Ireland director general John Power said more needed to be done to support maths teachers to help students fully engage with the real-life applications of the subject.

"We need to work harder to change the perception of maths at an earlier stage in schools," he said. "The smart economy and the recovery of Ireland Inc are not viable without enough graduates with the requisite maths skills to become engineers."

Ms Coughlan also committed to rolling out the Project Maths scheme nationwide to improve hands-on skills.

She said the new Project Maths -- a pilot scheme in 24 schools which only had a 5.4pc fail rate -- would be rolled out across the country.

It is based on providing hands-on, problem-solving skills.

Irish Independent

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