Wednesday 21 March 2018

Grade inflation concerns

Earlier this week, the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O'Keeffe, said his department was carrying out an investigation into the "grade inflation" that is perceived to have occurred in both Leaving Certificate results and third level degree results since the early 1990s.

The minister's concerns about the increased awarding of higher grades at the end of second and third level education are raised in the context of the statements made by Dr Craig Barrett, the retired Chairman and CEO of Intel, which were critical of Ireland's education system and our only average performance in international rankings of maths and sciences.

If our future depends on a strong performance in the Smart Economy, we are told we must perform better in the "STEM" subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Our educational credibility would further suffer if the investigation shows that indifferent performances are being rewarded with high grades.

There is evidence that there has been huge grade inflation in Leaving Certificate results since the early 1990s. However much of this occurred between the early 1990s and the early 2000's, and has not continued to rise at the same level since.

The State Examinations Commission was set up in 2003 to take over the functions of the Examinations branch of the Department of Education and Science, when the then Minister said: "Ensuring that public confidence in the fairness, quality and transparency of the (Examination) system is maintained into the future is... of prime importance".

The number of higher level A grades rose from 6.14pc of higher level results in 1993 up to 10.01pc in 2001, and rose again more gradually up to 12.58pc in 2008, over double the 1993 rate.

If the value of results in Level 8 Honours degree programmes from our Higher Education Institutions is called into question, that could have serious consequences for graduates. An over inflated award could end up being seen as a devalued award.

Meanwhile, in celebration of International Women's Day, Engineers Ireland's STEPS programme is hosting an 'Engineering as a Career' Student Seminar in Dublin next Monday, specifically aimed at girls in the senior cycle of secondary school. The seminar will feature four speakers from different engineering backgrounds.

Engineering departments in colleges around the country work hard to attract applicants, whether male or female. They do not seek to attract female students in preference to male students.

However, engineering is one of the few areas where female participation at third-level is much lower than male participation.

In almost every other area of study, female students outnumber male students, in some cases by a significant margin.

Events such as this STEPS seminar may encourage female students to consider opportunities they may be missing.

Open Days: Today in Newpark Music Centre, Newtownpark Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin from 10:30am-1:00pm, giving a detailed introduction and overview of the centre's BA in Jazz Performance degree programme. Monday next (March 8) at 10am, "Engineering as a Career" Seminar, Engineers Ireland 22 Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4

Irish Independent

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