A MAJOR overhaul of the points system for entry to college is on the way.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said yesterday he wanted third-level institutions to think beyond the current system.
The minister signalled his desire for change as preparations are made for the first serious review of the third-level selection process in 20 years.
There is widespread concern that the Leaving Certificate has become just a points race, causing students to memorise and "learn to do the test", and leaves school leavers unprepared for college and the world of work.
Now, international experts are being invited to a conference in September to help Irish educationalists explore the transition from second to third level.
Mr Quinn was speaking to the Irish Independent in the context of plans to overhaul the Junior Cert to make it more relevant to teenagers and deepen their learning experience.
A major problem identified with the Junior Cert years is the focus on the exam, which, in turn, stems from the dominance of the Leaving Cert exam and the points race that follows.
The minister expressed concern that students were selecting subjects on the basis of how easy it might be to get points and said "we need to get away from rote learning".
He added that it was causing students to turn away from important subjects like higher-level maths, which was important for the "smart economy".
He said: "I don't think you can reform senior cycle without linking into the entry process for third-level education."
There is a growing recognition within universities and higher-education institutions about the need for change.
For the first time, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Higher Education Authority (HEA) have come together to discuss these changes.
The September conference is a joint initiative between the two bodies advising the Department of Education and Skills. A keynote speaker will be Professor Aine Hyland, who chaired the Points Commission review of the system in 1999.
HEA chief executive Tom Boland said he was "strongly supportive" of the minister's view that reform of the second-level curriculum and policies on entry to higher education went hand in hand.
"The HEA has long had concerns that the focus at second level was on 'training for the test' rather than an emphasis on critical thinking," he added.
College heads and employers complain that the rote-learning culture is limiting students' education. And students are suffering in other ways, too.
Research by the Economic and Social Research Institute last year exposed the sleep-deprived regimes endured by Leaving Cert candidates trying to keep ahead of the race.
The report raised questions about whether the link between Leaving Cert and college entry should be weakened.