By Conor Dempsey
Trinity College has approved the plan to introduce Leaving Certificate bonus points for students who sit higher level maths. Bonus points are to be awarded in the Central Applications Office to students taking higher level mathematics, it was confirmed last week.
The points will be awarded to students applying for courses in any Irish university.
All seven of the universities have backed the venture, which will apply from the Leaving Certificate class of 2012 onwards. This means that students currently in fifth year will be eligible for the points bonus.
Under the new scheme, all students who sit the higher level paper will receive a bonus of 25 points, provided they achieve a minimum of a D3 in the exam. For example, a student achieving a C3 will receive the current 60 points plus the 25 points bonus, giving a total of 85 points.
The Students’ Union has condemned the Irish universities’ decision. Union President Nikolai Trigoub-Rotnem says, “This is a short-term strategy which does nothing to solve the problems with second-level mathematics teaching in this country.
“The majority of second-level maths teachers are not fully qualified, and until that is resolved, students’ understanding of maths will reflect the poor teaching they receive.”
The Head of the School of Mathematics Dr Donal O’Donovan thought the plan was a positive move. O’Donovan comments, “I think it is a good thing, but it is only one part of a three-part plan. The first part is Project Maths, the second part is the bonus points, and the third point is improving the training of mathematics teachers.” O’Donovan says he hopes the bonus points scheme will “only be a temporary measure.”
In response to Trigoub-Rotnem, O’Donovan comments, “While the Department may not be taking the necessary steps, the universities are taking steps. In Trinity for example, we plan to introduce a Masters in Education in teaching maths from next year.” Currently NUI Galway is the only university in Ireland to offer a course, its BA in Mathematics in Education, combining both subjects.
However, he adds, “It would be a mistake to view bonus points as a complete solution to the Maths problem in Ireland,” claiming that the teaching of mathematics in second-level schools by under-qualified teachers was a more pressing concern.
A spokesman for the Irish Universities Association said the new system is hoping to target those students who would drop down to ordinary level during the year, viewing the higher level course as “too much effort for too little reward.” It is also hoped the additional points on offer will reduce the number of students who change to ordinary level on the day of the exam.
Tánaiste and Minister for Education Mary Coughlan welcomed the decision. In a statement issued on Monday, she said, “It sends a clear signal to our Leaving Certificate students about the importance we attach to the study of mathematics.”
She added that while bonus points were not a “silver bullet” that would completely solve all issues in mathematics in schools, their introduction should see an increase in the number of students taking the subject at higher level.
NUI Galway was the last of the seven universities to approve the controversial scheme. NUIG Registrar and Deputy President Professor Jim Ward hinted that while the university was sceptical about the effectiveness of the new system, it did not want to stand in the way of its development.
A recent report entitled Out-of-Field Teaching in Post-Primary Mathematics Education: An Analysis of the Irish Context carried out by Dr Máire Ní Ríordáin and Dr Ailish Hannigan from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Limerick found that 48 percent of post-primary mathematics teachers “did not have a mathematics teaching qualification.”
Many opposed to the idea of bonus points for mathematics in the Leaving Cert claim there is a lack of evidence to suggest that it encourages students to pursue courses in engineering, science and technology. Others claim it will only succeed in increasing points for all courses throughout the universities.
Currently the only university offering bonus points for higher maths is the University of Limerick. However, some of its courses have significantly higher points than similar courses offered in other colleges. Physiotherapy, for example, was 560 points this year in the first round of the CAO, compared to just 530 points in Trinity.
Both the Government and industry have been pushing for the introduction of a bonus points scheme for higher Maths for some time. Maths is regarded a crucial skill for success in the current “knowledge economy” the Government are keen to build. Currently, Irish teenagers are not rated above average international levels in Mathematical subjects.