Changes to college entry requirements could get more students performing better in Leaving Certificate maths and help improve Ireland’s competitiveness, education experts have told a key economic advisory group.
A discussion document for the National Competitiveness Council, which advises the Taoiseach, also suggests all students should have online access to classes by the country’s best maths teachers.
The council identified shortcomings in maths education as a key priority to be addressed last autumn. A number of inexpensive and urgent recommendations on how to do so are made in the report it has received from Sean McDonagh, a former Dundalk IT director and former maths lecturer in Ireland and the US, and former Galway-Mayo IT registrar Tony Quinlan.
They say curriculum change is not the only way to reverse dwindling maths performance and that the college entry points system may be having an unintentional but serious "perverse" effect on some school-leavers’ maths achievement.
They said that about 63% fewer students take higher-level maths at Leaving Cert than at Junior Cert, but making maths one of the six subjects to be counted for college points would discourage students from settling for the minimum D3 in ordinary level needed for many courses and focusing instead on other subjects.
With fewer than one-in-six students taking higher-level maths in last year’s Leaving Cert, the report seen by the Irish Examiner also suggests:
nThe number of Leaving Cert 2014 students — who will begin fifth year in September — taking higher-level maths should rise by 4,000;
nA further target of raising 10,000 students by at least one grade by 2014;
nLeaving Cert 2014 students applying for teacher training degrees should need the same minimum grade in maths as English.
"National decisions need to be made now to affect the senior cycle entrants in 2012 and higher education entrants in 2014," wrote Mr McDonagh and Mr Quinlan.
"The recommendations cost little but rather should contribute considerably to the cost effectiveness, output and quality of higher education. They also should enhance Irish future competitiveness."
The introduction of 25 bonus points for students who pass higher-level Leaving Cert maths prompted a significant rise in numbers indicating they would choose the tougher papers ahead of last month’s exams.
Points incentives may be welcomed by those eager to improve maths performance but efforts are also being made to reduce the pressures of the points system by changing how students are selected for college. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is awaiting proposals from the universities and possible changes to the Leaving Cert grading system are being examined.
Journalist: Niall Murray