Move to science and technology welcomed

Record 27% of maths students opted for higher paper - up from 16% in 2011

 Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan. Photograph: Eric Luke

Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 06:00

A surge in the number of students who sat higher level maths in this year’s Leaving Cert has been welcomed by industry groups and Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan.

A record 27 per cent of maths students opted for the higher paper, up from 16 per cent in 2011, the year before bonus points were introduced.

Under the scheme, aimed at boosting participation in science and technology courses, any student who gets a D3 or higher receives 25 extra CAO points.

Welcome shift

Ms O’Sullivan said the continuing shift towards higher level maths was “particularly welcome” while other subjects including physics and Spanish saw added interest too.

“There will be some students who have not received the grades they had hoped for. It is important for all students to consider all options in the coming weeks,” she said.

She added she would be reviewing, later this year, planned measures to improve the transition between secondary and higher education.

“One of the important issues under consideration is the merit of significantly reducing the number of courses for broader undergraduate entry. These ideas are being considered with a focus on reducing the stress on students making this key transition.”

Minister of State for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English similarly welcomed the increased uptake of Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. He said a rise in the proportion of students taking higher level papers in chemistry and applied mathematics (both up 7 per cent on last year) were positive developments.

Urging students to continue such studies in further or higher education, he said: “It is absolutely vital that we ensure an adequate number of appropriately qualified graduates from both of these sectors if we are to continue to grow the Stem sector in Ireland.”

Reflecting on the trend in honours maths, the head of education policy at employers group Ibec, Tony Donohoe, said: “Increased ability in maths is required by a huge range of businesses. The subject also opens the possibility for larger numbers of students to take science and technology courses that have higher level maths as a basic requirement.”

Ibec also expressed concern at the decline in the numbers taking French and German in the past decade. This year 12.7 per cent of those who sat the Leaving Certificate took German, while 49 per cent took French. “We continue to see significant numbers of unfilled job vacancies that require modern languages.”

The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland also welcomed an increase in the number of students taking Stem subjects, particularly at higher level, but said further reforms of the points system was necessary to prepare school- leavers for the workplace.

Its chief executive Mark Redmond said, “We should now seek additional ways to encourage students to choose subjects that will support their future careers. New proposals that are being considered, such as providing more points for subjects based on their relevance to third-level courses, and expanding the range of grades for which points are awarded, are welcome developments.” Noting high failure rates in some science subjects, he added: “As the lessons of Project Maths continue to be learned, they should be adapted and applied to support students studying in the sciences also.”

Stem subjects

Separately, a survey by BT – which sponsors the annual Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition – showed that most students believe Stem subjects offer the best career opportunity. Of 1,000 secondary school students surveyed on Facebook and Twitter, more than 72 per cent said they planned to study a Stem subject at third level.

There was also a traditional calls for students to celebrate their results responsibly from Mr English.

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