CAO maths bonus unlikely, say education sources


POINTS SYSTEM:MINISTER FOR Education Batt O'Keeffe is unlikely to back a system of bonus points for maths, despite concerns about Leaving Cert grades in these subjects.

Education sources say that while the Minister has an "open mind'' on the issue, he is not convinced at the moment that bonus points would help.

Business and industry groups have backed bonus points this week in order to boost student interest in maths and science.

Earlier this year, the then minister for education Mary Hanafin backed bonus CAO points in higher-level maths for students taking science, technology and engineering courses.

In June, a report from the Expert Skills Group on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) was also in favour.

Education sources say the Minister is now focusing on the new Project Maths initiative which will be rolled out in 24 schools next month. It is hoped this will boost declining interest in maths by making it more "user-friendly''.

Some educationalists argue that it is the perceived difficulty of higher-level maths which explains the poor take-up in the subject. Only 6,600 Leaving Cert students secured an A, B or C grade in higher-level maths this year.

Earlier this year, the ICT expert group said students taking maths, physics and chemistry in the Leaving Cert were effectively penalised, as it is more difficult to gain high grades.

It called on the Department of Education to promote the bonus-points scheme "to compensate students for the greater effort widely considered to be required for success in higher-level maths".

It also wanted the State Exams Commission to investigate the "grading penalty" suffered by students taking higher-level maths.

Mr O'Keeffe acknowledged yesterday that it was a concern that more than 5,000 students had failed ordinary and foundation-level maths, but he was confident that the Project Maths pilot scheme would help the problem.

"We want to change the emphasis to ensure that students will have a far greater understanding of maths and far greater practical hands on experience in maths," he said.

"And we're hoping in those circumstances to ensure that the participation in higher-level maths will go from 17 to 30 per cent. We will introduce it at first-year and fifth-year levels so we will have a strand into the Leaving Cert in two years' time," he explained.

"What we want to do is ensure that the new system of maths introduced is a system that's far more understandable, far more practical and will give students going into third level a far better reasoning mechanism with regards to maths."

Mr O'Keeffe said that awarding additional points for maths was an issue for the universities and third-level institutions, but he didn't believe that the universities would want it, as it would introduce inequity into the points system.

Ms Hanafin favoured a scheme where, for example, a student gaining an A1 in higher-level maths would receive 150 rather than 100 points.

University of Limerick currently offers bonus points for higher-level maths for entry to all of its courses.

Dublin Institute of Technology gives bonus points to students with higher-level maths for courses in electronic engineering and some related areas.

The bonus-points proposal is intended to make it more attractive for students to take higher-level maths in the Leaving Cert and then study science, technology and engineering at third level.

CAO points for science, computer and engineering courses have also tumbled in recent years.

Last year, students needed just over 300 points to take science at UCD, compared to 465 for primary teaching and over 400 for most business courses.

Before bonus points could be introduced, registrars in each third-level college would have to tease out precisely how such a scheme would work in practice.