Hyland gives poor grades to colleges and points race


ANALYSIS:THE REPUTATION of Irish education has taken a bit of a battering in the past year. First, the ranking of Irish teenagers slumped dramatically in literacy in an international league table. Secondly, we continue to be ranked as average or below in maths and sciences. Third, our leading universities are continuing to slide down the world university rankings.

The Hyland Report represents a very significant step in rebuilding the quality and reputation of Irish education.

The report does not pull its punches. It sets out no less than 10 separate defects of the current points system. Prof Áine Hyland marshals the case against the current points system with impressive clarity. Her report begs an obvious question – why have we tolerated the Leaving Cert and the points race for so long? The areas of concern listed include how;

Many students enter higher education without adequate skills – including literacy and numeracy – to cope with higher education;

The Leaving Cert rewards rote learning and does not reward problem solving, critical thinking or self directed learning;

For many courses, students are not required to have studied a related subject for their Leaving Cert and are unprepared academically for their third-level choices.

Hyland writes: “Because the Leaving Cert is a high stakes exam, used for selection to third level, its backwash effect on teaching and learning and on the student experience is considerable; the exam becomes the determinant of what is studied and how; non-exam subjects get little or no attention and, in many cases, broader co-curricular activities are ignored or minimised.’’

Hyland is also clear on where the blame lies for this state of affairs. She chronicles how a range of policy papers and reports since 1963 have pointed to the negative impact of the Leaving Cert and later the points system. She also reports, without any comment, how a radical review of the Leaving Cert proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was dismissed by the then minister (Mary Hanafin) as a “Rolls Royce model’’ of reform.

The report also does not spare the colleges themselves who, after all, control the CAO system. Hyland is scathing about the duplication of courses across the system. There can, she says, be between 10 and 20 different specialised courses within arts or business or whatever. This trend – where a small number of places are offered on highly specialised courses – artificially inflates points requirements.

While Hyland identifies the problem with the points system, she also offers no less than a dozen possible options for consideration. These included the introduction of random selection through a lottery system, accompanied by more realistic minimum entry requirements.

Alternatively, she talks about a weighted system of random selection which would give “a higher probability of selection to students with higher points”.

She she favours a new system where places would be allocated in a more targeted way – matching students to courses which suit their skills set.

Yesterday Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn stressed he had an open mind about the various options.