Minister rejects accusations from PDs that RTC students cannot read or write properly


THE Minister for Education, Ms Breathnach, has rejected Progressive Democrat accusations that her policies are responsible for a survey finding that some regional technical college science students cannot read or write properly.

The study by Dr Maeve Martin, a lecturer in education at Maynooth, and Dr Patrick Greer, a science lecturer at Dundalk RTC, found that most students on one RTC three year certificate and diploma course in science could be "classed as average to below average in basic reading skills"; many of the recommended textbooks were "too difficult for the average student", and students' reading skills do not improve over the three year period" of their course.

The study, in the current issue of Irish Educational Studies also found that the students' writing skills were "inadequate for the tasks normally required of third level candidates", and there was "no correlation between success in examinations and students' reading comprehension skills or vocabulary".

The authors of the study observe that because of the "ever dwindling requirement for high entry points for admission" to some science courses, questions are being asked concerning the suitability of these students".

"Very often they are deemed unsuitable because of what is perceived as their sub literacy and lack of basic language and mathematical skills".

The Progressive Democrats education spokeswoman, Ms Helen Keogh, said yesterday the survey only confirmed findings from previous studies that many of our third level students - supposedly the cream of the Irish crop - have a very poor grounding in the educational basics.

"In RTCs, universities and colleges up and down the country, students with very poor spelling, with no grasp of grammar and with numeracy difficulties take - and pass - their exams."

Ms Keogh said it was time to get "back to basics" in education. She believed there had been a move away from teaching the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic in recent years.

She said the Minister had got her priorities "all wrong" and challenged her "to justify how she could spend £100 million on setting up regional education boards - a bureaucracy which no one wants - at a time when these resources are so clearly needed in the classrooms".

Ms Breathnach said the Government had made "a very clear commitment" to such basic skills in the Education White Paper. She said the new primary school curriculum would put more emphasis on the development of language skills.

The new Leaving Certificate English syllabus was organised around comprehension and composition.