Basic student skills going into third level questioned


COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION:AN INCREASING number of Leaving Cert students entering third-level education exhibit serious deficiencies in basic literacy and analytical skills, according to one of the main teaching unions.

Bernie Ruane, of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), said there was also concern about the “relatively mediocre level of oral competence in modern languages” in second-level schools.

The TUI is seeking more school facilities to promote the development of oral and aural skills and a wider choice of modern languages for students.

Ms Ruane made her comments during a meeting of the Oireachtas committee on education, which was dominated yesterday by criticism of the Leaving Certificate exam.

Several speakers said the exam – with its focus on rote learning – left students ill-equipped to meet the challenge of third level.

Tom Boland, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, said there was growing concern about the exam across the third-level sector – particularly its failure to foster problem-solving and independent learning.

Mike Jennings, of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, said it was “heartbreaking” to see students who had very high CAO points in the Leaving Cert struggling to cope with higher education and dropping out of their course.

Dr Joseph Ryan, registrar at Athlone Institute of Technology, said the value of the Leaving Cert had been diminished; the focus was on CAO points and the intrinsic value of the exam.

The committee meeting is certain to give fresh impetus to demands for changes to the Leaving Cert and reform of the points system, which has not been reviewed since the 1999 points commission.

Minister for Education Mary Coughlan has said reform of the Leaving Cert must wait until the current review of the Junior Cert is complete. A new government, however, may take a different view.

The Oireachtas committee also heard how 48 per cent of maths teachers were not specialists in the subject. Dr Ryan asked why unemployed engineering graduates – who have strong maths skills – were not drafted into schools.

Gerry Murray, of the Institutes of Technology of Ireland, said many graduates were available who would make excellent maths teachers but their qualifications were not recognised for this purpose.

Gary Redmond, president of the Union of Students in Ireland, said many schools were not even offering Leaving Cert higher level maths to their pupils.