The Hyland Report

 

THE REPORT on entry to higher education by Prof Áine Hyland is an important contribution to the debate on reform of the points system. What’s clear from its 25 pages is that the current system is no longer fit for purpose. Prof Hyland details a system of senior cycle education which has been contaminated by the pressure to maximise points in the Leaving Cert exam. Some students, she says, are basing their subject choice for the exam on the potential haul of CAO points – with scant regard for their aptitude for the subject.

Many students weaned on rote learning in the Leaving Cert are entering higher education without adequate skills, including numeracy and literacy, to cope with the very different demands of college. Overall, there is a serious deficit when it comes to critical thinking, problem solving or self directed learning.

This decline in standards has been captured in the most recent international league tables which show the performance of Irish teenagers in literacy has slumped dramatically. Ireland is also average or below in maths and science. Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn sees the Hyland Report – and a forthcoming conference on the transition from second to third level – as building blocks towards a reformed education system. The hope is that a new admissions system to college could be in situby 2014. Mr Quinn is to be commended for his zest for reform; far too many of his predecessors in Marlborough Street were content to cast themselves are cheerleaders for the Irish education system. Mr Quinn is casting a more critical eye.

At issue now is how the new admissions system might work. Prof Hyland provides an exhaustive list of possible options including a general lottery system (with more realistic entry requirements for courses) and the greater use of aptitude tests and interviews. Prof Hyland favours a weighted system of random selection where places in third level could be allocated in a more targeted way. Essentially, she is backing a system where students would be matched to courses which best suit their aptitude and skills set.

It is a wholly sensible and logical suggestion – and one which is certain to be teased out in more detail at the forthcoming conference organised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Higher Education Authority. What’s abundantly clear from the Hyland Report is that the current CAO college admission system is at breaking point. A radical transformation is required.