Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Higher education institutions have collectively agreed to operate a bonus points scheme for higher level mathematics for a four-year trial period from 2012 to 2015, inclusive, with a review in 2014. A bonus of 25 points will be allocated to students who achieve a grade D3 or above in leaving certificate higher level mathematics. This pilot scheme has been specifically designed with the objective of maximising the numbers of leaving certificate students who study for and sit the higher level maths examinations and should compensate for the perceived additional workload associated with that subject. In particular, it should incentivise the 20% of students who currently move to ordinary level having studied higher level for most of their senior cycle. As Deputy Smith knows, some students change their minds on the day of the mathematics examination. I have also asked higher education institutions to examine the scope for reform of the CAO points system to overcome some of its negative backwash effects on senior cycle students' learning.
On this, the first day of the State examinations, every Deputy joins with the Minister in wishing all students undertaking the junior and leaving certificate examinations every success. Am I correct in believing that the State Examination Commission published figures during the week showing that this year will see the lowest number of students ever to undertake higher level maths? This is a cause of concern, as it is even lower than the previous low recorded in 2007. The programme for Government commits to introducing a bonus points system for maths linked with specific maths or science courses to encourage participation in courses where skills shortages exist. Has the Minister made progress in this regard?
To answer the Deputy's first question and to the best of my knowledge, he is correct. The information published in the media yesterday was accurate and no one has brought any inaccuracy to my attention. The new 25 points bonus will not kick in until next year's leaving certificate examination. The Deputy's predecessor in the Cabinet's education portfolio was aware of the issue, since she was the one who suggested an increase in the points system to incentivise maths.
Young people act fairly rationally in these regards. The level of effort required for higher maths, commensurate with the points currently awarded, is higher than it should be and could be utilised to get extra points in other subjects across the spectrum. We are trying to reverse this situation. To answer the Deputy's second question, I have not been in a position to explore the matter further, but I intend to do so.
I thank the Minister. The initiative announced and implemented by the previous Minister was a good and important one, given the requisite to provide people with the necessary skills and expertise to avail of emerging job opportunities. The technology area holds significant potential and Ireland remains an attractive location for investment.
I am informed by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, that the national centre of excellence in University of Limerick is developing programmes to up-skill the education and the delivery of education in the mathematics area and the other science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, subjects. This problem must be addressed. The previous Government also recognised it as a problem and we will build on the work done to date.