Third-level bosses seek to reform the system

SHORTER Leaving Certificate courses and more continuous assessment may be one suggestion from third-level bosses as a way to reduce the pressures of one-off exams facing Leaving Certificate students scrambling to score top points for college.

As calls widen for reform of the senior cycle — and following a request for proposals from Education Minister Ruairí Quinn — the Irish Universities Association is putting together ideas on easing the points race.

The group of university leaders, led by NUI Maynooth Professor Tom Collins, who also chairs the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, is working on recommendations to reform the points system.

But Dublin City University president Professor Brian MacCraith said students reaching third level are unable to think critically. He said the biggest factor causing that was a combination of the points system run for colleges themselves and the emphasis on rote learning encouraged by the final exam focus of the Leaving Certificate.

“In fact, some teachers will tell you that in some examinations, stamina is much more important than intellect,” he told RTÉ.

He said a range of solutions are needed to generate students and graduates that the country needs. He suggested reducing the number of exams, shortening the curriculum, staggering exams and cleverly introducing continuous assessment to take the pressure off of students.

A major problem for colleges and employers is the poor maths standards among students. But MacCraith said next year’s introduction of bonus points for college entry for students with higher-level maths is simply a “band-aid” approach to a crisis in maths, science and engineering.

“A long-term approach to this is not sufficient. We can’t build a recovery that will focus on a knowledge economy if we’re continuing to have mild approaches to the problem, we need to do something urgent and something significant,” Mr MacCraith said.

Earlier, Mr Quinn told the News at One programme that he hopes the additional 25 points being offered for higher-level maths will bring about improvements, along with the phased rollout of the Project Maths curriculum, offering a more practical approach to the subject.

The number of Leaving Certificate students taking honours maths has fallen below 16% for the first time as more than 4,000 students failed maths exams.

Mr Quinn said he expects reforms of the three-year Junior Certificate cycle for students starting second level next year, including a reduction in the number of subjects students can take exams in and more emphasis on continuous assessment, could later be extended to the senior cycle and the Leaving Certificate.

But the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union believes a plan should be put into action sooner rather than wasting time or money researching possible reform.

A spokesperson said: “The points race puts our young people to the pin of their collars physically, mentally and emotionally. It is widely accepted that the time has come for change.”

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said its members are open to reforms but change must be properly resourced if it is to be effective, and should not be done as a shortsighted knee-jerk reaction or just to make savings.

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