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Can bonus points help to reinvigorate our ailing economy?

Will proposed bonus points help to reinvigorate our ailing economy?

Trevor Quinn spoke with students and principals in Castlebar about bonus points for Maths and Science.

Next year students will benefit from an extra 25 points in Higher Level Maths, while many academics are also in favour of introducing bonus points for Science subjects because the number of skilled professionals in these sectors are deteriorating year on year.
Prof Patrick Cunningham, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, has said that high-tech industry recruiters regularly complain that they have difficulty finding appropriately trained graduates in science and technology subjects.
Prof Cunningham added that the latest studies have indicated that results in maths and science have continued to decline.
“Ireland has been slipping down the ranks internationally, particularly in Maths. That wake up call is reinforced by this year’s Leaving Cert results.”
The majority of students and principals The Mayo News spoke with in Castlebar said they believed that awarding bonus points for Maths and Science was a plausible initiative to re-ignite the respective subjects areas and make them more appealing to candidates.
“Yes I think it would be very helpful for students and it would give them that encouragement that they need to pursue those subjects,” said Bernie Rowland, Principal of Davitt College in Castlebar.
“Students focus maybe more now on other subjects in order to get the points but Maths and Science are so important now, particularly in light of our current economy. It’s very important that students do well in Maths and Science so, yes, I would be in favour of the extra points.”
Student Laura Mahon (18) agreed that it could attract prospective skilled candidates over the coming years. “It would probably entice people into the IT sector so I suppose it could be a good idea.”
Áine Bn. Uí Mhóráin, outgoing Principal of St Joseph’s Convent of Mercy in Castlebar said that she believed that if students were encouraged to take Higher Level Maths it would undoubtedly help to prepare them for ‘the jobs of the future’.
“I see a small change this year in that areas which seem to be at the forefront are courses such as Actuary and Engineering. Certainly a few years ago a large majority of our students would have been attracted to primary school teaching but I think the recession is probably having some effect on that now.”
Student Ciara Browne (18) who attained five A1s in her Leaving Cert  said that she can see negatives to the bonus point debate. The prospective 25 bonus points for Maths will be an ‘all or nothing’ enticement for higher level candidates. She thinks this could lead to an influx of lower calibre maths students opting for higher level.
“People who basically only have the capability to scrape through higher level maths are going to do it just so that they will get the extra 25 points, and they will then hold back the rest of the class,” she said.
She added that it is likely ‘there will be no incentive’ for students to really push themselves and achieve top marks. A D3 in the 2012 Leaving Certificate allied with the 25 extra points will be the equivalent of a B3 in this year’s exam.
“The University of Limerick has already introduced bonus points for Maths as well and they evaluate students on a gradient basis with students getting extra points for higher grades. I think that would make more sense.”
Her classmate Helen Gallagher (18) said she thinks that the difference between Honours and Pass maths is ‘unbelievable’ and she believed a three tier choice of level for students could be beneficial.
During the past two years the Project Maths programme has been successfully piloted in 25 schools. The programme was implemented in September in more than 700 secondary schools, and in June 2012 these students will benefit from the extra points on offer. Speaking about the changes Prof Cunningham said, “All of these initiatives make sense. The challenge is to implement them rapidly and efficiently.
“It is vital to improve and create interest in Science and Maths as this country’s prospects and prosperity a decade from now and a generation from now depend on it,” he concluded.