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THERE are two sides to the bonus points for maths story

Posted by Francis O' Toole on September 17, 2012

THERE are two sides to the bonus points for maths story, as school-leavers are rapidly discovering.

It is good news for the almost 11,000 candidates who achieved a minimum D grade in higher- level maths in the Leaving Cert, — and an additional 25 points for college entry to boot.

That is up about 3,000 on last year and they represent one-in-four Leaving Certificate applicants to the CAO this year.

In one fell swoop, these students each have an extra 25 points to play around with, whether they actually need the higher-level grade or not.

It is likely that many of the 11,000 are within the ranks of those who applied for courses in areas strongly associated with maths, which is where they are told the jobs are.

If that is the case, the overall impact could be pretty neutral in terms of who gets a place and who does not, because they are all coming to the table with the same bonus. Engineering is an obvious example, with a C3 grade at higher level usually the minimum requirement. Financial and actuarial studies are others. But, despite popular belief, many other disciplines that may sound like they need higher-level maths, do not.

Take computer science. You need higher level for entry to Trinity, but not to other colleges.

In general, you don’t need higher-level maths for entry to science degree programmes, nor for prestigious health courses such as medicine or dentistry.

Chances are many of the students applying for these courses have done the higher level, but not all. It is likely that the latter group of students will feel the squeeze when the offers come.

They will certainly feel it more than, for instance, applicants to arts, where there is likely to be a lower concentration of higher-level maths candidates.

The release of CAO offers on Monday will fire up the debate about whether it is better to incentivise students for the extra time needed to study higher-level maths and, in so doing, helping employers to meet the skills crisis in this area.

UCD economist Kevin Denny says the more interesting question will be the effect of bonus points on entry to third-level education by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“If more affluent schools are more likely to teach “honours” maths (or to teach it better) then this policy will surely exacerbate the existing inequality,” he warns.

– Catherine Donnelly

Irish Independent

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