Introducing bonus points for mathematics

Readers of this blog will know that I have previously addressed the issue of whether students should receive bonus points for higher level mathematics in the Leaving Certificate. A number of universities, including DCU, had previously decided to award bonus points, and this week the same decision was also taken a little later by University College Dublin. A consensus is therefore beginning to emerge that it may be desirable, by way of an experiment, to assess whether such a step can improve the performance of Irish secondary students in mathematics and science and therefore improve the take-up of maths and science programmes at third level.

It would be fair to say that while a consensus is emerging around this, it is not necessarily one that is supported with any great enthusiasm. There is a widespread feeling that a number of issues in secondary education need to be addressed, including the quality of mathematics and science teaching and the adequacy of teacher training in this area. Some academics fear that the introduction of bonus points will take the pressure off the education system to address these matters, which ultimately are much more significant. Nevertheless, it has been accepted that bonus points may make a contribution, and that they are worth a try. These and other issues have ben addressed in a previous discussion on this blog, and also more recently on the blog of UCD’s Geary Institute.

One other thing might be noted in passing. According to the Fine Gael website, the party’s spokesperson on innovation and research, Deirdre Clune TD, has ‘called on Education Minister Mary Coughlan to immediately extend similar schemes in other third level institutions so that all fifth year students can know where they stand’. In making this statement she seems not to be aware of what other universities have already decided, and moreover she seems to be under a misapprehension as to what the role of the Minister is in this regard. Whether bonus points are applied is entirely a matter for the universities, and the Minister has no role in the matter other than to raise it as an issue – which in fairness to her she has done.

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2 Comments on “Introducing bonus points for mathematics”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    Definitely worth a try & I thought UCD’s statement was very clear about the issues involved. For an experiment to be meaningful, of course, one has to have a specific objective. In other words: how will we know whether the experiment was a success or failure when it has run its course?

  2. Martin Ryan Says:


    According to the UCD statement, specific research questions to be investigated are as follows:

    * What is the impact of bonus points on the uptake of higher level mathematics?

    * Do bonus points have an effect on equity of access to third level?

    On this basis, the experiment would be a success if more students did higher level mathematics (and if there was no detrimental effect on equity of access to third level).

    Of course, you have raised wider issues, such as:
    * Is the real objective to encourage students to do science/engineering/maths/tech courses at third-level?

    To give the bonus points scheme some credit, students will at least be *in a position* to do a science/engineering/maths/tech course if they take higher level mathematics.

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