Number of CAO courses to face cut

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It looks as though the long-mooted shake-up of the Leaving Cert points system may happen after all. According to Minister of Education Ruairi Quinn, the plan is to gradually phase-in changes from September 2014 so that the new system is in place for students sitting the Leaving Cert in 2017. These plans recently overcame a major stumbling block when the academic councils of the major Irish universities signalled their approval of proposals to reduce the number of programmes that are currently on the CAO list.

Why reduce the number of CAO courses?

While increases in the number of available courses out there (this year there are 1,400; in 1991 there were 385) seemed to offer students much more choice, the actual result of such increases was a level of over-specialisation that brought about a bottleneck effect as the number of places on such courses became more restricted. In turn, this drove courses’ points requirements upwards, thereby putting students under ever-greater pressure to do well in exams. By reducing the number of courses on the CAO list, it is hoped that the focus on points gathering will shift.

What will the cut mean for students?

With the focus off the points race, the hope is that greater emphasis will be placed on the actual quality of education that students receive at secondary school. The much-maligned (and yet understandable) trend of ‘teaching to the test’ will hopefully be replaced by a deeper, more engaging form of learning – one that should better prepare students for the creative and critical thinking required by many third-level courses.

Also on the agenda is a change to the 14-point grading system currently in place. As the 5-point difference between a B1 and a B2 could make all the difference to a student’s college application, many students were being overburdened by the urgency to achieve the required points tallies, thus losing focus on the importance of understanding the subjects being studied. In other words, many could no longer see the wood from the trees.

So no more specialisation at college?

Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to specialise. The change would simply mean that first-year college students would enter more broad-based courses. They would then be able to specialise in second year (or later), when they would have a greater understanding of their strengths and of the areas that are of interest to them.


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