Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pitiable Johnny

He Can't Read, Write, or Do Maths

For years we have been told by the education establishment that the New Zealand government education system was one of the best in the world, and that pupils were getting a first class education, highly ranked in the OECD tables.  We have always taken such claims with a big grain of salt.  Now we hear that New Zealand kids are ranking well down the scale in maths--one of the subjects in which we were supposed to be doing really well.

This from the NZ Herald:

Education Minister Hekia Parata is considering a return to basic arithmetic for primary school children in an attempt to lift New Zealand's faltering performance in maths.  New Zealand 9-year-olds finished last-equal in maths among peers in developed countries, in a survey published in December. Almost half could not add 218 and 191 in a test.  Officials analysing the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) test found there were "significant proportions" of Year 5 children who could not add or subtract simple numbers.

The problem persisted into high school, where "there are still students who have difficulty with the very basics such as knowledge about whole numbers and decimals".
Now why might this be?  Because government schools and teachers have had it drummed into them that memory work for pupils is destructive.  What it the result?
The findings are supported by a local study which found most older children at an Auckland primary school were unable to do basic arithmetic.  Year 5 students at Fairburn School in Otahuhu took more than seven seconds on average to answer each single-digit multiplication question from their times tables - such as 8x4 - and 12 seconds to answer each division question.  Year 6 students, on the verge of intermediate school, took about six seconds on average for every multiplication question and 10 seconds for division.
There is an argument that teachers are not to blame.  They have been forbidden to teach properly.
The former educational psychologist, 82, said the teachers were not to blame for the poor initial results as they succeeded as soon as they were given the right teaching methods.  "Teachers are scared off because they hate to be seen doing anything which smacks of rote learning ... That tends to put them off any sort of memorisation at all."

He said current maths ideology promoted understanding ahead of memorisation but children could not understand maths concepts if they had no knowledge to work with. "We've got to get the stuff into the kids' heads."
The oh-so-stupid modern methods want pupils to understand mathematical concepts, but in a vacuum.  There is no numeric mental framework with which to understand more abstract concepts. 

An academic from Auckland University weighs in.  We can expect to get the good oil from a fully qualified mathematics lecturer.  Peter Hughes
. . . who played a prominent part in introducing the changes criticised by Dr Rainey, said it was true that many students reached high school without numeracy skills and Dr Rainey's system would help them to learn their basic facts.  .  .  . 
He dismissed worries that New Zealand children could no longer do long multiplication or division as irrelevant, as history had moved on.  "Would anyone really believe that being able to work out 45,438.5 x 65 is important? In the real world, calculators and computers are doing this rote work, leaving people, hopefully, to think, rather that spend time on tedious labour."
All of which begs a question, Think with what?  When there are no mathematical facts, no data in the mind thinking will be inevitably vacuous.  Imagine an argument being made that auto-mechanics no longer had to be taught how the internal combustion engine was designed and functioned, since computers now did most the diagnostic work on cars.  Mechanics can now spend time thinking.  But about what?  If they have not learnt in the first place how cars are designed and how they function in the first place, what have they go to think with. 

Or what would be think of an argument that because modern airliners are flown substantially by computers, pilots don't need to know all the details about aeronautics and how planes actually work.  They can sit on the flight deck and think, rather than doing "tedious labour". 

Yet this is precisely the kind of inanity being inflicted upon our pupils in government runs schools.  

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