Monday, 16 May 2016

Close To the Working Definition of Insanity

Failure in Maths Will Be Fixed By More of the Same

Our highly vaunted New Zealand Secondary School curriculum focuses upon students achieving passes or credits in NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement).  But at least in maths the system is developing into a comprehensive failure.  As one wag put it, NCEA has come to mean "No Child Educated in Arithmetic".  

The NZ Herald complains:
Thousands of children begin secondary school each year without the reading, writing or maths skills needed to make it through. . . . A national monitoring study from 2013 had even lower results, with just 41 per cent of students at the expected level when they leave primary, despite the majority achieving well just four years earlier.

The drop-off after Year 4 - when students are aged 9 to 10 - is a trend across all subjects, but in mathematics it is particularly significant.  "International studies and national data provide clear evidence that we have a serious achievement challenge in mathematics," a Ministry of Education maths plan said.  "We have very good evidence about what leads to effective mathematics teaching and learning. But putting this together in the classroom and making it possible across the system is challenging and complex."
Let's see now.  The fundamentals of mathematics--that is, arithmetic--have been around for millennia.  There is nothing new here.
 Two times two still equals four--as it has done since Pythagoras was a lad.  But this is puerile, we are told.  Mathematics is ultimately a process of abstract reasoning using numbers.  Therefore, to prepare children to cope with mathematics at the level of philosophical abstraction, we need to begin to get them thinking abstractly from the very outset. The key tool?  Lots and lots of "real life" numerical problems.  For example: "A dog has five pups.  Two died.  How many are left?" The idea is to get the child to reason through the problem.  Real life problems become the portal to abstract mathematical reasoning.

The result?  Mathematics becomes a fog embracing a conundrum.  It is made turgid, dense, and complex from the beginning.  That is the core reason for the failure of NZ schools to teach mathematics.  In other words, the cause lies with the experts, the academics, the abstract specialists who have been allowed to meddle with the traditional mathematics curriculum.

One top academic--our most prestigious mathematician in fact--skewers the modern methods of teaching maths:
New Zealand's foremost mathematician has spoken out against the way maths is taught in schools, saying children need to know basic arithmetic before they try to start problem solving.  Sir Vaughan Jones, winner of the Fields Medal - the maths equivalent of the Nobel Prize - told the Weekend Herald that children had to do "lots and lots of exercises" to build up familiarity and confidence before they moved on to more advanced concepts.

His comments follow those of Education Minister Hekia Parata, who said last weekend that she was "extremely concerned" by results from an international survey of Year 5 children in December, which showed half could not add 218 and 191.  Ms Parata said she had asked officials to find out more about the traditional methods of Auckland maths educator Des Rainey, who discovered most Year 5 and 6 children tested at an Auckland school could not quickly answer simple multiplication or division questions but improved rapidly after practising his simple arithmetic drills. [NZ Herald. Emphasis, ours.]
Ah, but the experts who have burrowed deeply into the bowels of the educational establishment beg to differ.  What is needed is more teachers at primary level with post-graduate degrees in mathematics to teach this complex, difficult, and challenging subject.  Or so they tell us.

Balderdash.  We need dedicated primary teachers to get their pupils to rote learn 9x8=72, so they can recite it in their sleep.  That is what Vaughan Jones is calling for.  It is that which has been lost.

But our betters, the "experts" know better.  Collectively they are going to brush the Education Minister aside.  They are experts at educrat misdirection and Sir Humphrey-esque doublespeak.  They are going to double down.


Anonymous said...

But what about the transgender friendly toilets? Priorities please.


Scotty said...

When I went through teacher training (primary), many of those in my programme were unable to do basic maths. One of the requirements of the course was to sit a maths test with questions pitched at the intermediate level. Before the test, a couple of us spent time giving tutorials to other trainees to help them with basic maths so they could pass this test.....and these are the people who are released to teach our children!!