Math attack

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Darin King is right. Sort of.

The minister of education was on the defensive this week after retired Memorial University professor Herbert Gaskill went on a rant about the state of mathematics education in this province.

Gaskill, interviewed on CBC earlier this week, said the current math curriculum is failing our students. He’s not the first to raise the alarm, though he’s likely the only one to co-author a parents’ guide to math with his wife.

In June, Gaskill expressed similar sentiments in a letter to The Telegram.

“Once again low math scores are on the public table,” he said, citing a C.D. Howe report that put this province and Manitoba at the bottom of the heap.

“Once again, our minister of education tells us to give the curriculum a chance, particularly since a ‘considerable amount of money’ was spent on it. Once again, the buck is safely passed to the distant future.”

King, meanwhile, protested that significant changes have already been implemented, largely in response to pressure from MUN academics, as well as teachers and parents. For years, students had been set adrift on a misguided “discovery” curriculum that eschewed rote learning and expected students to figure things out for themselves.

In 2008, the government rolled out a new strategy that added extra teaching resources and reined in the volume of concepts being taught.

So, King is right to say the government hasn’t just been twiddling its thumbs. Change comes slowly, and it may be too early to tell whether the shift in 2008 has had much of an effect.

However, it may also be that the changes weren’t radical enough, because the curriculum is still largely based on the discovery learning model.

As a concept, discovery learning has been around for at least 50 years, but its implementation has met with varied success. One thing is certain, however, and that is that in its purest form, it is a total crock.

Since 2006, a number of meta studies — studies that incorporate all previous research — have consistently found it to be ineffective.

While exploration and discovery, in the generic sense, are important elements in any education, the discovery learning model has fallen flat. So why does it persist?

Good question.

It may be that education faculties and government departments are riddled with educational theorists who can’t let go of a dying idea. Or it may just be the usual glacial pace of policy change.

In any case, it’s high time the department took a comprehensive look at school curricula — not only math, but other problem areas such as language arts.

And while we’re at it, perhaps we could stop mollycoddling students who ignore deadlines and finally put an end to no-zero nonsense.

Organizations: CBC

Geographic location: Manitoba, MUN

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Recent comments

  • Charles Kennedy
    September 06, 2014 - 11:58

    I did the Grade 11 math curriculum at Acension in 1967 went on to Mun did 27 math courses graduating with a BSc 1st class Honours with 80% average in my Math major.All of that after going through that aweful 1967 math cirriculum.My my how far we come since then.As the old saying goes :"If it's not broken don't fix it."

    • Dolf
      September 08, 2014 - 10:29

      27 math courses? Sorry but I just don't get it. But I take it with all that education you wrote your own employment ticket.

  • Math lover
    September 05, 2014 - 17:11

    This article is right on. I have two daughters that teach and one of them math. She tells me this system is a lost cause and the department of education was told this. The problem is that King does not listen to anyone but himself. This has been evident when he was Minister of Education the first time around, this time around, when he was in fisheries and justice and from what I hear in his previous life before politics. If he knows so much, why is it that so many people are unhappy with everything he touches? The answer is because Darin King is an arrogant know it all who can't see past his ego. King alone will drive this province's education system into a crisis situation and he will then blame it on the teachers. It is beyond me how he himself was educated, of course unless he pulled his degrees out of a cracker jack box. What a major liability this King of ours has become.

  • Dolf
    September 05, 2014 - 09:13

    Hear, hear!