Page 2627 - Week 08 - Thursday, 30 June 2005
The House of Representatives committee was also told that teacher training in maths has little or, in some cases, nothing to do with maths itself but rather various forms of half-baked sociology, such as learning to sort and classify, and deciding what needs to be measured and what appropriate tools are needed to do this. This is so prevalent that the Australian Mathematical Sciences Foundation felt it necessary to state in one of its recommendations to the House of Representatives committee that diploma of education courses for prospective teachers of mathematics should have a clear focus on the teaching of mathematics. This does not sound like rocket science. It seems pretty obvious that if we are not teaching our teachers mathematics, how can they teach the children mathematics?
This is a cause of grave concern. One result, according to the Australian Secondary Principals Association, is that while 25 years ago there were 100,000 students doing pure maths and logic at university, today there are fewer than 16,000. An item in last week’s Australian pointed out that states are in disarray when it comes to the teaching of maths. To quote from the article:
Maths students in some states are missing out on learning core skills while others are being taught those skills too late, a leading maths education body has warned.
The article goes on to tell us what is wrong with the teaching of maths in schools. And maths is only one example.
To see where this is leading, we might look at a report this week by leading mathematicians on the condition of maths teaching and training in the UK—admittedly this is the UK and we are not as bad as they are at the moment. These leading maths teachers found that national test results are “grossly inflated”; the students with top grades are “increasingly innumerate and even uneducable”; the shortage of qualified teachers is reaching “dangerous levels”—and we are getting to that position because we do not require maths qualifications for those going into teaching; and most postgraduates with a PhD in maths from a British university are now “largely unemployable” as mathematicians. The maths teachers are saying that this is all because over the past 15 years the subject has become fragmented and reduced to a collection of simply one-step routines that have undermined its integrity. In other words, it has become subject to student-centred as opposed to content-centred learning—that is, they can do what they like and not learn their tables.
While we are not yet in the parlous situation that exists in Britain, we are on the slippery slope and we can see that there is no hope if we adopt our curriculum guidelines. It is crucial that we stop pandering to this fashionable nonsense. The only effect of this will be to provide students and teachers with a substandard education. At the moment the ACT is performing relatively well but the government threatens to undermine past achievements by extending the very education philosophy and practices that have caused havoc elsewhere and have been lampooned across the world—in Britain and in Australia, through the submissions to the House of Representatives inquiry into teacher education.
The crisis in mathematics exemplifies a broader problem—the impact of student-centred learning as an underlying educational philosophy and the reliance on gimmicks like electronic whiteboards to make up for the increasingly obvious shortfalls of the