The education system in Canada enjoys an exceptional global reputation, and many immigrants have uprooted from their home country to Canada so that their children can enjoy the best education system in the world. But students across Canada have shown continued deteriorating in math skills. This year, half of Grade 6 students in Ontario failed to meet the provincial standard in math test, unveiling a disturbing reality for many parents from a cultural background that values education the most. Seeing their children suffer setbacks in math learning while their Chinese peers are thriving is slap in the face to them.
The poor math results leave many parents grappling with big questions: what has caused the crisis and how to diffuse it? In my opinion as a parent, apart from flaws in math curriculum, poor quality in math teaching should bear the brunt of the blame.
The math crisis started several years ago, when Canadian students faced a decline ranking in international math competition, and when a growing number of Ontario students failed EQAO math test. The crisis has put Ontario math teachers’ weak math skills under microscope. According to Toronto Star’s report, Ontario math teachers faced tremendous struggles in their profession, with many of them not getting basic math.
Some teachers, when asked to recall their grade 6 math, were in tears.” I’m working with some who don’t know how to multiply or divide,” noted professor Mary Reid of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). “They have no idea what a ‘remainder’ is. They think a remainder of 3 is the same as decimal 3.”
One math teacher wrote an article published on the Globe and Mail, implying that leaving out some difficult subjects in math curriculum can help boost students’ math test results. He seems to suggest that the curriculum should remove the part that students struggling the most – including how to calculate the surface area and volume of a triangular prism, citing reasons that math should cover “big ideals”, rather than the “miniate”. “When was the last time you calculated the surface area of a triangular prism?” he asked in the article.
It is incredibly unsettling to see suggestions like this from a math teacher. Of course, a shortcut solution to deteriorated math test results is to leave out the subject that are too difficult to comprehend. It will make the life of both teachers and students much easier and bring a better test result to everyone. That the difficult math topic has never been used in real life will make a perfect excuse for this suggestion.
But his idea is ridiculous at best, deceptive at worst. Indeed, many subjects covered in students’ math courses are not applicable in real life. But a series of reasoning and thinking skills -- from analytical thinking, problem solving, and quantitative reasoning are critical for students to acquire in order to survive and thrive in the technology dominated modern era. Apart from helping students develop these skills generally required in real life, math learning also paves a path for the future education process in post secondary schools – in math related major or not.
With teachers’ math skills in this weak level, it is unsurprising to see math teachers pulling their hair out when they are standing in front of a classroom to teach students the subjects that they themselves are struggling to comprehend. If you can’t multiply of divide, or if you don’t know what remainder is, you would face a tough time trying to figure out the surface area or volume of a triangular prism.
We can’t expect that Ontario math teachers to help their students overcome their fear, if they themselves suffer from math phobia. But avoidance is not the way to address the math anxiety. Undoubtedly, if we relieve the fear by leaving out difficult topics bit by bit from the curriculum, a few decades from now, the math course might disappear from Ontario schools altogether, leaving immigrant parents crying afoul over their belief that Canada’s education system is one of the best in the world.
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