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Adding up the ways we’re falling behind in education

A new study shows Canadians may be handy with computers, but we’re terrible at math


 

Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star / GetStock

Learning is tricky. On Tuesday the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a global report on adult skills based on surveys of 166,000 people in 23 countries.

The results showed that Canada scores below the average of those countries in numeracy, or mathematical skill.

The first sentence of the Sun newspapers’ story that afternoon said, “Canadians are at or above average when it comes to math, reading and problem-solving, a new global study has found.” Well, no it didn’t, not when it comes to math. But perhaps it’s too much to hope a mere Canadian could read statistics more accurately.

The OECD’s survey, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), is the first of its kind. National authorities in every country administered tests to at least 5,000 people aged 16 to 65. So the PIAAC doesn’t measure how kids are doing in school, it measures how well people are doing later in life with the knowledge and skills they accumulated in school and after.

It’s an overstatement to say that in the modern world, knowledge is everything. Oil, armies and the not-yet-entirely-squandered inheritance from past glories still counts for a lot. The U.K., Germany and the U.S. score below the average of PIAAC countries on literacy, but they still carry clout. But if you compare the countries at the bottom of that list (Italy, Spain, France and Ireland) to the countries at the top (Japan, Finland, Netherlands and Australia), it seems likely that the top of the list can look forward to a brighter 10 or 15 years than the ones pulling up the rear.

A well-educated population is more adaptable, more resilient in the face of challenge, and maybe even wiser. Japanese participants with only a high school education scored at the same level as university graduates from Italy. That’s a solid advantage. In France, where the value of a good education is constantly trumpeted, the consistently lousy results posted in this and other surveys feels like a betrayal of a national ideal. France scored 21st in number skills, 22nd in literacy. “Dunce cap for French adults,” the headline in Le Figaro said.

But at least younger French adults outperform their elders; in Britain and the United States, there’s no such improvement from generation to generation, and former advantages are in danger of being lost.

The picture for Canada is less worrisome. But in important ways, it’s not much to write home about. Canada ranked at the OECD average in literacy and comfortably ahead in computer skills, but it ranked below the average in math. And Canadian women consistently scored lower than Canadian men on math.

Statistics Canada surveyed large samples in every province and territory, and among immigrant and off-reserve Aboriginal populations, to get a clear look at regional and demographic variations within Canada. More prosperous provinces generally posted better results. On literacy, Alberta and Ontario scored above the OECD average, ranking just behind Sweden and Norway. New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador scored below average, down near Poland and Ireland. Remote Nunavut was, on every measure, by far the lowest-performing Canadian jurisdiction, well below any European country.

But Nunavut aside, the differences between Canadian regions are smaller than the differences within populations. Canadian adults aren’t all average. They tend to extremes. More Canadians scored at both the highest levels and the lowest levels on literacy than in most other participating countries.

How is it that Canadians manage both to lag badly in some cases, and to beat the world in others? The answer seems to lie in the Canadian school, which emerges from this report as an unusually powerful mechanism for correcting for sociological differences. It’s actually truer in Canada than in many other countries that the longer you stayed in school, the better you performed on this international test.

Here are two heartening examples.

Aboriginal participants living off-reserve did score lower, on average, than non-Aboriginal populations. But in one of the survey’s most striking results, Aboriginal participants who completed a given level of formal education scored as high as non-Aboriginal participants with the same education.

Then there’s the gap between participants with highly educated parents and those with less-educated parents. In some countries, if neither of your parents finished high school you will probably score a lot worse on the literacy test than someone who had at least one parent finish university. Those countries include Germany and the United States. But that gap is one-third smaller in Canada, which means parents’ education is much less likely to seal the next generation’s fate here.

Taken together, these results suggest Canadian schools are a strong force for equalizing opportunity, but that they could still stand to pick up their game. In an interview, Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson recognized as much.

Johnson is the chair of the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, which administered the PIAAC survey in Canada with help from Statistics Canada. He was, understandably, eager to look on the bright side: “I was personally very encouraged to see how well we’ve done on problem-solving in a digital environment,” which is the fancy term PIAAC uses for computer literacy. He also noted that Canada has one of the smallest gaps between the scores of immigrant and native-born test-takers.

But he did recognize Canada’s shaky performance on math, as well as the persistent gender gap on the same subject. “Numeracy has been a topic of conversation around the table among ministers for a while,” he said. One possible remedy: specialized teachers who, unlike some of their generalist colleagues, will actually be comfortable with math and can share their fluency with students. As for the gender gap, “We need to make sure girls are inspired and excited by how they’re taught science and math,” Johnson said.

Easier said than done, perhaps, especially in an environment of coast-to-coast budget restraint. Together, health and education costs comprise a majority of every province’s budget, Johnson said. “If you need to find cuts, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where it’s going to come from.” But he noted that internationally there’s not much correlation between the cost of an education system and the results it produces. That’s reassuring, if true, because even with limited resources, Canada’s education system needs to post better results. Pretty good won’t always be good enough.

On the web: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at macleans.ca/inklesswells


 

Adding up the ways we’re falling behind in education

  1. I think an above average score in computer literacy and poor math skills go hand in hand.

    • That was my very strong hunch too, but as far as I can tell from the results across countries, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation.

    • Proficiency at math and proficiency at programming are only loosely related. Programming and other computer skills are mostly exercises in logic. It is not unusual to be highly skilled in logic while rather weak at say, calculus.
      One can understand calculus (logically) but cower as much as the next person at performing integration and differentiation. There are far more job opportunities for the logically proficient than the mathematically proficient. Of course, I’m speaking here of higher math. If you cant understand basic trigonometry, scientific notation and even percentages, you’re probably out of luck anyway.

      • I was one of those math students that showed up only for tests and aced it.

        To be really good with computers takes logic, rational skills, factual and not emotional thought. Me, I made a living designing HW and SW, finding problems others could not and it boils down to a rational, logical and disciplined brain.

        One thing that is not fiction about Star Trek is a logical mind like Spock will find it easy to mater computers.

        Our schools do pretty poorly in the rational and logical thinking department.

    • It depends on what is meant by computer literacy. I suspect it means simply being able to use a computer, navigate your way around the net, use available software and communicate online. Computer literacy has nothing to do with programming or coding but programming and coding hae everything to do with math.

      • I agree….programming and mathematics go hand in hand and the higher you go with computer science and programming the more it becomes mathematics. It really is just another branch of mathematics.

      • But if you know the logic and rational thinking, can program them, well, you are a super-ultra user and not just a monkey that has memorized some buttons.

    • Math teaches the rudimentary logic required t be good at computers. If you cannot rationalize and do logic, best you can be is a computer user with low skills.

      But the system doesn’t have the discipline to mandate minimum requirements of math, logic, rational thought. We in fact celebrate idiocracy.

  2. All easily manipulated, suppressed populations in many countries having an overabundance of cheap labour are intentionally mal educated by their masters. Canada isn’t special people, wake up!! This is all by design. What’s it cost to get a post secondary these days?

    • We are being intentionally mis-educated, but it isn’t the government’s will, not provincial or federal. It is the education system, which seeks to preserve the status quo and feather its own nest first and foremost. We don’t need nearly so many BAs, yet we’ve got ’em in spades, and graduating more each year.

      • BA = B-gger All. MBA is More BA.

        Can’t say I have met too many BA and MBA in my computer career I had any respect for. Usually just in it for the money and power over others.

        Government should stop subsidizing BA/Arts as industry and jobs needs productive skills.

  3. Education budgets are expanding, not being cut, but we can always rely on union members like teachers and journos to demand ever more money to fund school system that is making our children innumerate.

    Canada doesn’t have an education system so I am not even sure what this is measuring. I have read elsewhere that Alberta has terrific education system compared to other provs, do they provide breakdown of people they tested and were they evenly distributed across provs?

    I have niece and nephew in Ont elementary public school and I have no problem believing that Ont is dire in math. They are learning feck all at school, I have been home schooling them after school to teach them actual knowledge and not the airy fairy stuff they learn at school. Kids brains are sponges, they take in much info, it is scandalous how little we demand of children.

    I complain to my sister often how public school system is set up to create bureaucrats or middle managers and these findings prove my point – people can type and talk but nothing else. Without numeracy, you can’t think clearly, that’s why the unions are keen to keep people stupid. Fear works.

    • GIVE YOUR HEAD A SHAKE.

      • And then what?

        • Well, to be brutally honest, your grammar could do with some work, but this concerns me:

          [it is scandalous how little we demand of children.]

          I think you mean: “How little we *challenge* children. You can demand all you like, it doesn’t mean you’ll get whatever it is you’re demanding.

  4. This problem has been building for a long time now.
    Step 1: More people than ever are going to university. Many people who are not taking STEM based programs graduate to an economy that cannot support their skills, due to limited job options for their major (unless they choose to work their way up somewhere, which is common with business degrees, among others). There just seem to be more “career” options, as opposed to jobs for people with STEM backgrounds right now.
    Step 2: The graduate goes to teacher’s collage to get a job in their undergraduate field of study (somewhat), and if they don’t have teachables, they end up in elementary schools. Some of these people are from STEM programs, but it seems most people who studied STEM teach highschool, or end up in the private sector.
    Step 3: Many elementary school teachers haven’t taken a science or math class since highschool. At best, their skills are rusty, but at worst, they took the bare minimum of each topic and dropped it because they weren’t good at it, or “really liked” something else more.
    Step 4: The old elementry school teachers who knew how to teach math and science slowly retire out, leaving a flock of people who (by this point) have gone over a decade without a math or science class.
    Solution? Have math and science criteria for elementry school teachers. If they can’t perform, fire them, or make them take classes until they have at least a grade 10 level of science and math ability. Now, if we can only get past the teachers union…

  5. As the husband of an elementary school teacher I can tell you why numeracy is going down. Over the last 10-20 years our math curriculum has moved from one based on understanding the basics, memorization when needed and repetition, to one of “understanding the concepts”, no memorization and little to no repetition.
    Most 30+ year olds in Canada had to memorize their times tables and in doing so became familiar with how numbers work. We did math drills in school and had to be able not only to add and subtract but to multiply large numbers by hand and do long division on a page. The new curriculum has eliminated these requirements. Children are not drilled in the basics and lacking that foundation tend to lag thereafter.
    My wife did an assessment of her grade 6-7 class during the second week of school and of 29 students only 3 could do long division on paper without a calculator. They were given a set of multiplications of two and three digit numbers (and were allowed to use their calculators) and still they got answers wrong. Because they had not done enough practice in their lives they did not even realize when they input the wrong number of digits in their calculators. Numbers that would just look wrong to older citizens (multiplying two 3 digit numbers and getting a three digit answer) did not strike them as odd.
    Math is a skill and like any skill it must be practiced in order to hone the skill. Our current curriculum has gone away from that and moved to an “understanding” model. The results of this new curriculum is evident in the international test scores.

    • Sadly, other subjects are just as watered down. I learned Canada’s ten provinces and capital cities in Grade 1. My mother still has some of the tests and work I did as keepsakes. My nephew here in Ottawa came home from school a few years ago when he was in grade 7, and announced proudly that “Canada has ten provinces,” then proceeded to name some, but couldn’t remember more than 3 or 4. This same kid couldn’t make change (and now at age 17, probably still can’t for all I know).We are demanding next to nothing from kids these days, and they’re living up to our reduced expectations.

      • Maybe your experiences and those of your nephew are as you’ve described, but this does not a statistically significant survey make. We do have a survey to look at, though. It’s the one cited in this article.
        Read it and you will see that young adults scored higher in numeracy than older adults in Canada.
        As for provinces…
        How many prefectures are there in Japan and what are there names? Can you name the 10 largest metropolitan area on the planet? (try it then google – how did you do?) How many countries are there in the UN? I won’t ask you to name them. Name the 10 premiers of Canadian provinces? My guess is that (a) you need to look these up, and (b) you can readily find this information. Same goes for the list of provinces in Canada. We need to ask deeper questions like “what is the list of facts for which automatic recall is important?” I suspect that recalling provinces of Canada should be on that list. But, I think we should pause and consider humbly what we consider to be the common knowledge that someone operating in the world of 2050 will need.

        • It’s been 40 years since I was in grade 1. The ten provinces and capitals have not changed in that time. They won’t have changed in 2050 either. My concern is, what they once taught in grade 1 is now being taught in Grade 7. If I saw the nephew learning something else of value, I would not be so concerned. Thus far, (and he’s now in grade 12) I see no evidence that he is learning anything but watered down crap that would have been learned a few grades earlier at one time.

        • And they used to teach that way in 1913.

          You should see some of the old tests. 90% of G12 graduates today couldn’t pass a G7 1913 math test.

      • Should we force students to memorize what they can look up in seconds?

        • They can look it up in seconds when they have a viable internet connection, otherwise they’ll stand there looking stupid. The argument is that some things should be committed to memory.

          • Sort of like being at the convenience store, the power or til goes out and they can’t make change for $1.

        • Yes. You have to rationalize and apply logic to use the Internet correctly.

    • Yes, exactly. I’m glad someone mentioned it, an I’m a little surprised that Paul didn’t (although to be fair, this study included people up to 65 years of age, so the older ones studied under the old system).
      The good news is that some (hopefully all, eventually) provinces are starting to go back to the old system. I believe the western provinces are taking this initiative, and the others will likely follow.

      • Ah yes, the old system. Except that this report showed that Canadians between 16 and 24 years old scored higher in numeracy than those from the “old system”. (pages 80 and 82)
        Does that change your opinion? I suspect not. I can imagine that making wild assumptions and sweeping generalizations is easier than reading the report. And much more satisfying. The report clearly does not provide any evidence that the new system is worse than the old.

        • Thank you Mike. Something may well be going wrong, but those who espouse “memorizing” are the ones who get by from that method. THEY don’t understand the dynamics of math, and so their crutch becomes the end-all for everyone else.

          What I find most interesting is that Australia scores highly in math, which plays on some social steretypes that some would have found handy, but seem to not be applicable…save for climatic difference…or is it?

        • I’m pretty sure those tests would be geared to the new math they are teaching today and would be the equivalent to Greek to us older people.

        • Given that the older Canadians might not have had need to use what they learned in school for decades, I should hope the younger ones score higher. In fact, they should score way higher. That they only score slightly higher is perhaps more telling.

        • Lots of unemployed young can’t get jobs. That says it all.

          Worse too, for such low math, low logic, low rational thinking skills they expect a d’attached 2000 sq/ft home. So dumb they can’t see why they get paid less because they have less to offer society.

          Look at Occupy whiners. Whine for other peoples money is a celebrated thing in media today. Lots of other peoples money for nothing types, used to be you could call them freeloaders and fleabaggers.

    • See my post in the main feed. The report shows that 16-24 year olds score higher than adults as a whole. I suspect that the fact that this is precisely the opposite of what you state will have no impact on your conclusions. Just dig in your heels!

      • How well do you use what you learned in school decades ago?

        • Me, lots as it was the fundamental basis I used to get a better education and function well in life.

          Do I manually do 13×13=169 long hand any more? Of course not, but I advanced because of the logic it taught.

          So when I go for a loan, I can calculate the cost plus interest in my head. Or realize the till tape doesn’t add up. Or know how income tax works to save me some money. Or calculate what I need for an investment return as to grow in value after inflation.

          So I am not a sucker in lending banks money below inflation+taxes like a sucker play. As I understand the math and not just a blind sheeples.

          Yep, I use the basis of elementary math to this day. Even when I cut wood for a home project, I know a 4 1/2 foot long board can be cut into 4 13″ pieces with some left over to make the edges of a drawer or box.

          Use it all the time.

    • [Most 30+ year olds in Canada had to memorize their times tables and in doing so became familiar with how numbers work.]
      Far from it! In fact, quite the contrary. “Memorizing” *replaces* mental processing.

      If I memorize every sentence of Shakespeare, does that make me a playwright?

      Things may be far from ideal in today’s schools, but *memorizing* has been the bane in the past, and will be in the future. *Understanding* is something entirely different, and memorizing is done in lieu of that.

      • except memorizing the times tables actually makes it easier to do math

        • But understanding:

          25×120 is the same as understanding 2500+500 = 3000 in your head is priceless. So you don’t have to waste time memorizing trivial multiplication tables and go beyond where tables end.

          Understanding goes a lot further than puke learning.

      • “understanding” is such a mis-used term. In reading we talk of “sight words” those are words you don’t read, per se, but rather see and know instantly. Without sight words reading becomes a much harder task. The times tables are the “sight words” of the math world. Knowing your times tables allows students to instantly recognize features of larger numbers and helps with understanding sequences and patterns. We would never expect children to advance in their reading without knowledge of their sight words but we expect math students to do their advanced math without their times tables?

      • Memorizing also helps one, you know, remember things.

        • Even though I bashed table memorization in above for understanding being of value, I agree with you as memorizing things is a good skill too.

          But combine memorization with understanding your then have a thinking human being.

          • Agreed. Memory and understanding and problem solving and a bunch of other things. We tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and wonder why we fall behind.

    • Unfortunately, you are right about the calculator issue. My daughter has a diagnosed math disability but using a calculator often makes it worse because she doesn’t realize when she’s typed in the numbers wrong. She much prefers adding in her head even though it takes longer, or using a multiplication chart to help with her arithmetic because they are visual and hard to mess up.

  6. In Ontario you can google MathSolutionsOntario. The mandate of this group is to advocate for improved math education. This has happened in Manitoba; MathSolutionsOntario wants to get our children the basics they need, advocate for parents and other concerned citizens and support families.

    • Read the report. On pages 80 and 82 we see that younger adults (18 to 24) scored higher than adults as a whole. So, this says precisely the opposite of what you assumed.

  7. Of course math skills are down. They hand kids a calculator and don’t teach them how to add even. 2 grandsons in grade eight and neither has learned how to figure out the 9 times table. or how to estimate

    • But the report clearly shows on pages 80 and 82 that math skills among younger people (aged 16 to 24) are better than those of older adult Canadians.
      So, math skills are improving.

      • no, we’ve just not learned the”new math” they teach now. how many kids can figure out the circumference of a circle with just the radius without a calculator

        • Hi Judy,
          Have you checked the content of the test used or are you just making stuff up again?
          Rather than reaching for conclusions, let’s review where we are in our conversation…
          (1) You didn’t read the study but still used it to conclude the exact opposite of what was in the study.
          (2) I pointed out that the study showed exactly the opposite.
          (3) You now dispute the study as biased in favour of “new math” without having seen the study. So the study you used 5 hours ago to say “math skills are down” says the opposite of that and now you will use no citations to claim precisely the opposite. You even have a convenient explanation. Again, you haven’t read what you are discussing.
          (4) I review the conversation. The review should give you pause.
          Go read the report in full. Then, comment on its content. Or, just keep commenting in ignorance. Your choice.
          As for the circumference, what is the circumference of a circle with radius (2+i)?

          • I don’t need to read some government study to know my grandkids did not learn basic math skill in school, and before you say something rude, they are not slow they are amazingly intelligent considering the education they are not getting.

          • Hi Judy,
            First off, I would not say anything rude about your grandkids. I’m sure that they are as you have described and I’m sorry that they are not getting the education that you think they should get.
            That being said, they are not a representative sample. We have a representative sample in the survey we are discussing. It says the opposite of what you are saying. That it is a “government survey” did not stop you from citing it earlier. It’s just that it says the opposite of what you think is true.
            I’m a teacher and I have seen thousands of kids come through our school. I collect more data per student than any other teacher out there. And even still, I would not reach a conclusion on the education system as a whole based on only this data. This is anecdotal, even if I’m familiar with thousands of learners. You are talking about a sample size that is too small. We cannot use this to make conclusions about public policy.
            We have before us some solid evidence to contradict your assertion. I’m inviting you to read the evidence first. You’ve refused. I cannot imagine how this conversation can continue unless you have alternative scientifically valid evidence to bring forward. I’m happy to be proven wrong if you can bring any evidence forward. So far, I have yet to see evidence that students are being failed worse than before. All I see is evidence that we continue to fall short of ideal, as we have for countless generations. At the very least, the study shows that things are marginally improving.

          • There is bliss in ignorance. If they don’t think and understand, they don’t know how stupid they are.

            As one thing about learning, is you realize how much you don’t know.

            Yet ignorance knows everything.

          • You point to one study and offer it up as conclusive. The rest of us are going on personal experience. Something an academic would dismiss as “anecdotal”. You go ahead and let some academic study do your thinking for you. I’ll continue to observe, and think, and reach my own conclusions. One thing I have learned is a very strong mistrust of the academic use of statistical methods in general. And I’m not alone. Nassim Taleb has written entire books about just that. I no longer accept the results of any study at face value. I question everything, and if it doesn’t line up with my own observations and experience, I simply don’t accept it until an explanation is offered.

  8. Wells – Just came across this. Deals with UK, very wonkish but seems like something you might enjoy.
    ——-

    “Dominic Cummings is a special adviser on policy to the education secretary, Michael Gove, but is resigning at the end of the year. In this document he discusses everything from maths, IQ and quantum computers to what is wrong with MPs, Whitehall and education policy. The section on education (pages 62-83) is probably the most controversial and political”

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/interactive/2013/oct/11/dominic-cummings-michael-gove-thoughts-education-pdf

  9. Our respective provincial educational systems no longer emphasize the three “R”s ( reading,writing and arithmetic) ) today as they had in the past. Its more about the arts and social type subjects. Also the students spend less time in the classroom as a result of too many holidays, teacher time off and so called field trips.

    • Do students spend less time in the classroom? Citation needed.
      Do school spend less time on the three R’s? Citation needed.
      Plus, the report itself says that 16 to 24 year olds in Canada did better in numeracy than older Canadians.(pages 80 and 82) Does that alter your conclusions?

      • Mike: Giving you thumbs up on most of your posts, albeit because I think most responders are missing various dynamics and factors at play. I sense the ability of this gen to do math function *has* deteriorated….but I can’t prove it, and it all depends on how you measure it.

        Certainly many of the respondents think the answer is “go back to the old ways”. That is highly simplistic and throws the baby out with the bathwater.

        Many higher math functions can be readily done with a calculator. What is wrong with that? The very same people who criticize that are even more dependent on machine computation than students are. Students still have a much more plastic neural network.

        I wonder if all these folks talking about “the old ways” hand-wash their clothes down by the river, grist their own grain, and slaughter their own livestock to put food on the table?

        • but they still need to be taught the basics WITHOUT a calculator, which is not optional at grade 6. they will teach an 8 year old to use a calculator but not the 7 times table

        • Its not the higher math function that concerns me but rather the simple ones such a addition and subtraction that are concern.

          You wonder wrong in regards your last comment.

      • Yes, just look at the schedules today compared to 40 years ago. To many breaks now days.

        Of course less time is spent on the 3Rs. Again compare at the schedules. In my day the 3 Rs were study every school day. Not the case today. Also Universities had to implement basic English and Math for first year University students so that they were properly prepared to handle university courses.

        I’m 71 years and would challenge any teenager to a math competition without a calculator. I also have come across young store attendants, who couldn’t total a multi item sale for less than a 1 dollar without the use of a calculator. This was a case of simple addition so nothing complicated. So no, your evidence doesn’t alter my conclusions one bit. Secondly, I suggest that the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada had a invested interest in the results that support our education system in a good light.

        • Judging from your post, I think one of your R’s needs a bit of work.

          • Is that the best you can do? Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn what you think of my R’s.

      • Do you have any citations other than pages 80 and 82? Do you have any of your own observations to add? Or do you just dismiss such observations as “anecdotal”. One thing I learned in life is to never trust the stats monkeys.

        • I agree, who needs them damn pesky facts.

          • You replaced the word ‘stats’ with ‘facts’. Were you making a silly straw-man argument? Or do you just not realize that those are two very different things?

  10. The rush to condense education in Ontario from K to grade 13 to now Jr.K to 12 killed a lot of math and general knowledge skills along the way. I remember when my son was in grade 7 he was doing math we did in grade 9 and 10 however couldn’t even name all the Great Lakes, and only could name all the provinces and territories as Nunavut became a new territory around then. They also had no practice on multiplication tables and was always surprised if he asked me a basic multiplication question I could give the answer immediately.
    But the biggest difference from when we in the 40+ crowd went to school and now is that they don’t fail anyone anymore. Not a test, a grade, nothing! Just keep pushing them on but locally got rid of the high school that taught more trades and was designed for those who failed grades and didn’t understand regular teaching. Nope they built a super school and throw them all in together. Isn’t that brilliant!?! Like the kids having learning disabilities or other issues are going to learn more while they are being teased for being “dumb” etc. Think not!

    • I’m a teacher. I have failed many students. In tests and in courses.
      As for the end of grade 13, the study shows that those who were in the 12-grade program did better than those who went through the 13-grade program. See pages 80 and 82. Please read the document itself.

      • Mike: As per math scores, I think we agree. After spending last summer living with Uni students (I’ll *never* do that again…), I think the loss of Grade 13 has more bearing on sociologic aspects, albeit Grade “12+” seems to address that to some extent.

        Many of those uni students are way too young and immature to be there. Some do fine, but many don’t. They’re just not equipped (in my estimation, perhaps it was always so) to deal with it. Mind you, this is one of the most catered and coddled gens ever. The very parents who lament the lack of displayed skills from their youth are the ones who cater to their every whim. Perhaps second and third world youth are catching up fast because *they have to*. It might be unrealistic in teasing out math score stats when the real handicap is social? And I’m not talking money. I’m talking a society that fails to challenge youth.

        Here’s a real statement of bravado on my part: Correlate what’s on daytime TV and how the youth of that society score in maths and science.

        A lot comes down to social mindset, and how that society values that or not.

      • Pages 80 and 82 are, apparently, the final answer on everything. I’m so glad we can put this whole debate to rest, and completely ignore the observations of many people, because pages 80 and 82 tell us we can.

    • [But the biggest difference from when we in the 40+ crowd went to school
      and now is that they don’t fail anyone anymore. Not a test, a grade,
      nothing!]
      Really? Fascinating stuff. Did you make that up yourself or did someone help you? I’d flunk you on awareness alone.

      • Manitoba implemented a “no fail” policy in the early 1990s. Just recently, they’ve started to back away from it, though how much I don’t know.

      • “Steveintoronto” No actually my older son’s grade 8 teacher told me that when I complained about his spelling skills and asked why they weren’t doing spelling dictation anymore? He told me “hell I got 3 in here that can’t even READ!”

        “So what are they doing in grade 8 I asked about to graduate?” I asked.
        “We are no longer allowed to fail them, but provide teacher’s aids then they go to the “special high school” to help them learn the basics and learn a trade…. but now they closed that school last year to put all in the new “super school”

        I bought my son one of the first hand held spell checkers, and through high school and later college changed up fast.

        “Mike” Of course when they got to high school, both sons were in shock that they actually could fail a test and a course. But after me insisting on summer school to make up the course it didn’t happen again. If fact the younger one got the award to top math skills in Gr. 12.

  11. All the comments below on getting back to basics, on how the over 30 crowd used to be so much better at math fact recall, on old teachers with math skills retiring and thus causing a glut of innumerate teachers in elementary school…..
    Honestly – read the report. On pages 80 and 82 you will see two charts on the Numeracy scores. Guess what? Canadians who are 16-24 years old scored better than Canadian adults as a whole!
    Reading a report before commenting on it is sure tough to do. It’s much easier to get on a soapbox and spout ideology.

    • I was concerned about the students in elementary schools , under 13s. And they may or may not be better than the ones who are 40 or 50. However for the money that is spent on the education of younger ones, compared to older ones can we say we are getting our money’s worth. Perhaps they are good, but are we getting value for amount of money spent????? also am a teacher of many years.

      • Also Canada is very, very average with a large amount of money spent.

      • Now this is where we need to discuss! Thanks! Are we getting value for the money spent? This article makes the case that we are getting some value for money – “these results suggest Canadian schools are a strong force for equalizing opportunity, but that they could still stand to pick up their game.”
        In other words, we are doing some things right. But, where we are not, we need to be humble and learn from others.
        The reason I jumped into this discussion is that a couple dozen comments were made on this study that directly contradicted the results of the study! It’s like people had made up their minds in advance! Surely not! But, all that aside, there are lots of improvements we could make and I hope we make these. One area for improvement is insisting that conversations about education avoid the false appeal to past golden ages. There is no past golden age, only a series of generations honestly attempting to improve the lot of the next group while stumbling in the dark. And, finally, we need to avoid using anecdotal evidence in policy discussions.

        • I never said there was a golden age. This is likely the best it has ever been More families are probably interested in their children getting a good education than in previous years and more children probably are. That does not diminish families distress over their chldrens’ struggles, the homework battles that go on at night. Families are very concerned about their particular children and are paying good money for tutors etc. because they cannot help their children. Memorization does not preclude understanding; I memorized and I understand; yes one particular case. Early elementary education could probably be vastly improved to get even better results. Parents, particularly, and teachers rely on their own experiences. Parents of elementary students are watching many children unnecessarily struggle; so they look for explanations. No there was no golden age in previous times. However, some of their thoughts do contain some validity. Parents are hurting over this. Right now there is a little too much stumbling in the dark. We still came out very, very average.

  12. Ignore every single thing Paul Wells says here and go read IQ And The Wealth Of Nations.

  13. All of this is toss. Most math is not needed anyways with calculators , and only basic adding and subtraction is required 98% of the time. It doesn’t help anyways in the grand scheme of things.

  14. I think it would help ALOT if the professors at Universities could speak CLEAR English! I had 2 nephews 1 of which got his “iron” ring the other in his first year Engineering, and their common complaint is that they can hardly understand their professors with their East Indian thick accents. HARD enough IS the course but to have it taught to you in what “sounds” like a foreign language makes things tougher
    ! And YUP we have to PAY for your kids to try and understand the course they should be able to understand the speaker. JUST SAYING!!

  15. Why are so many young adults staying at home playing games rather then going out looking for a job? Just do not want to work or go to school.

  16. Maybe all these failings in our education and our lack of workers in a rather large area of fields, should be a waking call that our system has gone down the toilet. Taking trades out of the elementary and high schools doesn’t get people interested in those jobs and ultimately that is a sector with extremely high demand, yet the powers that be choose to keep cutting funding for it in the education system. Mathematics is overrated as far as I am concerned, how many real world jobs require a strong knowledge of math? The fact of the matter is that the majority of citizens can get by with a basic understanding of math. If you are a trades person then having a strong knowledge of geometry and trigonometry is vital to the quality of work you do, however I don’t see how students should be forced to learn things like calculus and more advanced types of math unless they want to get into a science based field. I have never understood why the education forces everyone to learn the same stuff when not everyone learns it well. Heck, I was terrible at math until I got to college, the only math I was ever good at was geometry. So lo and behold I wind up with a 78 for a math credit in my first year, while I was getting low 60’s at best in high school. Some teachers are lousy at communicating what it is they are trying to teach, which doesn’t help. I had an American for an English teacher in grade 10 and she pronounced a plethora of words wrong and tried to tell us that she was correct and that we were wrong.

  17. a lag in education standards is because the different unions think they should run the syllabus and todays teachers care more about their paycheques. professional days off alongside other benefits than the children they’re supposed to teach

  18. “He also noted that Canada has one of the smallest gaps between the scores of immigrant and native-born test-takers.”

    Yes, but there IS a gap — which means that the influx of lower-scoring immigrants is making the population of Canada progressively dumber. This is something you can see with your own eyes but is rarely spelled out in media discourse.

  19. Yikes… A lot of misinformed people out there. Please take into account that most of you aren’t clear on what is actually done in schools today; read the curriculum, please, if you think that today’s education is “watered down”. A definite contributing factor is that today’s teachers, at least at the elementary level, are most often “generalists” who often don’t fully understand the curriculum they are delivering (yes, sad but true) in mathematics. The idea of having more “specialists” was mentioned in the article and would very likely make a difference – that being said, this would take a LONG time to come to fruition since this would be an enormous staffing change and take time to filter through.

  20. I’ve done a bit of math tutoring in the high school level and based on what I’ve seen student’s show me of their class work and notes, most math teachers don’t know what they’re doing! They barely understand mathematics themselves so how can they competently teach it?

    I had one student who was an A student until she hit grade 11. I looked at her grade 11 notes and her teacher actually knew mathematics and was expecting the students to work for their grades. The teacher also happened to be foreign trained in mathematics. I told the student there was no point complaining about the teacher, the teacher is there to stay. If you want the marks, we’ll have to figure out what the teacher wants. With a little help from me in deciphering what exactly the teacher is asking for, the student was fine and started getting A and A+ grades again quite quickly. But from what I saw, the student was so used to a relaxed approach to learning math that she wasn’t really challenged. So when she finally got a teacher that was “teaching” math, she needed some extra help.

    The teaching/education system itself is a joke. I was born and raised in Canada and educated here from the very beginning of my educational career, life, what have you and it’s sad. I did well in math in school but the minute I got to university, it was hard! I had to work so hard to keep up with all the foreign trained students who had done calculus and more at a first year university level and more in high school. Of course a whole lot of teachers are going to be in an uproar and stick about this but it really is. Other countries in the world have more respect for education and teachers which is a first step to better grades and performance in class both on the teacher’s and student’s part.

    Teacher’s college doesn’t seem to emphasize proficiency in a subject. Someone with an advanced degree in mathematics who is willing to learn how to teach younger people, once completed their teaching certification should be given seniority as they actually know the subject and may be more in touch and practice with the subject, e.g. calculus, linear algebra, probability etc. But some old teacher who has been teaching for God knows how many years, hanging around on supply lists until a spot opens up…is going to be a bit stale in their proficiency of mathematics.

    I really think a teacher, any teacher, should be proficient in their subject but also in touch with current happening in their field so they are able to speak about it and instill an interest in students to be more curious about it. Mathematics is such an old subject and there is so much to learn before being able to do “real” mathematics that students barely even scratch the surface of the basics of mathematics before they’ve decided they hate it or are no good at it.

    Teachers of mathematics should really be instilling the following…

    “If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is. ’’ ~John Louis von Neumann

  21. Yes, this is all Harper fault for lacking of education funding to the provinces.

  22. “If you need to find cuts, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where it’s going to come from.”

    Tough to find one. I thought rocket scientists were largely redundant these days.

  23. Schools are failing us as the priorities are all wrong.

    We teach conformance and never to question governments and unions. Kids graduate with zero knowledge of economics, personal finance….just tax sheep for the fleecing. Everyone has to love everyone and behave the same.

    Our schools are more about indoctrination than education. And I mean this seriously.

    Smartest kids I know are home schooled and parents teach kids about the real world without the teacher/system develop pressures of conformance. So they think not like sheep, but think like humans should. As after taxes, we don’t have much money for private schools where learning and discipline is #1.

    And there is a bug difference between self dicipline and conformance. The later breaks kids as they have no self confidence. Hurts them too as kids with self confidence and think for themselves are a lot less likely to do drugs and fail out.

    We have liberalized our kids to a point where they graduate G12 and don’t know what a job really is. Heck, I was from a single mom, 4 kids and delinquent day…poor… so if I wanted a bicycle, I would deliver papers like I was a small business. Today, no 10 year olds delivering papers any more, as they are coddled to a point they are not prepared for real life.

    Take the Edmonton teacher being fired for giving a zero to a zero student. Sorry feel gooders, you are too undisciplined, too stupid to realize you are the problem.

  24. Test

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