04 Jun 2015
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Educators' lack of maths skills hampering children?

By Shannon Williams

How maths is being taught in schools has been called into question following a report from independent think-tank The New Zealand Initiative. 

The report, titled Un(ac)countable: Why millions on maths returned little, says the Numeracy Development Project, which was rolled out in 2001 and cost the government $70 million, puts too much emphasis on teaching children multiple mental strategies for solving problems and not enough on teaching them the basics. 

It suggests that despite millions being spent on the project, maths performance has continued to decline in New Zealand schools, and has lead to ‘deteriorating’ maths performance in young children. 

"A shocking amount of taxpayers' money has been spent on what can only be described as a failed experiment on our most precious resource, our children. I sincerely hope that parents, teachers and the Ministry of Education will read, reflect and act upon this report,” comments Dr Audrey Tan, mathematics tutor at Mathmo Consulting.

A concerning finding of the report claims that too few primary teachers have adequate levels of math to teach the subject. 

The Initiative’s executive director Dr Oliver Hartwich says, “Teacher proficiency in the subject is absolutely essential for student achievement in maths. You can’t teach maths if you don’t know maths.”

Professor Gaven Martin, Royal Society of New Zealand vice president, physical sciences, mathematical sciences, technology and engineering, says the Society welcomes the report by The New Zealand Institute.

“The Society welcomes any and all reports which contribute in a meaningful way to the discussion around preparing students, at all levels, for a future which will - without doubt - require stronger quantitative and analytical skills in many and varied professions,” Martin says.

“High levels of literacy and numeracy will be necessary for New Zealand’s 21st century workforce to continue to deliver the quality of life we enjoy in this country.”

Martin says the Society agrees with the broad thrust of the report, which seeks greater balance between basic numerical skills and strategies for solving problems.

“The Society encourages educators to see if there are opportunities to improve,” he says. “We support the development of mechanisms where good teaching practice can be shared in meaningful ways to meet the local needs of different communities.”

He adds, “Any activity that raises the mathematical skills of teachers will surely enhance current activities and enable positive change for New Zealand’s long-term benefit.”

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