A BITTER fight has broken out between universities in Western Canada and provincial governments over the introduction of a new applied maths course for high-school students.
The universities of Alberta and Calgary say the course, taken by 30 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds, is deskilling pupils and those who take it will be refused admission to university courses.
The new course relies more on using calculators and is based on discovery work in groups.
It was introduced in Alberta in September and is set to be extended to the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Nunavit and the Western Arctic under an agreement called the Western Canadian protocol.
Maths is a compulsory part of the seven-subject matriculation in high school. The new programme replaces three streams with two. Formerly, students intending to study sciences or engineering took the matriculation stream, while all other university-bound students took general maths.
The two new streams are pure and applied maths. According to the ministry of learning, pure maths is more "theoretically oriented" while applied maths is more hands-on. But the ministry insists that both will qualify high-school students for university admissions.
The announcement by Universities of Alberta and Calgary that from 2002 they will refuse admission to high-school students who took applied maths is likely to be the first of several rows across Western Canada that will pit universities against ministries of education.
"Applied mathematics is a serious field that requires strong background and knowledge of rigorous mathematical disciplines," said Professor Mark Solomonovich, an applied mathematician who teaches at the University of Alberta.
"This course has nothing to do with real applied maths and amounts to just punching numbers on a calculator," headded.