Maths speciality adds up
"We found that one of the most important factors contributing to success in maths was whether students felt confident in the subject and could see its relevance to their school work and career plans," said Professor Douglas Willms, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy, who co-wrote the study. "The primary determinant of students' confidence was whether their teacher specialised in maths in their university career."
The finding emerged when researchers looked into why students in Quebec performed better than those from other provinces, expecting to find it was due to a faster curriculum in Quebec, where students complete high school at 15 instead of 16.
However, this hypothesis proved incorrect, Professor Willms said. "There is a pronounced difference between Ontario, which does not require maths teachers to hold a BA in the subject, and Quebec, which does. These differences are evident at grade four (nine-year-olds) and increase year by year. By 16, Quebec's students outperform Ontario's by more than a grade and a half on international standardised tests."
The researchers examined data from the the National Longitudinal Study of 23,000 Canadian young people.
Quebec is the only province that requires teachers of maths to pupils aged nine or above to have a BA in the subject. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study in 1995 revealed that Quebec's 13 and 14-year-olds performed more than half a year better than British Columbia's, the second highest scoring province .
They also outstripped their peers in England, with an average score of 67.5 compared to 53.1.
In another test, devised for the pan-Canadian Student Achievement Indicators Program in 1997, Quebec's 16-year-olds outper-formed Alberta's, the next-best group, by more than half a year.
Quebec has always employed maths specialists for this age group. To support the policy, the province's school boards and universities offer maths teachers a wide range of upgrade courses.