Stop peddling the myth of falling standards in mathematics teaching

1st December 1995 at 00:00
Amid the brouhaha being stirred up by professors of mathematics and mathematics education, one important fact seems to have passed them by: namely, most of the students the beleaguered teachers in schools and colleges are trying to educate will never become mathematicians.

The high-powered worthies bleating about falling standards do not seem to realise that the system they hanker after failed more than 90 per cent of its students.

If the old days had been as good as they imagine, no one would have attempted to change what was being done. But a system designed to make life easy for professors of mathematics and engineering in universities by relieving them of the need to teach anything difficult (basic concepts) is of no value to most students.

Instead of complaining that students can no longer do all the things that the professors think are vital, and blaming schools and colleges for the mythical fall in standards, teachers in HE should look critically at what they teach, why they teach it, and how they teach it.

The computational skills of the 1940s and 1950s, when most of these chaps were educated, are no longer necessarily important. Proper use of today's tools is more relevant than a slavish adherence to anachronistic skills. Why should schools and colleges continue to teach the mathematical equivalent of bicycling when we can show people how to fly?

I teach in further education, and my adult classes are stuffed with people taught "traditional" mathematics. These poor souls hate mathematics and are terrified by it. Are we to inflict this horror on more people in order to save the universities the trouble of learning how to teach properly?

It is hoped that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and Sir Ron Dearing do not listen to this bunch of self-appointed intellectual snobs, but listen rather to the teachers who deal with the 90 per cent or more of students who will never appear in the departments of the main complainants.

PAUL GARCIA 24 Rowan Drive Turnford, Hertfordshire

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