Back to Basics: Mastering the fundamentals of mathematics

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The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released a report confirming that math scores, measured in 15yr olds, have declined significantly in the ten years since the new math curriculum was introduced across Canada. As a mother of three young children who are just entering into their primary years of education, I find this news extremely disturbing, alarming and unsettling. Even though I am neither a teacher nor a mathematician, I cannot, in all good conscience, remain silent and, hence, be complicit in the systematic breakdown of our children's education.

In 2009, Alberta Education went through the formalities of having a "dialogue" with Albertans for "Inspiring Education" to create the illusion that parents actually have a say in our children's education, when in fact we are part of the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) that have steered the curriculum in accordance to its own unproven theories and philosophies. In theory, the "new math" curriculum is alluring with the promise to help students develop a deeper understanding of how calculations work by allowing students to learn different "strategies" to get to a "reasonable" answer, to perhaps help students problem-solve.

In practice, the "new math" glares of absurdities in that students are led through multiple convoluted "strategies" to get to a solution, with no emphasis on mastering any one method. As a result, the importance of knowing basic math facts (eg. algorithms, time tables, automatic recalls, vertical additions) is diluted down to a weak understanding and poor grasp of basic mathematical concepts in addition/subtractions and multiplication/divisions, which in effect ill-equip our children to reconfigure equations in their own minds, problem-solve, and think critically. What is more detrimental is that children with great potentials are at a heightened risk of losing confidence in their own abilities when a simple equation is overly-complicated with counter-intuitive strategies. Students are, consequently, repulsed by math without realizing that it is not due to their lack of abilities but rather the system's inabilities. I am not asking for the complete removal of all these strategies, but merely a re-balance, a refocus, a re-emphasis on the importance of acquiring and mastering the basic math skills. Only then will our children greet mathematical problems with the knowledge that math really can be easy, fun, and applicable to all aspects of life.

I am a strong proponent of education and I am in full support of the multitude of dedicated and wonderful teachers, but the system itself has to be overhauled and changed drastically now that the reports confirm that the system has clearly failed the first wave of children subjected to their grand experiment. When children, such as Malala, are shot for just wanting the opportunity to go to school, it would be an absolute injustice to our children and all children around the world when we squander the opportunities we do have.  Years from now, when our children graduate, I want them to have a choice – a choice in what and how they want to be. To not equip our children now with these fundamental skills is in effect closing all those doors to their dreams.

Apparently, Alberta Education is in the process of making some revisions to the curriculum. The time is now for us to act, to be heard, to have a voice in what we feel is critically important to empower our children.