Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies
Knowledge is Power: Stop the breakdown of our children's education
The Back to Basics: Mastering the Fundamentals of Mathematics petition was started in December 2013 in response to clear evidence that since the introduction of the "new math" (discovery math) curriculum in the past decade, not only are we seeing deteriorating math scores across Canada, as measured by the OECD, but also its detrimental effects on our children's confidence, skills and future. Over 17,000 parents, educators and professionals became one voice that forced the former education minister Jeff Johnson to finally meet with myself and our team in June 2014. A few key revisions were agreed upon, but with the start of a new school year under the directions of a new minister, it has become obvious that the half-hearted concessions were merely attempts to quiet the masses as the Ministry and school boards forge ahead with their Inspiring Education agenda. To protect my children's future, I have no choice but to confront Inspiring Education head-on. To remain quiet on this matter is to be complicit in the systematic breakdown of our children's education. The motto for Inspiring Education is that "we're changing the way we think because the world is changing." And their vision is to align not only math but our entire K-12 curriculum with the 21st century learning pedagogical ideology (also known as constructivism/inquiry-based/discovery or problem-based learning) by 2016. The transformation will mean that the focus of the curriculum will no longer be on the "what", ie. knowledge, but rather the "how". Content, the breadth and depth of an educated, knowledgeable person, will be stripped away to allow for more personalized learning of generic skills and competencies to develop so-called "new" skills: collaborative, creative, innovative, ethical, critical thinker. All textbooks and notebooks will be replaced by technology as learning and teaching resources under the persuasion of and eventual dependency on costly business stakeholders. Standardized assessments (Provincial Achievement Tests, report card grades, honour rolls) will be removed leaving no meaningful measure to gauge our children's progress or achievements. And most disheartening is the quelling of the spirit and essence of our teachers, i.e. to teach, as they are reduced to "guides-by-the-side" in mainly project-based, group-learning settings. What the Inspiring Education proponents have underestimated is the power of knowledge. We know the failures of the 21st century learning models as reported from the US, UK and Australia. We know that studies have proven, time and again, the inferiority of inquiry-based methods to direct instructions ("traditional" teaching) in building foundational skills and comprehension. Science has reinforced the importance of memorization and practice in establishing the foundation for creativity and critical-thinking. Cognitive scientists have proven that the pen is more powerful than a computer in developing young minds; to create dependency on technology for learning is to weaken our children's cognitive abilities.. And as a medical doctor, I can even attest to the negative health effects exacerbated from the overuse of technology, eg. muscle strains, migraines, attention deficit, dependency, insomnia, anxiety. To know all this and to still promulgate 21st century learning model as the main pedagogy is to go against reason. For the ministry and school boards to know all these facts and to not overhaul the unnecessary 21st century curriculum redesign is to misappropriate millions of taxpayers' dollars that could be better spent on building much needed schools, investing in our wonderful teachers and teacher-training, hiring more teacher-aides and developing programs for children with learning disorders. Students can be funded for music lessons, art and language classes or even field trips around the world for the hands-on, real-life, cultural experiences. Perhaps the ministry would even be so kind as to help feed the poor students and nurture their education. We have seen the detrimental effects of the discovery-based learning on the math curriculum. We cannot stand by and allow for further erosion of our children's education with unproven educational fads. To protect the quality of our public education system, the Inspiring Education agenda to exert emphasis on inquiry-based learning needs to be stopped. In the end, all we have is our education, and education is the key to creating a society free from ignorance, hatred, poverty and injustice. With strong foundational skills and knowledge, our children will not fear a rapidly changing world. Rather, knowledge is what will empower and inspire our children to change the world.
Back to Basics: Mastering the fundamentals of mathematics
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 can not, 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.