The numbers don’t add up

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U of R professor part of a team looking to improve math education in the west

Lauren Golosky
News Writer

Three professors from Western Canadian universities are finding that math education in the western provinces is lacking – extremely lacking.
In hopes of fixing the problem, these professors have createdan initiative called the Western Initiative for Strengthening Education in Math (WISE Math)

According to their website “The purpose of this initiative is to form a coalition among concerned parents, citizens, employers, scientists, mathematicians, and educators with the purpose of rallying together to improve K-12 mathematics education in Western Canada. We are advocates for improved math teacher training and strengthened K-12 math curricula. Our goal is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to achieve their full potential in math so that they may enjoy lives free of innumeracy, may experience the beauty in math, and so that they may have a wide range of career opportunities.”

Fernando Szetchman, associate professor in the University of Regina’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, is one of those professors, along with Robert Craigen and Anna Stokke, math professors from the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg, respectively.
Szetchman refered to WISE Math as a movement towards bettering the education system, particularly where math is concerned. The professors have found themselves frustrated with the system, believing it is failing students from the get go.

“Parents are concerned about the education of their children, particularly in math, but some are concerned about education in general,” he explained. “Parents should be very concerned about the level of academic quality of education [their children are] receiving and do everything they can for their children to realize their potential.”

Szetchman identified problems with math education in the elementary level, as well as the secondary level, all of which are evident when these students come to university. He believes these deficiencies are a serious problem.

“Something must be done to be able to help children realize their potential, which at this point, is not being fulfilled by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We’re not blaming the students, or even the teachers. There are serious problems with the education system.”

Szetchman is careful in not placing blame on anyone in particular for this dilemma. He believes there are serious systematic flaws occurring at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels.

“The change that is needed is extremely deep and complex,” he said. “We’re not blaming the students for showing up to university with these deficiencies, or the teachers that are teaching these kids at the moment. They just follow the curriculum .”

Saskatchewan’s math curriculum in place  has recently been replaced; the current one is called Math Instruction that Makes Sense. Although it has only recently been introduced, Szetchman lacks confidence in its abilities to properly teach the young students of Saskatchewan. He referred to it as an “abomination.” He struggles to determine if the new program is better, or worse, than the previous program.

Although Szetchman and the other math professors are more than dissatisfied with math education, Szetchman worries they are not reaching the public. In order to instigate change in the system, which he reckons has to occur at a deep and complex level, the group must spread awareness. The WISE Math petition has garnered around 600 signatures, and Szetchman estimated that between a third and a quarter of those votes have come from Saskatchewan.

“Support at this point, relative to the support we need, is minimal,” Szetchman explained. “If it stays like this, there is really no chance of success. Even though we have been supported by a very large group of people, with this level of support, we won’t be able to achieve anything.”

The public can get involved by joining the initiative online at wisemath.org. If enough signatures from the public, including educators and parents, can be obtained, Szetchman hopes to take the movement to the government.

“I hope to raise awareness and debate about this,” he explained. “I think healthy debate … will be useful.”

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