In praise of old school meth­ods

The Glengarry News - - THE OPINION PAGE - --Richard Mahoney (richard@glen­gar­rynews.ca)

De­spite ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, and the creep­ing move­ment to­wards ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, some old-fash­ioned, hu­man brain power is still valu­able, ap­par­ently. Gad­gets can do ev­ery­thing for us, but mor­tals still must deal with num­bers and mas­ter ba­sic com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. Sure, this is all very in­con­ve­nient but robots can­not do ev­ery­thing for us, quite yet.

Thus, com­pe­tence in mat­ters such as math and lit­er­acy con­tin­ues to have cur­rency, as On­tario con­tin­ues to right the many wrongs left over from the for­mer On­tario Lib­eral govern­ment.

The lat­est prov­ince-wide math re­sults are in, and they are bad. And, guess what? Yes, it is all the fault of the Lib­er­als.

Ed­u­ca­tion Qual­ity and Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice (EQAO) re­sults “prove once again that we must do bet­ter with re­spect to stu­dents' math per­for­mance in On­tario,” Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Lisa Thomp­son has stated.

“For the last five years, we have seen an over­all de­cline in EQAO math scores. Half of On­tario's Grade 6 stu­dents have failed to meet the provin­cial stan­dard for math. And by the time our stu­dents get to Grade 9, more than half of them tak­ing the ap­plied math cour­ses are fail­ing to make the grade,” she de­clares.

“This is un­ac­cept­able. The pre­vi­ous govern­ment used our chil­dren's class­rooms to test a failed ex­per­i­men­tal cur­ricu­lum called ‘Dis­cov­ery Math.’ As promised, our govern­ment has al­ready made changes to bring back proven meth­ods of teach­ing that work.”

The prov­ince has re­leased a new teacher's guide and par­ent fact sheet “that will help both teach­ers and par­ents fo­cus stu­dent learn­ing on tra­di­tional for­mu­las and mem­o­riza­tion tech­niques.”

“We've also an­nounced that we are re­fo­cus­ing $55 mil­lion in ex­ist­ing math in­vest­ments to district school boards. This fund­ing will sup­port math fa­cil­i­ta­tors and leads at the school board and school lev­els, as well as pro­vide re­lease-time for our teach­ers to par­tic­i­pate in train­ing and learn­ing fo­cused on the fun­da­men­tals of math,” the min­is­ter says.

“Our govern­ment be­lieves that by get­ting back to the ba­sics we're en­sur­ing our stu­dents are lead­ers in math ed­u­ca­tion once again. We are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing stu­dents have the skills they need to be suc­cess­ful in their fu­ture.”

As the min­istry ob­serves: “Strong lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy skills are the crit­i­cal foun­da­tion for all other aca­demic achieve­ment and for a life­time of suc­cess.”

The govern­ment's goal is to have 75 per cent of stu­dents achiev­ing the provin­cial stan­dard (equiv­a­lent to a B grade) in read­ing, writ­ing and math­e­mat­ics.

There is much room for im­prove­ment. As we re­ported in our Septem­ber 26 edi­tion, re­sults for area stu­dents are all over the map. Alas, there is one con­sis­tent pat­tern: The Up­per Canada District School Board con­tin­ues to lag be­hind the English Catholic and French-lan­guage sys­tems in the ba­sics. But, un­for­tu­nately, the English-lan­guage pub­lic stu­dents’ poor show­ing re­flects a prov­ince-wide trend.

In el­e­men­tary schools, the per­cent­age of Grade 3 and Grade 6 stu­dents meet­ing the provin­cial math stan­dard has de­creased over the last five years.

Of the 132,656 en­rolled Grade 3 stu­dents as­sessed in 2018, 61 per cent met the provin­cial math stan­dard, a de­crease from 67 per cent in 2014.

Of the 132,766 en­rolled Grade 6 stu­dents as­sessed in 2018, 49 per cent met the provin­cial math stan­dard, a de­crease from 54 per cent in 2014.

Of the 96,996 stu­dents en­rolled in the Grade 9 aca­demic course in 2018, 84% met the provin­cial math stan­dard (a fig­ure that has re­mained rel­a­tively stable since 2014).

Yet of the 33,451 stu­dents en­rolled in the Grade 9 ap­plied course in 2018, only 45% met the provin­cial math stan­dard (a de­crease from 47% in 2014).

The news is not all bad. For ex­am­ple, some area schools have done bet­ter than other UCDSB in­sti­tu­tions. Plus, across On­tario, read­ing marks among el­e­men­tary school stu­dents have im­proved over the past five years.

Of the 125,213 en­rolled Grade 3 stu­dents in 2018, 75 per cent met the provin­cial read­ing stan­dard (an in­crease from 70% in 2014), and of the 132,766 en­rolled Grade 6 stu­dents in 2018, 82 per cent met the provin­cial read­ing stan­dard (an in­crease from 79% in 2014).

Dis­cov­ery vs. old school

So, how are we to di­gest all of these num­bers? You might re­mem­ber that in a 2014 in­ter­na­tional rank­ing, On­tario got a B grade, plac­ing fourth among 26 ju­ris­dic­tions, be­hind third-place British Columbia, num­ber 2 Fin­land and first place Ja­pan.

Are the kids all right? Who could pos­si­bly give an in­tel­li­gent an­swer to that ques­tion?

It is clear that young­sters sure do have a lot of equip­ment at their dis­posal these days.

For ex­am­ple, STEM is big. Sci­ence Tech­nol­ogy En­gi­neer­ing and Math­e­mat­ics (STEM), cod­ing ini­tia­tives and com­pu­ta­tional think­ing are rou­tine fix­tures of the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Tech­nol­ogy-en­abled learn­ing and teach­ing con­sul­tants are help­ing el­e­men­tary class­rooms in­te­grate cloud-based ed­u­ca­tion and cod­ing into the cur­ricu­lum.

For those who are not di­rectly in­volved in school­ing, cod­ing and STEM may look like a lot of blah, blah, and baf­fle­gab. But like life, ed­u­ca­tion is ever evolv­ing.

Con­sider that cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment was once pop­u­lar; the “new math” was once touted as the best thing since chalk; and the “open con­cept” class­room was sup­posed to be­come the norm.

Not so long ago, “Dis­cov­ery Math” was seen as a means to make math less scary and more in­ter­est­ing.

But de­trac­tors note that the in­no­va­tive pro­gram left many chil­dren and par­ents con­fused. The new govern­ment has con­cluded that Dis­cov­ery Math was for the birds and bird brains.

Now we are told that a re­turn to the ba­sics in math in­struc­tion will help ar­rest a down­ward slide in arith­metic scores.

As the Premier stressed dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, “Our kids are fail­ing their test be­cause Kath­leen Wynne has failed our kids.”

Now that Kath­leen Wynne can no longer im­pede learn­ing, thank­fully, Doug Ford’s Con­ser­va­tives will help make the chil­dren smarter by re­vert­ing to proven ped­a­gog­i­cal tech­niques, such as mem­o­riz­ing mul­ti­pli­ca­tion ta­bles. Mem­o­riz­ing ta­bles is so old school. But there was noth­ing wrong with that, right? A lot of us grew up with old-fash­ioned meth­ods, and we turned out just fine.

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