In praise of old school methods
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.