Canadian Schools’ Math Skills Don’t Add Up

Media Appearances, Education, Frontier Centre

Canada's public schools are doing a poor job of teaching basic math skills and shortchanging a generation of children, says a study by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

The study concludes that public schools need to go back to basics with math education, stressing memorization on fundamentals such as multiplication tables versus the current system that is more exploratory and discovery based, placing emphasis on the child to try different instructional techniques that are "in vogue" right now.

"Students do not learn the standard algorithms for math equations and they fail to master basic math skills. This inefficient way of teaching math does not serve our students well," concludes Michael Zwaagstra, who wrote the study titled Math Instruction that Makes Sense.

"Schools must place a much stronger emphasis on mastering basic math skills and standard algorithms."

Mr. Zwaagstra, who taught Grade 5 for several years and is currently a high school social science teacher and a Frontier Centre fellow, said he found that his students were more confused when they were asked to approach math problems with discovery-based learning that encourages students to invent their own strategies to solve problems.

"The discovery method leaves questions opened ended and (the students) come to their own ways to solve it. There is a place for that, but you don't make it the centerpiece," said Mr. Zwaagstra, who found that showing students how to approach a math problem step-by-step was more successful.

In his study, Mr. Zwaagstra interviews several university professors who said they are "dismayed" by the current math curriculum and found their first-year students were not prepared for universitylevel mathematics.