måndag 12 juli 2010

UK Mathematics Education: No Reform!

           Math class in the UK (or Sweden) in 2010: Learning long division at the age 0f 15.

In a  State of the Nations report on Science and Mathematics Education The Royal Society nails down the following truths:
  • Children are innately curious about the natural world. 
  • But, year after year, large proportions are ‘turned off’ science and mathematics by the time they reach secondary school, with little prospect of that interest being rekindled. Inevitably, those who are most likely to suffer are the under-privileged.
  • Computers cannot replace the direct sharing of experience and ideas through talk, discussion and argumentation—although written communication may help promote
  • critical thinking. 
  • While computer simulations may be useful in relation to dangerous or inaccessible processes or events, they can never replace real laboratory activity and field work in science.
  • If using computers means working alone, pupils are missing an important contribution to their understanding from their peers. 
  • Indeed there is some evidence that computers and interactive whiteboards do not generally result in a rise in pupil attainment. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, research emphasises the critical role of the teachers in, among other things, ensuring that the use of technologies ‘adds value’ to learning activities.
The Royal Society thus gives the Nation the message of a double cynism:
  • young minds will "inevitably" continue to be destroyed "year after year" by a teaching model of yesterday
  • the computer as the mathematical tool of today and tomorrow shall be avoided.
What could give a meaning to mathematics education to all pupils with an "innate curiosity", thus has to be avoided. Why? 

Because pure mathematics (in its present form) is not the computational mathematics of the computer age, and the church of pure mathematics controls mathematics education, in the UK and in Sweden...

Can politicians understand? No, not what I can see: An effect of traditional mathematics education is that politicians do not believe themselves capable of having any form of opinion about what a mathematics education of today could/should look like. The only thing they know for sure is that mathematics is difficult and beyond their horizon of thinking. In this sense traditional mathematics education is very efficient...even if not successful...

PS The report makes the following reflection on educational deprivation:
  • It is interesting to note that in terms of educational deprivation, the UK as a whole ranks between 7th and 17th in OECD countries, with 9% of children having fewer than 10 books in their home, and 20% not having access to six basic educational resources out of a list that includes a desk, a quiet place to study, a computer, a calculator, a dictionary, an Internet connection, school textbooks and educational software (UNICEF 2007).
Evidently a computer is one of  six basic educational resources. A laptop is also a calculator and offers dictionaries, textbooks and educational software and can even serve as a desk and quiet place to study. Nevertheless it is not to be used in mathematics and science education. 
Mathematics educators apparently do not use even simple logic, as a result of the efficient education they administrate...

The foreword to the report is written by Martin Rees (Baron Rees of Ludlow), President of the Royal Society and Professor of Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, specialist of black hole formation and gravitational waves (insofar they exist). The report was chaired by Wynne Harlen, Visiting professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol:
  • Her work emphasizes understanding learners’ ideas, teaching that supports inquiry, assessment, and attention to national standards and outcomes.

The UK national standards are the standards of the precomputer Calculus of Newton, and are not functional in the computer age of today. The Royal Society with its heritage moves backwards into the future, in both education and science...while the people suffer...

PS There seems to be interest in using the BodyandSoul mathematics reform program in China: New China vs Old Europe...stay tuned...

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